Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Should a grad student use one offer for leverage at another school?

One of my readers emailed me the question below. I gave some answers but then I thought Lets draw on the wisdom of my readers
(EMAIL FROM A READER) I have gotten into two math grad schools which I will call A and B. I want to go to A, but B offered me substantially more money. Can I use the offer from B as leverage to get a better offer from A?
My answer was NO because
  1. I doubt it will work--- money has to come from somewhere, I doubt School A can just find money for you.
  2. I doubt it will work-- School A has other students who want to go there, I doubt you're that big a deal to them.
  3. If you make a threat like this you need to be able to carry it out. That would put you at school B which you don't really want.
Speculation: This just isn't the kind of thing that grad students do. This is NOT a reason to NOT do it, and perhaps grad students should do it. Do you want to be the rebel who changes the system? Can you be?

Readers- what do you thing? Do grad students ever do this? (I don't think so). Should they? Should she? ~


  1. I'm attempting to use that technique for undergrad.

  2. On #3, you're wrong, in that the student only needs to be able to convince school A that the offer from B is real, and at least somewhat tempting. Whether it is real or not is entirely different matter. Whether or not you'd actually go there simply doesn't matter, so long as admissions folks at A think you'll go.

    #1 and #2 are the real issues.

    I don't think there would be a problem with discussing B's offer with the folks at A. Just don't present it as a negotiation, academics don't like that sort of thing. Think of it more as giving them some additional information they can use to reevaluate their offer.

  3. I've heard that this sort of thing works sometimes. But I have no idea what the success rate is. It's probably pretty low -- one grad student isn't all that different from another. (I am a grad student, so I can say this.)

    And even if it did work, I suspect a lot of people wouldn't be willing to do it; that sort of thing seems to contradict the personality of most academic mathematicians.

  4. My wife tried this. She is a Grad student getting her Doctorit in Chem.
    She applied to two schools, first in Santa Barbara, and the other in Davis . Both are in California, and we live in Sonoma County. We prefer Santa Barbara and they made the best offer. I told here to see if Davis would change there offer, and if they did to then in turn see if Santa Barbara would up the enty. But alass Davis would not budge. So I conclude that it can't hurt to try. I also feel that if more students took this aprouch, it would cause the University's to possibly compete for students a little more. Most students do not realize that they do have some power when it comes to this, because the University's get financial funding through the success rate of graduates. So if you have a great GPA and have good recommendations from your professors, then fight for more money. After all the University's make money off of your attendants to their school. Just my interpretation of what I have experienced from this situation.

  5. There is a polite way to do this that does not risk getting anyone at school A angry. Explain to school A that they are your top choice and you would very much like to go there, but you are faced with a difficult decision because you have been offered substantially more money from school B. Tell them that you wonder whether they couldn't possible find some additional money to offer you so that your decision will be easy.

    This leaves open the possibility of your choosing school A even without additional money being offered, while still giving school A a chance to sweeten their offer.

    This may not be that likely to work, but it has some chance and no risk.

  6. The solution could be: the student write an e-mail to school A, telling them about the situation, and ask them if there is any chance that school A will raise the stipend a little bit, otherwise the decision will be quite tough for him/her. Just ask, do not threat, in this case the implication is very clear and I don't think it will offend anyone.

  7. I like Anon #5 and #6's approach. I don't think it involves "no risk", however. There are unreasonable people who would get angry at such a request coming from a graduate student (or anyone they perceive to be beneath them), who would not bat an eye at an assistant professor negotiating a starting salary. But I think such people are rare. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to volunteer for positions of power, such as graduate admission committees, at a greater rate than average.

  8. If done tactfully, there is no reason you cannot ask school A for a little more money. You should also be willing to ask for, and accept, other "perks" such as reduced TA load.

  9. For TA positions I do not think it is common as the stipends are usually a bit more fixed and less based on merit. However, I think you could have more room if its research. I was offered a lower paying TA position at my top school and a higher paying RA at my 2nd school. I told the top school I was more interested in them, but wanted to focus on research. With a little work by both the school and myself it helped open a door to a perfect RA arrangement.

  10. can schools really do things like offer students (who have already been given an initial offer) more money etc? do public vs private school differ at all in this regard?

