I am from a developing country and finished my BA in February 2011. I was a very good student and my university is one of the best in my country (It is in TimesHE top 200 global list so its prestige is somewhat acknowledged) Last year I decided to go back to school after 4 years of fulltime employment (sector and position irrelevant to my research areas) and applied to 9 different M.S. programs in US. I was very uncertain about the strength and quality of international credentials, and gave myself no credit but to my surprise, only a month after my applications were in I have recevied 2 acceptances. By now I have 4 acceptances, 2 of which were my top choices. I am over the moon. I do not even want to hear from other 5, because I'm in for my top choices.

My question is this: I have been accepted to very good 2 M.S. programs for my research focus, and for both, program directors contacted me in person to congratulate and to state their interest to take me on as their student. Furthermore, both of them also offered me a TA position, one of them partial tuition waiver and the other one full waiver, while both give me a generous stipend and health insurance. However I cannot decide which one to go for.

One of them is sufficiently prestigious, my research interests are 50% in line with those of program director's, but their financial reward is great. I kinda negotiated the offer from her by sendind a follow up email and she finally sent me the offer. The school is also located at a nice city to live in, and I'd love to live there. The other school, on the other hand, has the coolest program director a student would ever want, she is very friendly with me and I can tell she is genuinly interested in me. She'll be taking me on as one of her research students. Her research topic is 100% in line with mine. But this school waives only half of my tuition, so I'll be covering the other half myself. It is also located in a not-so-interesting city.

Which one should I go for? Cool mentor-bad city-half tuition rates or OK mentor-cool city-fully funded? I'd like to turn the other down very gently and keep the bridges "unburned". How do I do that without getting anyone offended?

I plan to stay longer in US so to eventually get a PhD.

  • 2
    Hi, and welcome to Academia.SE! You've got two questions in here, one that we can help answer (how to turn down an offer) and one that we can't (which program is better for you). Could you please edit your question to focus on the one that we can answer?
    – jakebeal
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 15:50
  • 1
    Thank you for the gracious opportunity. Unfortunately, I have committed to another program and will be unable to accept your offer. I wish you and your organization luck in future endeavors. No need to say where or why as that is remarkably hard to write without accidentally sounding inappropriate.
    – Compass
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 16:12
  • 6
    Have you told the other school that you have another offer that covers your full tuition?
    – StrongBad
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 16:31
  • This TED talk on how to make hard choices by Ruth Chang may be helpful. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 16:53
  • Thank you all for your wonderful comments. @jakebeal i guess i need to change the title along with the questions. I think I can craft a decent email(many thanks @Compass) but I am still wavering between schools and this is excruciating. One is in Florida, in a great city, decent weather and social life. Full tuition waiver, TA position, and a good program director who is planning to welcome me to her lab(she already implied that). The other school is in İndiana, more prestigious, widely recognized, but social life will probably suck. Plus only partial tuition waiver. But very cool director. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 18:53

2 Answers 2


Before you turn it down, you should tell the school that offered you only half tuition that you have an offer from the another school (its OK to name it) that offers you full tuition. Mention that you prefer the offer from them (i.e., the half-tuition school) but that it will be financially hard for you to make it work.

There's a chance that the school that offered you a smaller package will be able to match the other in order to get you. If not, they'll understand why you eventually turn down their offer and they won't hold it against you.

  • As I'm so indecisive I don't want to negotiate. If they match their offer I'd have to accept it and I'm not sure if I want to do that. Plus, I'm not exactly sure if the not-so-cool director is in fact not so cool, or if I'm unconsciously manipulating my perception of her to rationalize my tendency to opt for the other school. Decision making really sucks! Will I be too immature if I consider and the trivial aspects of a program, like the location, climate, community life etc when deciding? After all, both are great programs! Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 19:06
  • Lifestyle choices matter. That said, it's a masters program, it's only a couple years, and you have the rest of your life ahead of you. You would be wise to go to the best program possible, the place where you will excel, and the place that will best prepare you for the future. If that place is in a less desirable location, I'd still do it.
    – mako
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 20:57
  • Many thanks for your help! I will choose this better alternative. Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 15:35

You put the facts down already. So it is really up to you what is more important to you. Personally, I find that the second option is more tempting.

Now to the question in the title, a polite email will probably suffice. Explain that you are regretting to inform them that you are going to accept another offer and thank them for their time and opinion. There are no bridges to burn, it is common practice to apply to more than one school and consequently be accepted by more than one. The people there know that and it is perfectly acceptable to turn down one offer in favor of another.

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