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Over the past semester, I have applied for a few internships and have received an offer from one of them. Recently, the company I was at last year contacted me about my return to their company. What is the best way to handle this situation without hurting relations between me, my school, and the companies?

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Great job! Having two offers is a great problem to have. It is, however, hard to look past the hype and think logically about your two options; the train of thought I've followed in the same situation and may help you:

  1. Write down what is most important to you in an opportunity
  2. Choose the offer that aligns with your list from step 1 and career goals
  3. Send a polite rejection letter that is not impersonal, thoughtless, or over-explaining to your second choice

If you already know which opportunity you want, skip to step 3 and send the rejection letter while keeping in mind: appreciation for their time, politeness in explaining how hard a choice it was but that you are going with an opportunity that is a better fit for you right now, and brevity in explaining anything further beyond letting them know you wish them well in finding the new team member they are looking for.

Hope that helps! Great job, again, on the opportunities found due to your hard work.

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    +1. The same thing happens when a company is interviewing for full-time positions, too. Companies (in general) will understand that a candidate may have multiple offers and thus choose to go with a different opportunity. As long as you're polite about rejecting the second-choice position, you won't be burning any bridges for the future. (And if a polite rejection letter does burn bridges, odds are you probably don't want to work there anyway.)
    – Steve-O
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 1:48
  • Agree entirely. A company that has a culture that dictates it's offensive to politely decline an offer is undoubtedly one to steer clear of entirely.
    – JBeck
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 1:51
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What is the best way to handle this situation without hurting relations between me, my school, and the companies?

That depends on your goal.

If you want to return to the company and if interning at one company multiple times isn't frowned upon by your school, then do so.

If you don't want to return then thank them but indicate you have found an internship elsewhere.

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