I applied to several graduate programs and was accepted to my back-up choice. The professor at one of my top choice schools contacted me personally to say that he was interested in my application but had no room for me this year; he suggested applying next year, as "re-applicants" have a good chance of getting accepted on their second attempt.

Though pleased, I mentally dismissed this. I had a tangible acceptance to a school I did want to attend (albeit last choice), and I enrolled in classes. I immersed myself in my new environment, took on a healthy course load with a teaching assistantship, and have received lots of praise for my work and work ethic from my professors and colleagues.

However, with each week I am here, I hear more and more people--students, professors, the head of the department--admit that my program is lacking in many ways. The school offers very few courses in my actual field (a fact they omitted on the school website that boasted what the program had to offer its students). There are two professors in my field, and one is always away. One of them has also been known to cancel classes frequently, a fact that had been addressed to and dismissed by the department. This means that the few opportunities I have to study in my field have decreased. The program is very heavily based on teaching--that is, the teaching as part of my assistantship. Two of the required classes I am taking this semester are teaching-oriented, and while I am happy to teach now, it is not a long-term career goal of mine, and I expressed this to my advisor. It seems, though, that despite what I was made to understand before coming to school, that this program ultimately tailors its candidates for a teaching career.

Ordinarily I would just accept it, as each program has its problems. Yet, I cannot shake the fact that, especially given the last fact, I am going to be geared toward a career I specifically do not want. Add to that the invitation from the professor of one of my top-choice schools, and I find myself wondering if it is unprecedented for a graduate student to switch. I would not be losing any time; if anything, a switch would save time, as the program I am currently in is unusually long, whereas the program I would be entering is comparatively shorter and more compact. Plus, as the assistantship the other school offers is not a teaching-based one, I will be able to take courses in the field of my choice. But before I keep considering, I would like to know if it is even possible.

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    This seems somewhat unfair towards the "backup" school, especially if you receive a stipend. Further, you should take into account that it is very well possible that you will be starting pretty much fresh next year anyway.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 4:01
  • @Curious, You need to provide more information to your question. What is the subject of your graduate work? Did you major in the same or a similar field as an undergraduate or are you switching to a totally new field of study? Is this a professional graduate program or an academic one? Do the schools offer you similar opportunities to work on the project that you are interested in, or is it the specialty of your top choice but not the other school?
    – AMR
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 7:06
  • @xLeitix If OP is only going to be taking level one courses and not participating in research rotations, then it is possible that the school that they reapply to will accept transfer of courses, and may even accept results of a first years cumulative exams. They won't know unless they ask the other institution about their policies in that regard. Also, if they are entering into a different discipline, then it could be beneficial for them to do that first year's coursework twice, as they will gain a much better understanding the second time around.
    – AMR
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 7:12
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    The one word of caution would be that poor performance and grades could damage your chances as a reapplicant. Undertaking a graduate course of study is extremely demanding. If you are just doing it because you have nothing better to do until you reapply to your top school, then you may not invest the effort you will need to absorb the information and "master" it. There is a substantial difference between even upper level Undergraduate courses and Graduate course. Make sure you know exactly what you are getting yourself into. Unless you have visa issues, then it may not be the best choice.
    – AMR
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 7:18
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    Am important question is what you would actually be doing in each program. If the first couple of years are based on course work, you'd want to see if courses from the one school could be transferred to the other (or maybe only specific ones could). It's likely you'd still end up a little behind. If the backup program is one where you jump straight into research with an advisor, then if you transfer, you'll probably have to start over with a new project, and you'll have completely wasted a year. Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 14:02

2 Answers 2


Common scenario: a professor is recruited to go work at a different university; s/he takes his or her students along. No one bats an eyelash.

The quicker you can make the change the better; you need not feel at all guilty. It's just not a good fit. Your current school would be a great fit for someone who wants to teach. But it's not a good fit for you.


Yes, it is possible. However, consider what others have commented. I would like to add that in future, the switching of schools might be seen as a red-flag.

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    in future, the switching of schools might be seen as a red-flag — Really?
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 3:29
  • Yes JeffE. For example, if the person is applying for a postdoc position, then the switching of schools during doctoral studies might be seen as a red-flag. Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 18:29
  • Anything might be seen as a red flag. Do you have evidence that switching schools is actually seen as a red flag by anyone? I've never heard of such a thing. (I switched schools two years into my PhD program.)
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 22:52
  • No evidence. Only anecdotal. Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 20:15

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