Recently I applied to a number of graduate program in the humanities. After applying to all of my schools, I received an offer in late February for a full funding package, which seemed very early to me. This offer came from an advisor, not the actual graduate school. The official letter of acceptance from the graduate school came several weeks later. In the offer, the advisor stated that though I had been offered funding, they would appreciate an answer on whether I would accept the funding or not as soon as possible.
Since this was late February, and I had only heard back from one school at the time, this put me in tricky situation, and I couldn’t really tell her anything. I would certainly accept the funding if I chose to attend, but that was not for sure by any means. The school I received the offer from was not my top choice, not a bad school by any means, but not a top choice. As such, I told her I needed time, without going into any details. Quite simply though, I just hadn’t heard back from most of my schools. A couple of weeks later I heard back from this same advisor, and this time she again asked for an answer soon if possible, but did notify me that the national deadline that a decision can be made is April 15th, still several weeks away. I was still waiting to hear back on a couple of other schools. I told her (the advisor that contacted me) that I needed more time.
One to two weeks went by and trying to expedite the decision, I contacted the one last top school that I hadn’t heard from, and found out I had been placed on the waiting list. My waitlisted school said they just needed to hear back from a couple of other students whom they had made offers to, and they could then possibly make an offer to me if these students declined. As such, after thinking myself into a rabbit hole with these complications of matters, rashly, despite having thought of it for several weeks (which may be why I thought myself into a rabbit hole) I accepted the offer from the initial school that made the offer. I have read elsewhere on these boards that accepting an offer and then withdrawing from it after April 15th, for a waitlisted school is highly unethical, can cause withdrawal from all schools, and I certainly see the reasoning behind that, but if I were to rescind my acceptance before April 15th, hopefully a week or more, would this be considered unethical since they could still easily give the funding elsewhere?
Moreover, would it disadvantage the school I did receive the offer from? Finally, could it possibly have an effect on my long-term career if I rescinded the offer and accepted admission to the waitlisted school? To be frank, I’ve been trying not to second-guess the decision and take responsibility for the decision I made, but as I’ve thought more and more about it, I don’t exactly feel like it was fair to place that pressure on me so early in the decision process. They have to know that I probably haven’t heard back from other schools, that I’m not in a position to make an informed decision, and that it is unorthodox to personally reach out to student who is trying to make the best decision for him/herself as they can. Of course, I did accept the offer, so I clearly need to blame myself as well. Regardless, is it ethical to rescind an acceptance of funding and admission before April 15th (hopefully a week or more before)?
In your opinion, is it right of them to use this tactic in trying to get an early decision? Would this burn a serious bridge that would hurt my career? Would another student not receive funding since I accepted the offer and then went back on it? I understand that some programs will reach out to their highly-regarded candidates in order to recruit them, and I am flattered by it, and I’m certainly not against the school, but it sounds like I have a solid chance of getting off of that waitlist, and that was one of my top schools. Seeing how this is the next five years of my life, it’s a weighty decision to make. Please let me know what you think, or if you have any official procedures for going about these matters.