The waiting is finally over. Congratulations! You have been accepted to graduate school and have one or more offers for admission to graduate study. It may take time for you to decide which to attend, but try to make decisions as you are able.
Don't Hold on to More Than One Acceptance
You may be fortunate enough to have been accepted to several programs. It may be tempting to wait to make a decision until you hear from all programs, but try not to hold more than one offer in hand. Why? Like you, other applicants are anxiously waiting to hear if they are admitted. However, some are waiting specifically for you to tell the admissions committee that you are not interested in their offer. Admissions committees send out acceptances as slots become available. The longer you hold on to an unwanted offer of admission the longer the next applicant waits for his or her acceptance letter, so keep that in consideration. Each time you get an offer, compare it with the one you have at hand and determine which to decline. Repeat this comparison process as you receive each new offer.
Admissions committees will appreciate your timeliness and honesty -- and they will be able to move on to the next candidate on their list. You hurt other candidates, your peers, by holding on to offers that you have no intention of accepting. Notify programs as soon as you realize that you'll decline their offer.
How do you decline an offer of admission? Send a short email thanking them for the offer and notifying them of your decision. Address the note to your contact person or to the entire graduate admissions committee, and simply explain your decision.
Pressure to Accept
You may find that some programs may pressure you to make a decision and accept their offer of admission before April 15. It's not appropriate for the committee to pressure you, so stand your ground (unless you're absolutely certain that it is the program for you). Remember that you're not obligated to make a decision until April 15. However, once you have accepted an offer of admission, remember that you are committed to that program. If you attempt to be released from an acceptance agreement, you might make waves and gain an unsavory reputation among graduate programs in your field (it is a very small world indeed) and among your faculty references.
When you are ready to accept an offer of admission, call or email your contact for the program. A short professional-looking note indicating that you've made your decision and are pleased to accept their offer of admission is enough. Excitement and enthusiasm are always welcomed by committees. After all, they want to be sure that they have selected the right candidates -- and professors are usually excited to add new students to their labs.