How to Decline a College Acceptance Offer: Tips + Samples

Declining a college acceptance offer
April 26, 2024
5 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

What should you do if you’re accepted to a college you no longer want to attend? Our guide covers everything you need to know about professionally declining college acceptance.

Applying to college can feel overwhelming; the pressure and competition can cause great stress. On top of that, it’s important to do thorough research to ensure you make the right choices. 

Declining college offers should be approached professionally, ensuring you aren’t burning bridges. By following this guide, you will gain the necessary insights to politely and gracefully decline undesirable offers, enabling you to choose the college that best suits your needs.

How to Decline a College Acceptance

To decline a college's offer of acceptance, communicate your decision promptly and respectfully. Colleges appreciate timely notification because it allows them to extend the opportunity to another student. 

While each institution may have its own preferred method for receiving declination notices, we’ve written a comprehensive guide on how to decline admission:

Step 1: Understand Your Decision

College admission letters are not given to just anybody - this means that the school you applied to truly believes you fit exactly what they’re looking for in a student. While you might still be holding out for a letter from your dream school, know that you have an application.

Sometimes in life, the best decision is to pivot in another direction and go with the constants given to you. If you decline this offer, you may not get the answer you’re looking for from your dream school and will need to wait for another acceptance letter. Your decision is critical.

Step 2: Evaluate Your Options

Some colleges might not give you a timed ultimatum; thus, you’ll be able to wait a little bit longer until you receive notice from another school. The best position to be in is to have more than one acceptance letter; that way, you can choose your school. But that only comes to the best of the best, as getting an acceptance letter can be challenging. But, if you have options, weigh the pros and cons of waiting, accepting, or declining.

Step 3: Prepare to Decline the Offer

Unfortunately, declining an acceptance offer to college isn’t as simple as you might think. You’re not writing to a friend letting them know that you can’t make plans to go out tonight; you’re writing to a prestigious institution and should handle it professionally.

You never want to burn bridges during the application process with any college, regardless of your future school. 

To properly decline, you’ll need the following:

  • The admission officer’s contact information 
  • Your application details
  • The exact deadline by which you need to respond

You're ready for the writing portion once you have these in front of you.

Step 4: Communicating Your Decline

In this step, your writing has three main goals: be clear, concise, and respectful. Avoid sounding wishy-washy, as the admission officer may misinterpret your message. In this situation, it’s not just a nice thing to do; it is your responsibility to convey your message clearly so that they can extend the offer to someone else who is anxiously awaiting their acceptance letter.

Step 5: Use Sample Emails to Your Benefit

Some students might find it difficult to write an important email from scratch. Thankfully, there are templates out there that you can use. Later in this article, you’ll find a template you can copy and paste into your email and fill in the missing details.

Step 6: The Structure of Your Letter

In your decline, you must include a greeting, the current date, a statement of your decline, a reason for your decline, and an expression of gratitude for the offer. You should always sign off with your full legal name and college ID (if applicable) to prevent confusion. Once everything is filled in, hit send!

Step 7: Dealing With Responses

In some cases, you may receive a response from the college asking for further details about your decline. If this happens, clearly restate your reason without overexplaining your decision. If you overexplain, it sounds like you’re embellishing, so keep it clear and concise. Avoid mentioning the name of other schools, as that’s unnecessary. 

If you draft a clear response, you will sound articulate and keep a good rapport with the college in case you were to apply for a master’s or Ph.D. at their institution.

You must do your due diligence and accept the college that fits your needs. So, don’t jump at the first offer. Ensure you’re considering the offers you decide to decline and accept. The college you choose must align with your future goals and current situation. 

Use the resources around you to determine which college is the right choice for you. Research what each college has to offer, and specific details that set them apart. Consider factors such as their locations, programs offered, and overall cost. Weigh the pros and cons of each college you’ve received acceptance to and list your priorities

When reflecting on your options, consider the following questions:

  • Are the costs in line with your budget? Consider each school's tuition, living costs, and available financial aid.
  • How do you imagine your experience at each college would be? It’s impossible to know for sure, but try your best to reflect.
  • What is each college’s culture and environment?
  • What has your experience with each college been so far?
  • Is the program you’ve been accepted to in keeping with your goals and aspirations? 
  • What extracurricular opportunities does each college have?

