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What to Expect When You’re Expecting Graduate School Interviews

If you’re in the process of applying to graduate school, by now you’ve either submitted your applications or are gearing up to do so. After clicking the “submit” button, you may feel a wave of emotions - exhilaration, dread, anxiety, or relief. I distinctly remember that when I submitted my applications, the principal emotion I experienced was impatience.

The process that came after submitting the application felt mysterious and unclear. Because I went to college at a university that did not have graduate students, I didn’t have older students to rely on as a resource for admissions-related information. I was constantly pestering my research advisor, dropping by his office hours to ask “so when should I expect to hear back?” Once the interview offers started coming, my questions only seemed to multiply.

For those of you out there waiting and wondering, here are the top four things you can expect when you’re expecting a graduate school interview.

You can expect….

  1. To hear back from schools from mid-to-late December, through January.

For the most part, admissions committees meet on a predetermined date after the submission deadline to start combing through the stacks of applications, usually during the month of December, or early January. During this time, the admissions committee may extend you an offer to attend an interview weekend. The graduate school “interview season” runs from mid-January to the beginning of March. These weekends give prospective students a unique opportunity to visit a school, meet the students and faculty, see the surrounding area, and start to think about what it might be like to attend a particular graduate program.

If you’ve read my previous post on applying to graduate school, you might remember that some admissions committees extend offers on a rolling basis. However, these schools are few-and-far-between.

  1. You may get interview offers from different schools for the same weekend …

Interview weekends overlap — this is inevitable. With the literally thousands of different graduate programs in any number of different specialties and less than three months to fit in interview dates, it would be ridiculous to expect anything else. However, I don’t think this reality ever occurred to me when I eagerly submitted applications to 18 different programs, and I was later forced to make some tough choices.

  1. If you do have multiple interview offers for the same weekend, you may be able to negotiate for special accommodations.

Many schools offer two interview dates and are willing to let you attend whichever fits your schedule. Others only have one interview date, but will gladly set up a Skype interview if you cannot attend. Alternatively, if you’re already going to be in a certain area for an interview, sometimes you can arrange to travel to a nearby school to visit and interview in person, outside of their formal interview weekend. There are also, of course, some programs that will not make exceptions and require that you attend their interview weekend to be considered for admission. It never hurts to ask if there’s any room for flexibility; but keep in mind that there is no true substitute for attending a school’s interview weekend, and it may be harder to get a true understanding of whether a school is a good fit if you opt to visit outside of the scheduled interview dates, or interview via Skype instead.

Be careful to fully weigh your options before making a commitment — once the schools have purchased your airfare or travel accommodations they may hold you responsible for reimbursing them if you back out to attend a different interview weekend.

  1. To have fun!

Interview weekends are the best part of the graduate school admissions process, and are genuinely a lot of fun. You’re going to be meeting a lot of people — current graduate students, professors, and other interviewees — and you never know who will end up being a long-term friend, future roommate, or even your thesis advisor. Many programs have also started to incorporate fun events and outings into their interview weekend schedules, intended to give you a taste of the range of activities outside of the university in that particular city. Over the course of my graduate school interviews, I visited the Museum of Natural History in New York City, went bowling, attended a Broadway musical, tried a variety of different cuisines, and even went on a catered cruise in Florida.

Good luck to all the students out there applying to graduate programs and, if you haven’t already, submit those applications!


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