The Road to Graduate School, Part IV

Visits… I mean interviews… I mean… wait what?

Yeah! Getting an interview means you’re past that first hurdle. They love you so much on paper that they want to meet you! That first interview invitation was one of the best moments of my life. For the first time, I knew it was going to happen; I was going to go to grad school. It’s a lot like that first undergraduate acceptance letter only somehow better because they’re only sending it to like 50 people (whereas undergraduate institutions send out 1000s). So yes you should feel special and yes you should feel proud if and when this happens. –high five-  <– This is me sending you a preemptive high five for when it happens. Save it for later. 🙂

Anyway, there is a bit of an issue with this part of my “Road to” blog. I really don’t know how to title it. Here’s the first problem with the title: Grad school visits/interviews aren’t really interviews. Here’s the second problem with it: Grad school visits/interviews aren’t really visits. And now you’re thinking, “Well, Kim has finally lost it and isn’t making any sense!!” Seriously though… it’s very confusing and I had no idea what I was in for on that first interview.

So here’s the thing. Part of visiting a grad program is to decide if you really want to go there. I mean you’ve only seen them on paper/the internet and that’s just not the same. This is the time where you see if your apprehensions about location are true, if you “fit in”, and if the science is all it’s cracked up to be. You can tell a lot about the overall feeling of a program just by spending those one or two days with current graduate students. You can also see if that professor you think you want to research with is as awesome as you thought (or not…). The first thing to remember about visits/interviews is that you need to be happy there. You’ll be at that institution and in that program for 5+ years for a PhD and the visit is the only chance you’ll get before moving there to really see what you’re getting yourself into. This isn’t just school; it’s your life and we all know no one plans to spend 24/7 alone in a lab.

The other part of this process is the interview. The second thing to remember about visits/interviews is that every program is a little bit different. Some really don’t focus on the interview. Their mentality is that they only want to pay for people to visit that they know they want to accept. These are the places where unless you totally screw up, you’re in. Now for other programs, it really is an interview. They’re paying for say 60 people to come out and will only offer for 30, maybe even only 15. And you can try to figure out which program fits into which category but trust me, it’s never accurate. Past graduate students/your professors knew how it was once done at a given program. It may not be the same anymore. And current graduate students don’t really get told how their program’s administration figures things out. They’re too busy trying to graduate, ha. The moral of this story is to treat every visit like an interview. Be yourself, put your best foot forward and what happens, happens.

And here’s yet another problem with my advice. DON’T FREAK OUT! Yes it’s an interview and that’s scary. But if they reject you after that, then you probably wouldn’t have been happy there anyway. It’s all about matching people to programs. You have to want them and they have to want you. I guess that’s how I reconciled the visit/interview idea. I went in like it was an interview but toned my fear down a bit by realizing that being myself was the best way for me (and the programs) to find the “right” students for them. You don’t really want to go to a place that doesn’t really, really, REALLY want you there, right?

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