Don’t decline your college offers prematurely; make sure to confirm your acceptance to your chosen school. Once you’ve narrowed your decision to one college, it’s time to accept and decline other offers

The deadline and process you need to follow to accept your offer are outlined in your acceptance letter or on the college's website. This process varies for each college, so it’s important to read each acceptance letter carefully. If you need help, reach out to an admissions officer

Reasons Why You May Need to Decline College Acceptance Offer 

Declining a college acceptance offer is important because it helps the college balance its incoming class, cuts down on unwanted messages, stops recruiters from bothering you, and allows you to check out other colleges more easily. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Reduces Unwanted Communication: Letting colleges know you're not interested cuts down on all those annoying emails and mailings. It saves you from getting bombarded with stuff from schools you're not even considering.
  • Enables Exploration of Other Options: Turning down an acceptance offer gives you the freedom to explore other colleges more thoroughly. You can visit different campuses, apply to more schools, and focus on finding the best fit for you.
  • Helps Shape the Incoming Class: By telling a college early that you're not going, you're helping them figure out who else they can accept. It's like paying it forward to the next person in line.
  • Ceases Personal Contact from Recruiters: Once you decline, those persistent recruiters will finally leave you alone. No more endless calls and texts trying to convince you to join their program.

Considering these reasons can help you make a clear decision about whether to decline a college acceptance offer. It's all about making the process smoother and less stressful for everyone involved.

Declining a College Acceptance Offer: Sample Email

When declining a college admission offer via email, thank the admissions officer and let them know you appreciate their time considering your application. Explain that after careful thought, you have decided to attend another institution that is a better personal fit. Use an email template to streamline the process, ensuring your message is both polite and clear.

Below we’ve provided a sample email that can help you maintain a positive reputation. You can base your email on this template or modify it as necessary. 

“Dear _______,

Thank you for your offer of acceptance to (name of college) for the class of (the year you will likely graduate). I’m grateful for your consideration and for the generous scholarship you’ve presented me (if applicable). I would like to thank (the name of a specific individual you interviewed with or spoke to, if applicable) for their time and support. 

After careful consideration, I have alternatively decided to attend (name of your chosen college). 

Thank you again for your kind offer. 


(your name)

Why This Email Was Successful

This sample email is an effective way to inform a college of your decision. The student demonstrates gratitude immediately by thanking the university for the offer of acceptance, and any scholarships they received. 

They include a personal touch by specifically referencing the individual they corresponded with. Doing so demonstrates that the student values the support that the university provides them. It clearly outlines your decision to attend another college and the careful consideration behind it. The student also ends with a losing thank you and a polite sign-off. 

Overall, the email is clear and concise.

Declining a College Acceptance Offer by Phone

When calling to decline a college admission offer, be professional and respectful. Clearly state you are declining the offer, thank the admissions officer for their time and consideration, and briefly explain your reasoning such as choosing another college that better fits your goals. Here's a guide to help you navigate this conversation:

  1. Prepare Your Points: Before making the call, outline the reasons for your decision. While you're not obligated to provide detailed explanations, being prepared to offer a general reason can be helpful. Common reasons include choosing another school due to factors like cost, program offerings, or extracurricular opportunities.
  2. Be Ready for a Follow-Up Call: Some colleges may reach out to you for feedback to improve their recruitment process. While sharing your reasons is optional, providing constructive feedback can be beneficial for both parties.
  3. Express Gratitude: Start the conversation by thanking the college for their offer. Acknowledge the opportunity they've extended to you, showing appreciation for their consideration.
  4. State Your Decision: Clearly and politely communicate your decision to decline the offer. You can say something like, "After careful consideration, I've decided to accept an offer from another institution that aligns more closely with my academic and financial needs."
  5. Provide a General Reason (If Comfortable): If you feel comfortable, briefly explain why you chose another school. Mentioning aspects like cost, specific programs, or extracurricular activities can provide valuable feedback to the college.
  6. Maintain Professionalism: Throughout the call, remain courteous and professional. Your interaction could influence future opportunities, as colleges often keep records of communications with prospective students.
  7. End on a Positive Note: Conclude the conversation by thanking the representative again for their time and the opportunity. Express your best wishes to the college and its community.

Remember, declining an offer is a normal part of the college selection process. Handling the conversation with grace and professionalism ensures a positive experience for both you and the college.

