Pack your bags! It’s time to go to your interview. You’ve probably gotten your itinerary so you know some of the details, but maybe you’re wondering what it’s really like. Most grad school interviews follow the same format, but there could be small differences. For example even though I’ve laid this out the schedule as Thursday-Saturday, some schools are Sunday-Tuesday or during the week. I’ll give you an overview of the interviews I’ve been on.
Thursday evenings are usually pretty casual. You’ve finally arrived at the hotel you’re staying at, and you get to settle in a bit. Some schools may pair you with a roommate, while some schools may get you your own room (which is AMAZING!). A lot of schools have an informal dinner with just you and some of the current graduate students. It’s a great time to ask them any questions that you might have about life as a grad student, or living in the city that the school is in. They’re a valuable resource for finding out about things to do and places to go in the city.
The dinner also gives you a chance to talk to your fellow interviewees. You’ll be spending a large portion of the next two days with them, so try to talk to people. These may be the people that you’ll be spending the next five years of your life with.
As far as what to wear… it doesn’t really matter. Jeans would be fine- at least for every interview weekend I went on. Some places may have you pay for your own food, so bring some $$$.
Get ready to wake up early on Friday! These morning usually begin before the dawn with a breakfast provided by the university. The format of Fridays will vary, but in general there is a talk at some point about the layout of the program, and you’ll probably be introduced to administrative people whose names you won’t remember and whom you may never see again. Don’t worry about taking notes or memorizing every detail at these meetings.
The major component of the Friday sessions are the interviews themselves- more on those next week, although usually there are between three and six interviews throughout the day.
Some universities <cough> Vanderbilt <cough> will assign current students to you to make sure that you don’t get lost in between interviews. I think this is a great reflection on the university, since it shows they care about your well-being and they understand that you’re not going to have the layout of the campus memorized after a couple hours on it.
Other common activities can take place either on Friday or on Saturday morning. These include informal lunches with the faculty, a student panel whom you can ask questions (you are going to get really, really sick of asking questions), poster sessions, small talks, campus tours, and a dinner of some kind.
After the dinner on Friday night, it’s time to PARTY!! Most of the time a group of current students will take you to a restaurant or bar so that you can get a feel for the nightlife. If you’re not really the bar type of person, sometimes you can go to a coffee shop with current students instead. If you don’t want to go out, don’t go out. There are no rules, and you’ve had an exhausting day. If you are the type of person who likes hitting the town… go for it! Don’t feel any pressure to behave, but don’t feel any pressure to misbehave either. In fact, don’t feel any pressure at all. This is a chance for you to relax and have fun, and maybe with some social lubricant (booze and coffee will both do the job) get to know your peers better.
A few pieces of advice: don’t go overboard on the drinking. There’s an urban legend about an interviewee that wound up in detox on his interview weekend and had to be bailed out by the dean of the university. I’m not sure about the truth to this story, but being bailed out by the dean doesn’t sound like a one-way ticket to admission to me. Even if you don’t wind up in detox, keep in mind that you may be seeing these people again, if not when the school year begins, then at the interview that you have next weekend. Trust me, everyone remembers the person puking in the corner. Also, Saturday morning comes early on interview weekends… the hangover while you’re walking all over campus and talking to important people probably isn’t worth it.
Saturday mornings usually have a mix of activities just like Fridays, but without the interviews. You will probably meet a lot more people whose names you won’t remember, and learn a lot more facts that you’ll never recall. Don’t worry, there are usually plenty of pamphlets and brochures thrust upon you, so you don’t have to remember anything right now. There will be some last minute opportunities to ask questions, if you have any left at this point. Then, it’s time to pack up and head for home
If you have any questions about interview weekends that weren’t answered here, if you have tips of your own, or just a comment to make, as always leave it in the comments.
Next week: The interview itself (*ominous dun dun dun*)