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I applied to a program that I had been striving for in my undergrad, at a top school, but I've since felt overwhelmed with the thought of going this year. I think I should have waited until I was absolutely sure I could handle grad school emotionally and financially. I am so anxious now, thinking I've ruined my opportunity with this school if I don't go.

I am seriously considering withdrawing my application, but I'm very worried about how it might hurt me in the future when I reapply. Otherwise I may have to decline if I am accepted and reapply.

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    The first thing you should ask yourself is why you are feeling so overwhelmed. Is this a rational reaction to life circumstances, or more of a fear of something new and unknown? If the latter, maybe withdrawing is the wrong approach should you get into this dream school. That said, if you still want out, one thing you could do if accepted is to ask for a deferral. Many schools will grant you one year. Some might grant you more. But if even if the deferral is denied, and they tell you you'll have to reapply, it's a reasonably graceful way out of the situation. – Corvus Feb 17 '15 at 5:21
  • I would not perceive such a decision negatively from my point of view. Any gaps in education that are not clear are likely to come up in an interview, where you can present and defend your decision. Feeling that you are not ready mentally or financially for graduate school is, IMO, a mature decision should you choose to make it. – Compass Feb 19 '15 at 21:42
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As an undergrad at a large, prestigious university, part of my work study job was sorting the department's PhD applications as they came in and went through various levels of review. There was absolutely no penalty to withdrawing. They received thousands of applications and the sheer number of those reviewed means that faculty are unlikely to remember your specific application (since you said this was a top school, I assume the same is true for yours). Also, most of the shifting around was done by me, an office assistant. If you've merely applied, there is really nothing to worry about. Now faculty might remember you if you had some kind of outstanding or unusual experience, or were interested in a VERY narrow program (one sub-program had only 3 applicants...). But again, no one is going to be very invested in you or your application until they have admitted you, so the time to withdraw, if that's what you're sure you want to do, is now. No one is going to take it personally given the number of applications involved.

If you have already been accepted, you can consider a deferral, as mentioned above, but even if you just withdraw there is unlikely to be a penalty. People have many reasons to decline--family, health, accepting elsewhere, unique opportunities. If you feel the need to explain and are very concerned about future chances, then perhaps consider a thoughtful letter to anyone you spoke with who accepted you (perhaps you applied to work on specific research in a field relevant to a faculty reviewer) saying that due to circumstances you cannot accept this year, but intend to reapply in the future and hope you will have the chance to work with them when you reapply. Honestly, being accepted in the past would be a great thing to put in your reapplication.

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  • Thanks @anonymous for your comment, I really appreciate the insight. This program has about 400 applicants per year. I know the applications have been under review for a little over 2 weeks, with results coming out in April. I don't what that means for where they would be in review. what would you recommend saying? – anxiousprospetive Feb 21 '15 at 16:24
  • It means they are unlikely to have even looked at your application. Just withdraw. You don't need any explanation whatsoever, especially at this point. – Anonymous Feb 22 '15 at 19:47

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