Common Mistakes

Common mistakes when declining a college acceptance include not notifying the college promptly, failing to express gratitude for the offer, or neglecting to formally withdraw the application, which can lead to confusion and inconvenience for both the college and other applicants. Let’s take a closer look at these mistakes:

  • Delaying Communication: Waiting too long to inform the college of your decision can be problematic. It's courteous to let them know as soon as you've made your decision, giving them time to adjust their admissions process accordingly.
  • Lack of Clarity: When declining an acceptance, it's essential to be clear and direct in your communication. Ambiguity or vague language may lead to misunderstandings or delays in processing your decision.
  • Failure to Follow Instructions: Some colleges may have specific procedures or forms for declining acceptance offers. Failing to follow these instructions could result in your decision not being properly recorded, causing confusion for both you and the college.
  • Not Considering Alternatives: Before declining an acceptance, consider if there are any circumstances or factors that may change your decision. Explore all your options and weigh the pros and cons carefully to ensure you're making the right choice for your future.
  • Overexplaining: While it's essential to provide a reason for declining, going into too much detail or offering unnecessary explanations may not be helpful. Keep your response concise and respectful.
  • Burning Bridges: Even if you've decided not to attend a particular college, it's essential to maintain a positive relationship with the institution. You never know when you might need their assistance or want to apply again in the future, so be polite and professional in your communication.
  • Ignoring Financial Aid or Scholarship Obligations: If you've received financial aid or scholarships from the college you're declining, make sure to follow up and understand any obligations or requirements regarding those awards. Failing to do so could have financial implications down the line.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can ensure a smooth and respectful process when declining a college acceptance offer.

FAQs: How to Decline a College Acceptance

Declining a college offer might be a difficult process as you don’t want to burn any bridges, though you want to state your case. Below, we aim to address any questions you may still have in this process.

1. What Happens if You Don't Decline Your College Offers?

You’re not obligated to officially decline your college offers. If you don’t accept within the provided time frame, your acceptance will be withdrawn. However, it is good etiquette to decline. It shows courtesy to the college that extended an offer. Choosing to decline can also directly impact prospective students on a waitlist. 

2. Can I Decline a College Acceptance After Accepting It?

Yes, you can still decline an offer even after accepting. This situation might arise due to receiving a more attractive offer from another college or experiencing a change in personal circumstances. To decline, contact the school as quickly as possible to offer your spot to another student.

3. Can I Accept Multiple College Acceptance Offers?

You can only have one offer on file at a time. So to accept a new offer, you need to cancel your original offer. 

4. How Do You Politely Decline a College Acceptance?

Follow the instructions each college provided to you to decline your offer, which is outlined in your acceptance letter or on the college's website. Some colleges require you to email their admissions office, while others ask you to submit an online form. If you need help - reach out to your admissions officer. 

In addition to following the official process to decline your offer, write a polite, concise email. Make sure it's properly addressed. Add the names of specific college representatives if they lent their support along the way. 

If you receive a phone call from the college you rejected, express your gratitude. Provide a general explanation behind your decision to help improve their recruitment process. 

5. How to E-Mail the College You Won’t Be Attending After Deposit

If you’re certain that the college who notified you isn’t the college you’ll be attending, consider using an email template in your reply. Be concise, and explain why you’ll be declining the offer. 

Unfortunately, you will not receive a refund for the application fee, but you can now accept another offer.

6. Can I Rescind My Acceptance of Admission to a College?

Yes, you can typically rescind your acceptance to a college by notifying the admissions office in writing. However, it's essential to review the college's specific policies and deadlines regarding rescinding acceptance to ensure proper procedure and avoid any potential consequences.

7. What Happens if You Get Accepted to College but Don't Go?

If you're accepted to college but don't end up attending after accepting the offer and paying a deposit, you'll likely forfeit that deposit, as many colleges have non-refundable enrollment fees.

Colleges often allocate resources based on the number of students they expect to enroll, and withdrawing late can disrupt their planning and affect other applicants.

Final Thoughts

Our guide to declining a college acceptance offer can help you communicate your intentions clearly and effectively. It's important to make your decision promptly and follow the college's specific procedures for declining an offer. 

This could involve sending a formal email or letter to the admissions office. Express your gratitude for the acceptance and the opportunity, and clearly state your decision to decline. Maintain a professional tone throughout your communication, as this can influence future opportunities or relationships with the college. 

Remember, your polite college rejection can open the door for another student’s admission, so it's considered good etiquette to formally decline rather than simply ignore the acceptance. You can always contact an admissions officer if you have any questions.

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