  11. This early in your career it seems foolish to quibble over your student benefits. Building good relationships with school A right off the bat will likely be more valuable in the long run than the salary they give to you.

    In my own experience I chose school A even though they gave me no money, and once I arrived with my bag in hand they rewarded me with a TA. It was the right decision because it is where I wanted to be.

  12. I agree with those who say you should politely ask. Why not practice up on those negotiation skills? And it will give the proper impression that you're a sought-after candidate. But as in all negotiations, don't try to unilaterally pre-determine the appropriate outcome.

    In the end, though, small amounts of money shouldn't determine your destination.

  13. Applying as a masters student I was in the same position, school B offered me a little money but school A didnt offer me any. I emailed school A and told them that I would really like to go there but unfortunatly money was a big issue and let them know that B offered me some money, but didn't tell them how much. A couple of weeks later school A emailed me back offering a full ride plus a nice stipend.So depending on the situation it can work very well.

  14. I can't imagine that many schools are in a position, much less want to negotiate stipend payments for graduate students. Our university has set pay levels by department and can only be increased by the Grad committee. Professors are more than welcome to pay extra out of their own grants, but then you're not negotiating with the school, but with individuals.

    Really, I think that the institutions have the majority of cards when it comes to pay; there aren't that many reasons for institutions to compete over new grad students, but there is fierce competition among grad students for entry.

    I guess this may be a good argument in favor of grad student unions.

  15. It is quite common among admitted math students to politely negotiate conditions (see posts of Anons 5 and 6). Several my friends did that.

  16. I did this and, by asking tactfully, got $3K more from my first-choice school.

  17. I think it depends on the school and how they do stipends. Do all schools give the same package? Does it vary from advisor to advisor?

    I've heard of students trying this before (but didn't check back to see if it was successful). Like other posters said, I can't see how it would hurt to ask.

  18. s/Do all schools give/Do all students get/

  19. I negotiate offers with companies. I don't see why graduate students can not do it for the school.

    Given the current recruitment situation, I believe school are competing for good CS graduate students now. Think about how many good student are going to graduate school nowadays.

    Dear Professors, please wake up. The world has changed.

  20. To reiterate what several commentators said:

    -- it's fine to ask;
    -- be tactful and polite.

    Also, be sure to explore options outside the box (Universities/Departments often have a small number of Fellowships, summer support possibilities, travel support, etc.), so ask for these rather than just "raise my salary" (several schools, esp. state schools, might not be able to do this, but they might be able to earmark a summer teaching/research assistantship or a fellowship for an exceptionally strong applicant).

  21. I also say it's fine to ask, and state the problem explicitely.

    My friend got two offers, one from better university and with less money and one from worse university but with more money.

    He chose the worse one, since he needed to pay also for his wife.

    Now he says it was not a good decision. Although he didn't say it explicitely, I suppose now he'd probably try to bargain.

    Whatever the outcome tell your reader to choose the better one :-).

  22. It can't hurt to ask, but there are some departments where it is impossible to increase the stipend beyond the standard offered.

  23. I'm a bit confused by these comments. My school (Brown) basically pays all RAs and TAs the same amount. I'm told that some external fellowships pay a bit more, but I don't think anyone has any room to negotiate. Are other schools very different? (I've also heard our stipends are on the generous side.)

    It seems undesirable for some students to earn much more than others. If a student feels that a stipend is prohibitively low, they should let the school know, but I can't imagine one school actually matching another's offer (in contrast, this could happen for an undergrad scholarship)

    If money is a concern, a much better approach is to find an advisor that's compatible with summer internships. I'm told you can make $35-40 dollars an hour.

  24. I think a polite request to A, stating that the student wishes to join A but is getting more financial support from B, is not a bad idea at all. Instead of threatening, the true situation put plainly in polite words will definitely do the job!

  25. In reply to EERac, at my school (Berkeley) the TA and RA salaries are also fixed, and quite low compared to the cost of living. So the math department usually offers a "bonus stipend" to compensate, and these in principle can vary from student to student. I'm not aware that they vary by much. There are also other perks such as fellowships, offers of reduced teaching in later years, etc. I imagine it is the same at many public schools.

    I agree with other commenters that it is fairly common for students to attempt to negotiate.