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I received an offer from a top US school for PhD this March and accepted their offer. Due to some family circumstances, I would not be able to join the program this year. I am an international student, and I have to remain in my country due to some personal and family reasons.

I asked the program about possibility of deferring admission. After hearing my reason, they have decided to defer my admission, but I am not guaranteed funding. Basically, I need to compete with the next batch of applicants for funding (fellowship, TA, RA, or none). I agreed to the same, and I would be getting an offer sometime before April of next year along with funding allotment (if any).

In this context, my questions is: Can I apply to more programs to make sure I have a funded PhD offer for next year?

I realize that there is a certain commitment when deferring an offer, however does the same hold true even when funding is not guaranteed. When I asked the program about my chances of funding, they replied that it is "likely" but "not guaranteed". I am not sure if I can take a "likely" and live with that. What if I don't get any funding (which is basically a rejection) and don't have any other offers? That will be a very sad scenario.

I would like some advice, IMO it is shrewd to apply to more programs, but is it ethical? I don't want to explicitly ask the program this question, since there is a likelihood that they may ask me to simply reapply, which I don't want to. I got off a wait-list, hence not very confident of my chances! Also, since funding is not guaranteed, do I even need to ask permission for applying to more programs? I mean, do they honestly expect a student to commit to a program without the program committing to financial support? I think that is asking a bit too much, and gives the program a complete hold over the student.

Also note that there is one other program (call Y) that I was admitted to this year, which I really liked. I had a very hard time choosing between the two offers, and had I not got into the program that I have accepted and deferred (call X), I would have gone to Y. I think I can get into Y again next year if I apply, since they tried hard to recruit me, but in the end I chose X because of better location (both were equally strong in research). So if X doesn't give me funding next year (effectively reject), I would like to go to Y.

Please share your thoughts. Thank you.

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In brief, in academic mathematics, if you are "accepted" but without promise of funding, it's a very weak offer. The fact that you got funding this time around is certainly positive, but there's so much volatility involved that I think it would be a dangerous mistake to view the situation as so much promised to you (it's not) so that you have a complete obligation to go there and nowhere else. A promise of funding should be construed as obliging you to either keep your promise or decline in advance, but mere admission, without funding, while not nothing, is barely something, either.

  • So, would it be OK if I went ahead and applied to my other school? I'll also may be apply to a third school to be absolutely certain of getting a funded offer somewhere. I assumed as much that it shouldn't be a problem to apply to more programs. The real dilemma I am facing is, should I explicitly seek permission from the school. In such a case, I am very scared that they might just ask me to re-apply, and the probability that I am getting in again is not high (I got in off a wait-list this year). The field under question is applied math or statistics. – enigma Jun 29 '15 at 20:27
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    Ah, if you already got in "on the second round", the chances are high that you'd simply not get funded at all next year. Given the slim commitment they've made to you, you don't owe them a great deal, I think. At some point next year you could in fact (not too early, but if you're waiting and waiting and not hearing anything) be forthright, eventually, and say that you do have funding elsewhere... But don't try to play that as a "trump". – paul garrett Jun 29 '15 at 22:03

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