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I have received a PhD offer from University A, but I'm also considering other programmes (say C and D), for which I will interview soon.

I was wondering: should I mention during my interviews with C and D that I received an offer from A? What effect would this information have on my interview? Positive ("university A accepted him, so he should be a strong candidate"), or negative?

And let's say the answer is that I should not mention it, what if they directly ask me which other programmes I am applying to?

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If A is your first choice, accept the offer and withdraw your other applications. If You would prefer to attend C, tell them (C) you have an offer from A but that you would rather attend C.

  • I'd rather attend C. Strategically, should I try to mention the offer from A during the interview with C (but that I prefer C)? Does it increase my chances of being accepted by C? Thank you. – francoiskroll Jan 21 '17 at 12:28
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    It might increase your chances, especially if A is a highly-ranked program. I would mention it only if it comes up naturally, and be sure to emphasize that you'd rather attend C. Even more likely is that it may convince C to give you an answer sooner. – David Ketcheson Jan 21 '17 at 18:09
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You should mention it to the program you prefer. There is an element of "social proof" in the admissions process (other schools' interest confirms that you really are a good candidate).

However, one exception is if your preference is for a lower-ranked program. If a higher-ranked program accepts you and the lower-ranked program knows that, the lower-ranked program may not accept you for fear of losing you to the high-ranked program. Only a set number of offers may be made every year, and programs do not want to waste an offer on a student that they don't think they have a shot at attracting.

Most of all, be sure that you are clear with the program that you want to attend that they are your first choice -- and be very specific about why. In graduate programs, it's at least as much about "fit" with the program as it is about how good you are as a student.

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    This is a reasonable answer but the second paragraph seems questionable. If you prefer to go to a lower ranked place, telling them you are got into a higher ranked place but that you would prefer to go to their program (and explain why) will be fine and might help. If you don't want to go to the lower ranked place, there's no issue. Also, relevant rank is not always as clearcut as US News might suggest it. – Benjamin Mako Hill Jan 22 '17 at 1:00
  • Fair enough. That paragraph is based on our own department, which usually does not extend offers of admission to students that have gotten in to higher-ranked programs because we don't believe they will pick us. On "rank" I agree that US News rank is not very informative. Within the field there is usually a fairly clear tacit understanding about which programs are "the best" (ie high status). That said, I admit it is hard for an applicant to know which is which. You have to be clear with the program, as you say, "that you would prefer to go to their program (and explain why) " – sessej Jan 23 '17 at 14:19

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