28

I have applied for PhD student positions at different graduate schools. During most interviews I was asked whether I have applied to other programs, which I affirmed. One professor also asked me to inform him if I receive offers from other universities. It seems like a sensible request to me and I confirmed that I would do so. However I can't help but wonder: Why did he ask me to disclose other offers?

Will it make me seem sought after and strong, if I receive multiple offers from other universities? Or will the professor look for applicants that have not found a place elsewhere and disregard me, because an applicant who has received other offers would be more likely to decline an offer?

  • 1
    He/She wanted to know what the competition is, of course. – Will Feb 24 '17 at 19:15
  • 1
    When I was looking they told me that. At some point months after initial talks I was getting several offers and I told my preferred suprv/project: "hey, I'm getting offers". It took a week to get me in. My points: this could be in your favour. – Ander Biguri Feb 24 '17 at 21:02
  • 6
    Here's an anecdote to corroborate the point that having offers from other universities can work to your advantage. (The names of the person and universities have been anonymized, but this really happened.) Someone's first choice was University 1, and he had also applied to University 2 which was also very good. He was informed by U1 that he was on their waiting list. He contacted U2 and told them that he was on U1's waitlist. U2 made him an offer. Then he contacted U1 and told them that he had an offer from U2. They moved him from their waiting list and made him an offer, which he accepted. – ShreevatsaR Feb 25 '17 at 3:45
  • The answer to this question is likely to depend on the country. Where is this? – Joel Feb 26 '17 at 4:40
16

I don't have a definitive answer, but I can offer some interpretion: with such a question a potential employer, not matter whether academic or not, is probing how likely you are to accept an offer if you were to receive one.

What I suggest in this circumstances is to tell you have other offers, if you did receive them - it will make you look attractive - but not specify them. After that, hint to the fact that your other offers are not your first choice, unlike the present one - that will make you look committed.

Of course all of the above stands if you did receive other offers. Honesty first. But no need to be honest about what is your favorite choice, as it's probably impossible to be honest about it, at least until you know what the offers are anyway!

  • 14
    If it is your favorite, don't hint. Tell your prospective advisor very clearly! Knowing that you are likely to accept an offer can sway decisions in your favor. – Cecilia Feb 24 '17 at 20:38
  • 2
    Could you clarify whether you are suggesting that a student who is currently without other offers should respond dishonestly by saying that they do? – Pete L. Clark Feb 24 '17 at 20:42
  • @Cecilia I assumed a prospective student would want to know his/her cards before playing them. But I agree with you - enthusiasm is the key to success. – famargar Feb 24 '17 at 21:43
  • @PeteL.Clark I did say explicitly not to lie on that. But I edited the text to make it clearer. – famargar Feb 24 '17 at 21:44
  • I think you're missing a "not" in your first sentence in the last paragraph. – Kat Feb 25 '17 at 17:24
9

A possibility is that the professor might want to expedite the offer process if he knows that you already have an offer from another university.

I assume he doesn't want to know the names of the universities but rather just whether you have offers or not.

4

This is actually standard protocol for all of the universities of which I've been involved. We ask because we want to gauge just how sincere you are in actually attending this university. Universities have a limited number of fellowships to give out, and knowing that you've been accepted to a tier 1 first choice school will let the admissions committee of a tier 2 third choice school make a more strategic choice in offering these fellowships.

Quite often, too, it's out of sheer curiosity. To whom did we lose you? How can we make our program more attractive in the future? These are important questions, too, though, I suspect the interviewers want to know if you'll accept or not.

3

These answers seem to suggest that instead of informing the places you've had interviews at/with that your dream institution (Oxford, MIT, Univ of Hawaii, whatever) has made you an offer - and you didn't immediately accept it, that instead you should play coy. This is, obviously, non-sense. Obviously, disclosing more information during the decision process will make it easier for them to decide. In general, it tells them that you've not yet had an acceptable offer. Or that perhaps the offer is to one of your "top" picks, but the terms (stipend, schedule, duties and responsibilities) isn't yet settled to your satisfaction. Keep in mind that there is some latitude for negotiating these things (often, but not always). So, in addition to giving information to them which may induce them to make you an offer earlier, it also gives them information which weakens your negotiation position. I can't tell you how best to approach them, it depends on how strong a candidate you are, and how strong you interview. But in general, tell them the minimum they need to know to get you to the position you want to be in. (Sorry, if this is just platitudes, but I didn't see it mentioned in the other answers)

3

When I applied, my potential adviser asked because he wanted to make a claim that I was a high-in-demand individual, and used the offers were for other universities to write an application for an extra recruitment grant. Needless to say, it was a really good offer. So it's not always nefarious.

1

Along with the other answers given: statistics about acceptance to different programs is used for some types of rankings of programs and can be part of certain grant applications such as Institutional Training Grants from the US National Institutes of Health.

It can be beneficial to a program to show:

  1. A high matriculation rate among accepted students (i.e., accepted students most often take the offer).
  2. Accepted students decide to come to that institution rather than other places they are accepted.
  3. The program has a higher selectivity than other highly regarded programs, and rejects some students that are accepted to those other programs.

Therefore, it can be a disadvantage to accept students who are likely to choose a different institution, and an advantage to strongly pursue candidates who have been accepted at other institutions if they think they can convince you to attend their institution instead.

I haven't experienced programs that tried to mislead funding agencies on these issues, but its possible some programs might try to game the system more. Accepting students who decide to go elsewhere has another disadvantage, which is that it probably means other desired applicants are not admitted.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.