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I'm interested in applying to pharmacy school and programs for a PhD in chemistry. The PhD programs only admit less than 10 people a year and it's more likely that I won't get in to one of these compared to pharmacy school. The issue is that the pharmacy programs provide admissions offers earlier than when the PhD interviews start.

Is it acceptable to accept an admission from the pharmacy school and then later reject that offer in favor of an offer from a PhD program? I feel bad for potentially taking up one of the spots in a pharmacy program if I won't be going there.

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    Given the competition for places in medical academia, I wouldn't be worried about turning down the place there. It's almost guaranteed that a wait list exists, and that someone else will be happy to do what you propose: take the early offer, and switch if a more preferable one comes along. In this case, just as you drop pharmacy to go PhD, they'll drop [whatever] to go pharmacy. – Nij Nov 13 '16 at 2:06
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    At least in the US, PhD programs have an agreed upon "acceptance date" where you can wait until then to accept an offer - this procedure is to prevent the situation you are describing, and to prevent universities from competing with earlier acceptance deadlines and therefore not giving applicants a real choice. I don't know if PharmD programs follow these guidelines, but have you checked when you must accept by? Even if the offer comes in early, you may not need to accept until the spring. – Bryan Krause Dec 13 '16 at 18:24
  • Unfortunately PharmD programs have a "rolling admissions" and pretty much admit you based on what happens in the interview. And then they have a deposit fee to make sure that you're going to that institution. – user64743 Dec 19 '16 at 1:58
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There's probably nothing wrong with doing this from a technical/legal standpoint. That said, to echo StrongBad's response here, when you accept a position in a program the tacit understanding is that you are removing yourself from consideration elsewhere. In the eyes of the program, acceptance is equivalent to commitment. To that extent, you risk burning some bridges.

Your case is slightly different, given that you're in two different fields. The risk of burned bridges may mean less to you. Still, you are effectively reneging on a commitment, which is something you may or may not feel comfortable doing.

  • It is a fact of life that people renege on commitments all the time. My son's math teacher quit three weeks into the school year, and the class has been floundering with one sub after another. Now we finally have a permanent replacement who's worse than the subs. But in OP's case, there will be no shortage of applicants ready to fill the spot one month from now, so what harm will have been done? When one considers an ethical question, one needs to think about the harm one or another course of action might do. (If I understood right, your answer addresses the ethics of the question.) – aparente001 Dec 13 '16 at 19:57
  • @aparente001 - I am addressing ethics. While there may be costs to the institution, the harm is likely greater to the individual. Being known as someone who does not hold to their word is not a good thing. – eykanal Dec 13 '16 at 21:11
  • @aparente001 I think there is an ethical difference between reneging on a commitment due to unforeseen circumstances (especially things like illness, physical or mental), but it's different to make a commitment while fully planning to break that commitment in the future when another opportunity arises. I get your point about there not being a shortage of applicants, but those other applicants have to start making other plans if they are waitlisted or haven't been accepted - that is certainly causing them harm if it isn't necessary. – Bryan Krause Dec 13 '16 at 21:53
  • @BryanKrause - A candidate who starts out on the back-up list, and then is offered a spot, is free to jump for joy or say "No thanks." – aparente001 Dec 13 '16 at 22:11
  • @aparente001 Surely - but had someone not accepted ahead of them when they planned to withdraw their application, they would have been saved the added stress in the meantime of being waitlisted. Maybe they would have already accepted another offer to a less-preferred institution, or sought other employment. Then they are in an ethical quandary that they should not have been exposed to. These are all harms, even if they are not harms to the institution. – Bryan Krause Dec 13 '16 at 22:20
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Read the fine print on the acceptance letter and any links provided. I doubt you'll find a problem there. By double-checking, you will be able to proceed with more confidence.

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    I think taking action simply based on it not being legally problematic may be the wrong way to think about this question. – eykanal Dec 13 '16 at 18:35
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If you are pursuing your degree in the US or Canada then there is a good chance your institution belongs to the Council of Graduate Schools. Some international schools also belong to this organization.

Many of the best graduate schools in the US/Canada have explicitly endorsed the April 15th Resolution, which states that students should not be obligated to accept a position (or specifically, an offer of financial aid) before April 15th. This is specifically to avoid putting people in the uncomfortable situation you describe, and to maximize the chance of good matches for all students and schools.

I would reccomend this: if the department that sent you the first offer is affiliated with any of the schools listed in the April 15th document, and your acceptance comes with any offer of aid (such as a TA or RA position) then write to the graduate admissions coordinator and ask if they are aware of the resolution and if it would be OK to delay your acceptance until you hear back from the other programs.

If the department that sent you the first offer is not affiliated with any of the schools listed above, then write to the graduate coodinator explaining your situation. Explain that you are hoping to do a PhD in chemistry at a competitive school and it is widespread practice to delay final graduate admissions decisions in that realm until April 15th. Ask if it would be possible to have an extension on the decision, or if it would be possible to accept the offer contingency.

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