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So I have just accepted (via some online function on the website) an offer of PhD admission into a prestigious US university. I have also been in telephonic and email contact with staff at this university. I still feel like it is rather informal. The department told me more information would arrive in April.

What I want to know is, is the offer I have accepted binding on the part of university? I have (and am about to decline) concrete offers from some UK groups and I am worried that I will be burning bridges. Can a US university rescind their offer? Does this ever happen? Am I just being paranoid?

For example, as I am still in master's program, my other offers usually said that I was admitted on the condition that I obtained a sufficiently good grade in my degree etc. My US offer does not make mention of anything like this - not that I plan on doing badly but it is good to know. Would the department think it odd if I asked along these lines?

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    For one of your questions: US grad programmes don't generally give out conditional offers in the same way British ones do. As long as you get your degree, you will be fine. – Johanna Feb 22 '15 at 20:17
  • We have had this question before—I remember something about an administrator tearing up an offer letter and so on. But I can't find it. . . . – aeismail Feb 22 '15 at 23:36
  • @aeismail Yes it is there somewhere, but I couldn't dig it up either :-/ – yo' Feb 23 '15 at 17:37
  • I did have a look around before I asked, but didn't find anything. Seems to have gone AWOL. – JP Janet Feb 23 '15 at 17:38
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    @JPJanet: Basically, the issue was that the school claimed the acceptance letter was an "accident," but waited far too long to act on the problem. – aeismail Feb 24 '15 at 2:13
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Graduate admissions offers in the U.S. can sometimes be rescinded, but I've never heard of it happening except in extraordinary circumstances. I've known of cases where it was because the applicant failed to graduate, was dishonest in their application, or committed some sort of academic misconduct, but I can't think of any other reason. However, as Johanna noted in the comments, the offer is not conditional on getting sufficiently good grades (unless this is stated explicitly).

I still feel like it is rather informal.

This sounds like it's about as formal as I've seen. I don't think you have anything to worry about. The only worrisome scenario would be if you received an oral offer and gave an oral acceptance, with no documentation, but that shouldn't happen if the department is handling things properly (and indeed it doesn't apply in your case).

The department told me more information would arrive in April.

It's common to send a detailed information packet for incoming students in April, after all the offers have been accepted/rejected. That way the department can deal with it all at once, rather than handling each student individually. This packet typically includes things like registration forms, insurance information, housing forms, etc. (Anything they feel could be useful to students making a decision would be sent earlier.)

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    except in extraordinary circumstances — For example: Last week at CMU – JeffE Feb 22 '15 at 22:19
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    It's a good point that an offer could be made by mistake, but as far as I know this has always been caught quickly. (I don't know of any case in which a mistake was caught a week later. It's generally the same day, or occasionally the next day.) If you've had an offer for a week and corresponded with the department about it, I think it's safe to assume it won't be rescinded as a clerical error. – Anonymous Mathematician Feb 23 '15 at 1:21
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    @AnonymousMathematician: I guess the worry here isn't the department rescinding the admission, but rather the university/bureaucracy running into weird issues. When the department recommends you for admission to the university, the university still has to give you admission... so what guarantee is there that they will? None, as far as I've been able to tell, even though they almost certainly will. – Mehrdad Feb 23 '15 at 3:01
  • @Mehrdad I don't think there's any worry about rescinding a decision (if it's not a mistake). However it is possible that they may have trouble funding everyone who accepts (due to more people accepting or having less funding than they anticipate). Fortunately, the cases I know of where this happened, the funding was still given, just fewer grad students were admitted the following year. – Kimball Feb 23 '15 at 4:28
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    @Mehrdad: In my experience U.S. departments (at least the ones I've been at) actually admit students, and don't just make recommendations to the university. Once the department makes an offer, everything is official and no further approval is needed. If there needs to be any verification that the choices comply with university rules or are acceptable to the administration, then this happens before the offer is sent out. – Anonymous Mathematician Feb 23 '15 at 5:57
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As far as I know (at least here at Georgia Tech) all the conditions (if there are any) are included in your offer. I have never heard of us rescinding an offer after it has been accepted. If there is a deadline, though, you must accept by then or the offer may no longer be valid.

That said, I think nobody would be offended if your asked, if it puts your mind at ease. I would not mention the "getting good grades in your MS" or similar things.

Just send a note to whomever you have been in contact with and say something like "I'm very happy to have been accepted into the program, and am looking forward to coming. I am pretty sure I've completed everything I need to do to accept admission, but I just wanted to check one last time. I have a number of other acceptances I'm about to decline and I just wanted to check that everything is in order with my admission before I decline the other offers. Thanks for your help and understanding!"

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