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Choosing Between Grad School Offers

Previously: The Post-Interview Process

By Dr. Carina Beck, Director, Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success, Montanta State University

Your planning, due diligence, and hard work have paid off! You’ve received offers, and now it is time to make some decisions. This article offers guidance on how to choose between offers.

While there is variance in notification by school and program, you may begin learning if you’ve been accepted into doctoral level programs as early as late January (depending upon the school’s application deadline). Generally, schools are obligated to notify you no later than April 1st if you are going to receive a financial package (scholarship, assistantship, waiver, etc.). Typically, this means you have until April 15th to notify the school if you are going to accept their offer of admission and financial package. Master’s level programs tend to have slightly later dates and rolling deadlines for notification. Be sure on your application preparation spreadsheet to note and understand the dates and terms of notification – they are typically published on the institution’s/department’s webpage. This “timing” information will help guide your decisions. Rejection letters tend to be slow in coming if they ever do arrive.

Do not accept the first offer, even if it is from your top choice of programs. Wait, consult mentors/advisors, ask good questions. and perform appropriate due diligence before accepting. You may feel pressured to accept, but take your time, consider alternatives, and follow up with questions.

If you’ve received an offer, but not from your top choice, it is appropriate for you to communicate with your top school(s) and advise them of your offer(s). They will likely at that time provide you with information to help guide your decision (you are being considered for an offer, waitlisted, or won’t receive an offer). If you’ve received several offers, begin to quickly narrow your choices to no more than two or three options. Identify the priorities for why you would accept the offer (e.g., school’s reputation, opportunity to study under a specific researcher/scholar, research program credentials, program culture or “feel,” opportunities for publication, financial package, location, opportunities for employment, etc.). Create a “pros and cons” list or some form of comparison to consider your options methodically. Visit with your mentors/advisors. Develop a ranking scale that is personal to you and your criteria which will eventually help you determine the best fit for you.

Once you’ve determined your best fit, notify your top choice program with enthusiasm and respect. Similarly, promptly and professionally notify the other schools of your decision to decline their offer. Both communications are equally important and must be approached with tact, respect, and mindfulness. You have taken the time to build and establish these networks and no doubt, whether you choose to become a faculty member or work in industry or government, you will likely interact with faculty from schools who have either rejected your application or whose offer you have rejected. Networks are hard earned and can be easily dismantled; be thoughtful in your decisions and resulting communication.

Action Items:

  1. Be patient; many schools do not notify you until late in the spring.
  2. Don’t feel pressure to accept an offer immediately.
  3. Weigh competing offers on a variety of scales.

Up next: Return to the overview to check out anything you want to review again