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This question is related to one of my previous questions:

Changing University in First year of Phd

I just completed my senior year. I have been accepted to a grad school (say University X).

I want to reapply for some PhD programs next year (fall). But, at the same time, I don't want to lose the only PhD seat I've got.

So, I was thinking about deferring the admission to University X in order to apply to few other universities for next fall.

I have 2 questions regarding this:

  1. Should I mention about my deferred admission to Uni X in the Phd applications for next fall ? If I don't, Would it be treated as academic cheating ?

  2. How much deferring should be enough ? (Next Spring, Next Summer or Next Fall)

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    What does X's web site etc. say about deferral? Is it permitted arbitrarily? Or only with a stated reason? Does it guarantee admission, or just let you skip filing a new application and paying fees? – Patricia Shanahan May 6 '15 at 2:16
  • Sometimes admission letters mention some details about whether or not deferrals are allowed. From what I've heard, deferrals are usually easily granted, however, any funding packages offered as part of the admission would generally be lost and you would have to reapply for them (unless you have a good reason). – somerandomdude May 6 '15 at 4:06
  • @PatriciaShanahan......Yes it is permitted. I talked with the director of grad studies there and......nope I won't lose my financial support. – zzz May 6 '15 at 12:14
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Deferring admission is not an automatic privilege at most universities at the doctoral level. You will typically need to justify why you want the deferral, and explain what you would do with the time. For instance, a Fulbright fellowship or a "service payback" on a fellowship might be valid justifications to a deferral; applying to other grad schools most certainly is not. If you are found to be deferring at one school to apply to another, you may lose out on admission to both, as the first school may retract their offer, and the second would likely not want to accept someone who might try and hold out on them.

  • "If you are found to be deferring at one school to apply to another, you may lose out on admission to both, as the first school may retract their offer, and the second would likely not want to accept someone who might try and hold out on them." I'm not sure whether that's true. I think it depends on the mutual understanding of the deferral. In my experience a lot of students defer because they are not sure whether they want to enroll in the program, and a deferral would be granted if the admissions committee knows that they would admit the student if they applied the next year. – Pete L. Clark May 6 '15 at 3:14
  • Thus it is not clear that a deferred offer is an accepted offer. It might just be an "early admission" which the candidate can accept or decline later. – Pete L. Clark May 6 '15 at 3:18
  • Of course if the university that has made an offer asks why the student wants to defer, they should be honest about their motivation. If they get a deferral under those conditions, okay. – Pete L. Clark May 6 '15 at 3:21
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    @aiesmail: Yes, I agree and I had thought along similar lines. In the kind of admissions I'm used to, we admit almost entirely based on general strength, which carries over to the following year with near perfect fidelity. If you want to admit someone specifically to work with Professor A and who has specific skills and training B needed to know upon entry how to run the equipment necessary for project C: well, you probably want exactly one such student. – Pete L. Clark May 6 '15 at 3:41
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    @zzz: Maybe. The only way to find out is to discuss with them what sort of deferral they will allow. They might be fine with it, or they might say that under these circumstances you should reapply to them next year (but have a good chance of being admitted). The latter is how we handle it in my department: you can defer if you are definitely coming but are doing something else worthwhile for a year (which we have approved in advance), or you can reapply with the understanding that being admitted this year means your chances are good next year (but with no guarantee). – Anonymous Mathematician May 6 '15 at 13:29
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My understanding of a deferral is a bit different. It is more like getting an early offer of admission for the following year. Thus if you defer for a year you are not obligated to enroll in the program the following year. Well really you are never obligated to enroll in a program until you sign paperwork to that effect -- which, for many PhD programs, takes place when the student actually enrolls in the program. I also think that the most common reason for deferral is the OP's: that the student is just not fully committed to the PhD program she has been admitted to, and she hopes that the intervening year will clarify whether or not she should enroll. I think that a student should be pursuing other options during that year...assuming that the student and the program are on the same page about this.

As others have said, of course there is nothing like a right of deferral: if the application was not solidly strong then presumably the answer will be "No" or "Not without a good, specific reason" (e.g. health or visa issues). But I think that in many cases, an admissions committee can look at an application and say -- sure, we are confident that we would admit the student next year if they submitted the same application. By telling the student that now, we make their eventual enrollment in our program the path of least resistance.

Anyway, what's for sure is that in order to defer admission you need to have a serious conversation with the faculty of the program in order to make sure that you both understand each other and your commitments. In a comment on a previous answer I wrote that without mention to the contrary the understanding of deferral should be as in the first paragraph. Especially in light of Prof. Ismail's answer I now think that was a mistake. Sorry for giving bad advice in that regard.

  • @Peter L. Clark......Can you tell again what was your bad advice ?? – zzz May 6 '15 at 12:20
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    @zzz: I wrote as a comment on my other answer: "@zzz: My understanding of deferment is that the student has the option, but not the obligation, to enroll in the following year. I think the expectation is that a student who defers admission is not fully committed but is contemplating other plans. So: yes, I think so, unless there is any specific information to the contrary." This suggests that you should assume a certain favorable understanding about deferral. It has now become clear that you should not assume anything, but rather get an explicit understanding. – Pete L. Clark May 6 '15 at 20:48
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@zzz, you appear to be feeling rather stuck. You've been accepted to a school you don't feel a real commitment to. Do you attend and then transfer? Do you tell them you want to wait a year, and hope you catch a better fish? Do you just forget all about this school that accepted you, and spend a year feeling anxious? None of these solutions seem to fit very well, so you go around and around.

I am going to suggest that you consider the following:

  1. forget all about this school that you feel so lukewarm (or even doubtful) about;

  2. take this year to do something worthwhile. Here are some examples:

    • enroll in a one-year master's program in a closely related field

    • take some undergraduate courses at the same institution you are about to graduate from (in a related field)

    • volunteer in an organization you deeply admire

    • get a job and build up some savings

    • audit some graduate level courses at a university you have a high opinion of (auditing costs a fraction of what it costs to enroll for credit)

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