I got into a fully funded PhD program and accepted it. Somewhere along the line, my decision to attend grad school changed. My problem is that orientation week is in two weeks and I have not retracted my commitment.

I am afraid of what the outcome may be. My potential advisor was so nice to me and I assured her that I would be joining her lab. What should I do? I can’t just not show up... but I don’t know how to tell them that grad school is not something I want right now. I don’t want to offend anyone or ruin my academic reputation.

  • 10
    Is grad school not something you want right now or ever? I think the answers to this question will depend a lot on whether you're leaving academia entirely or only for a year or two
    – zeldredge
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 14:16
  • 53
    Just tell them. As soon as possible. Yesterday would have been better than today. Tomorrow will be worse than today. Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 14:30
  • 10
    Contact the grad-school's office ASAP. It might be possible for you to defer entry by a year or so (if that's what you'd prefer) but in any case you really need to let them know as soon as you can
    – Landric
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 14:32
  • 17
    The harder it is to tell someone something, the sooner you should tell them.
    – J-Dizzle
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 19:51
  • 4
    Note that, unless you have a very good, pressing reason for dropping out, you will have a much hard time getting in again.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 20:50

4 Answers 4


It's never easy to break a commitment but you have to let them know as soon as possible, the earlier the better so they can make proper preparations for themselves, perhaps even extend a last minute offer to another student. Hang in there!


I can’t just not show up

Indeed. Tell the office/admin first- they are the ones that deal with the paperwork. Consider writing a longer email explaining yourself to your potential supervisor if it helps you. Or if you can meet up in person, why not?

I don’t want to offend anyone or ruin my academic reputation.

You won't ruin your academic reputation. Think of it this way: What would your reputation be after struggling through 4+ years through a program you don't want to be in?

Lastly I want to add:

  1. Lots of people change their minds. In fact, some scholarships require commitment within X weeks, meaning that you will have to commit to some before you hear back from another place. (at least in the UK)

  2. Plenty of people drop out even after starting their program. People realise it's not what they thought it would be; have second thoughts; or some life-changing events that change their perspective. It happens. That's life.


Unless you've been admitted to a tiny program, so that your personal absence would really practically disrupt everything, don't worry about it. Be straightforward, politely apologetic. Substantial universities/institutions are much, much less affected by your last-minute absence than your own life will be by any such choice... and any sane person in the university understands this. The worst inconvenience for the program is very small, almost un-noticeable in the statistical uncertainties of all these things.

And no other institution will hear about it, because no one will violate confidentiality by blabbing about such things, and hardly anyone knows (or maybe cares tooooo much) that you were scheduled to show up.

Just behave responsibly, forthrightly, and politely, given your change in plans. Although it's simpler to not see any need to change plans, in fact many people could do better by such a change! And no one should be surprised by the fact that early-20-somethings (or anyone else who's still sorting out "life") might change their minds.


You're options are limited but think thoroughly before choosing one.

  1. Stay only if you really want to. You might rethink your current situation; not many scholars get an opportunity for a fully funded PhD program. I'm not sure what made you change your mind, but best to analyze it further to make sure it is not just an impulse.

  2. If you wish to leave, then leave now. If you are pretty clear about not going to grad school, then don't delay your decision. With a kind apology to your advisor, leave.

Whatever it may be, the final decision is yours to make, do so wisely, you don't want to do anything that is going to give you regret for the rest of your career (that goes for both the above options).

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