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I'm a PhD applicant. I recently got an offer from a school I will not be attending.

The Professor that I spoke to politely asked that, if possible, I give an answer as soon I know if I'm attending the university.

I've already determined that I won't be attending, as I'm deciding between a couple other offers that I like better. What's the best way to turn down the offer without explicitly mentioning where I'm going instead (since I don't know yet).

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    The offer letter should explain the procedure for responding to the offer. In the old days, there would be a postcard to mail back with a box to check "yes" or "no". Nowadays there is probably a website. But in either case you should certainly be able to respond "I'm not going to attend" without needing to elaborate any further. – Nate Eldredge Feb 17 '15 at 21:10
  • @NateEldredge But maybe you've been in personal contact with faculty and would like to let them know while keeping the door open for future communication. A similar but trickier situation arises with faculty job offers. – Sasho Nikolov Feb 17 '15 at 21:49
  • [Comment OT] Congratulations on your acceptances! I am also glad to see that the advice you got here was fruitful. – Davidmh Feb 18 '15 at 0:35
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Regretfully, I am declining your offer. Thank you very much for considering me for your program.

Best regards,

ThatGuy

You don't have to say where you're going instead.

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    It doesn't hurt to add a bit more pleasantry, mind you. Academic communities are pretty close-knit; chances are you'll end up brushing elbows with this person in the future at some point. Being cordial and appreciative is a nice gesture. – J... Feb 18 '15 at 14:50
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    @NewWorld those phrases are polite, but not exactly warm. For example, a statement like 'I truly appreciate your time in talking to me about your research' would make this somewhat more cordial. – Aru Ray Feb 18 '15 at 16:26
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    I basically used this template. Thanks again. It was surprisingly hard to press send on that email. – ThatGuy Feb 18 '15 at 19:42
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    Also, I do wish I'd said a little more. I think in retrospect I agree more with @AruRay, but what's done is done. I do worry I could have been more polite. – ThatGuy Feb 18 '15 at 19:44
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    @NewWorld I didn't say it was not polite - it's just very terse and cold. On balance, it's probably something that will be read and forgotten, which squanders an opportunity to make at least some sort of positive impression. It's not burning any bridges, but it also isn't trying to lay any cornerstones for a new one. Networking in academia is just as important as it is in the business wold - in some ways perhaps moreso. It wouldn't hurt to re-iterate interest in their area of research and leave open possible future work or collaborations. The sooner you start to make things happen the better. – J... Feb 19 '15 at 10:25
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Here is what I wrote back in the day (I make no claims about this being good):

Thank you so much for offering me admission into your graduate program. I was very impressed by [[University]] [[other details like faculty/students I had talked to personally, etc.]] and so I had a difficult decision to make regarding which graduate program to choose. After a lot of careful thought, I have decided not to accept your offer. I will mail the response form to you as soon as I can, but I wanted to let you know my decision now, since it may affect applicants on your wait list. [[Thank you so much again, etc.]].

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