Negotiating a Graduate Admissions Offer


A prospective graduate student in philosophy writes in asking for advice on “how to negotiate more money from the Ph.D. programs to which I’ve been admitted.” The student adds: “I haven’t found many tips on the internet that are specific to philosophy. I’d be really curious to hear what some admissions directors and other faculty have to say about what works and what doesn’t.”

I don’t know how often prospective students attempt to get more fellowship money from the programs they’ve been admitted to, nor do I know how successful such attempts are in general. If you’re a student who has successfully negotiated for a better offer, or a department chair or admissions committee member who has been a party to such negotiations, please do share your experiences and suggestions. Also of interest—despite institutional idiosyncracies—would be the methods by which departments were able to procure additional funds for this purpose.

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(Owl collage by Mark Wagner)

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Eva Dadlez
Eva Dadlez
5 years ago

The only tip I have involves a situation in which there aren’t enough remitted tuition philosophy positions to go around. One could (and I did this my first year, so it’s possible) suggest an arrangement whereby one teaches Freshman English (it helps to have been published, or to have a BA or minor in English) and get free philosophy credits. Most schools need an army of writing instructors, and the Philosophy Dept. might cut a deal with the people in charge of core writing courses.Report

M
M
5 years ago

I often work on admissions committees. Universities vary on the extent to which such money is negotiable. At my school, we are not permitted to negotiate in this way. No one here is offended by the question being raised, but we can’t negotiate. I should say that I am glad that this policy exists. This enables me to say “We are not allowed to do this” rather than “The differences between prospective graduate students are so slight, and our predictions about their success so uncertain, that it would be silly for us to offer you more money.”Report

B
B
5 years ago

I am a graduate student who successfully negotiated an offer a few years ago. That makes it sound fancier than it was: really, I just told the head of the admissions committee at my first choice school (also the faculty member who contacted me to tell me I was admitted) that I was excited about joining their department, but that the offer was a little bit low (which was true), and it would really help me in making the decision if they might be able to increase it a bit. They did (not by a whole lot, but still!) and I happily accepted.Report

Robert Pasnau
Robert Pasnau
5 years ago

This is an excellent question. Some programs will negotiate and some won’t. I’m currently chairing grad admissions at Boulder, and I am always very glad when prospective students are open about the factors at work in their deliberations. I’ve made it clear to our prospective students that we will try to compete with rival offers. Very often, money is not the main consideration, and should not be the main consideration, but in cases where it plays a significant role, I would encourage prospective students to be clear about this with the program in question. At that point, as I say, some programs will have room to negotiate, and some will not. But as long as the prospective student is clear about where things stand, I do not see any danger in raising the issue. The danger would come if a student really has no intention to go anywhere other than a certain department, but then proceeds to push so hard on the funding issue as to antagonize the folk at that department. This is, however, in my experience, unlikely to happen. The experience of B in the previous comment strikes me as entirely typical.Report

Leon Hart
Leon Hart
Reply to  Robert Pasnau
5 years ago

I wonder how accommodating departments are if the applicant is off the waitlist on April 15 and wants to negotiate funding (with another offer in hand of course).Report

Matt LaVine
Matt LaVine
5 years ago

For what it’s worth, I tried to do this and failed. That said, the department was unbelievably nice about it and tried pointing me in some other directions for getting more funding. So, I would encourage you to at least try.Report

UnintentionalNegotiator
UnintentionalNegotiator
5 years ago

I’m a grad student who negotiated with a few schools when I was deciding where to go — and I will say sometimes schools that don’t have any money by way of fellowships or increases in annual stipends may have other things that they can negotiate with, like, an additional year of promised funding, or, one less courses to teach during a semester when you’ll be writing your dissertation (I have absolutely no idea how common this is, I’m just reporting some of the things I was offered).

I really don’t know what to tell you about how to negotiate, because I’m not even quite sure how I did it (I feel weird about even saying I negotiated because the first time it was accidental, not intentional). But mostly, I was just honest with the schools I was most interested in about both my interest and what my other offers were (e.g., “Hi Prof. X, I’ve narrowed down the programs I’m considering, I really love Y about your university, but this is great about program Z, and they’re offering me [whatever]. Is there anything else I should know, or anyone else you think I should speak with before making a final decision? Thanks very much for your time and the offer.”).Report

Fritz
Fritz
5 years ago

I’m on admissions at our program (Western Michigan), and the stipends are dictated by the Graduate College; we have no say in them. That said, there’s always the prospect for more money when people show up, from at least the following sources: additional grading assignments, getting hired onto faculty grants, supplementary summer teaching/research positions, etc. But we can’t put any of that into formal offer letters (i.e., Graduate College disallows it). So I’d say, if students are seriously concerned about funding, just have an open conversation about further prospects. (Well, or ask if it’s negotiable, which, as some people have already said, it often isn’t.) Another piece of advice I’d give is to *look at cost of living*. Students often don’t even think about this, and my experience is that there’s thousands to be saved in cost of living–e.g., Kalamazoo versus Boston–that substantially outstrips variations in stipends.Report

Fritz Warfield (Notre Dame)
Fritz Warfield (Notre Dame)
5 years ago

My experience advising a couple of dozen students going off to gradate school who have been involved in discussions with at least 40 different graduate programs leads to the following observation. For every 10 programs saying they are not allowed to negotiate offers or that “under no circumstances” are offers negotiable, 9 programs are either lying or using the claim that “this is not negotiable” as simply one more negotiating tactic among others. (Plenty of first hand experience shows that the same is true about claims that various faculty working conditions are “not negotiable”).Report

ResponsibleNegotiator
ResponsibleNegotiator
5 years ago

When I was admitted to several PhD programs my choice came down to two that I was most enthusiastic about: one which paid considerably more stipend money and offered additional scholarship funding and full health insurance and another that did not have scholarship funds, had a lower stipend, and did not include health insurance. I told the program that was offering less that I was concerned about accepting their offer because I would be creating a much more financially difficult situation for myself in attending their program. I was frank about what offer I was weighing. In turn, they offered to work on a revised package for me to consider. Ultimately I decided on the program that had initially offered more funding for reasons beyond just money, and let the other department know that they did not need to pull strings to get an updated offer for me. However, they had been willing to work on this, not by me “negotiating” necessarily, but by being clear about the various considerations going into my decision-making process, which have to include my overall financial well-being. One additional thing I will note: the department I turned down was grateful for my frankness. They knew that health insurance was one area I was particularly troubled by – as were they. They had to uphold university policy but wanted to encourage the university to take seriously offering grad students health insurance across the board. So they asked if I could make it clear when declining the offer that health insurance was a concern that informed my decision, so that they could take this to their administration as part of efforts to lobby for health insurance for future students in their department and institution. So there may be great overall value to being clear about the factors that inform our decisions and this may help programs be able to improve their offer packages in important and ethical ways in the future.Report