PhD | part 2 | Interviews and Acceptance
Part 2 of our PhD guide! Let's jump right into it. Here's what to do after you get accepted.
P: There is actually a scenario where you open that letter and you don’t receive a rejection, a waitlist, or an acceptance. Wait, what? Well, if your programs are like Clinical Psychology programs then you have to go participate in interviews/an interview weekend if you made “the cut” and then a decision is made whether you will be accepted, waitlisted, or rejected. Programs typically choose the top 15-25 candidates and ask them to come interview so they can then narrow it down. Here's what to expect if you are asked to attend an “interview weekend.”
After you get in… or don't
You checked the mail and what did you find? A letter from a school you applied to… now what?
The "I didn't get in" scenario
P: There are a few scenarios that can play out after opening your letter. You may read “Congratulations! We are very pleased to inform you that you have been offered a position in our program…” This would be the best-case scenario. Now, unfortunately, not everyone is going to open their letter and see something this exciting. Reading your first rejection letter feels equivalent to being punched in the gut while the people you idolize tell you that you aren’t good enough. What? You wanted me to sugarcoat it for you? Sorry, not my style. Everyone gets rejected by at least one school so be prepared and try not to let it bring you down too much. You may see something about a suggestion about contacting the graduate school or the professor you wanted to work with and essentially ask why you weren’t accepted. This sounds scary and it can be but another time I will keep it real with you guys- most will not respond back. I recommend that you don’t send an email asking why you didn’t get accepted either. There are more professional and elegant ways of going about this. I recommend asking something about which parts of your application did not meet their standard or what you could do to sell yourself better next year. You may not be applying again next year but most academics like to have their ego stroked a bit so doing that may actually get you some answers. Honestly, pretend that you are dying to work with them because they are the best thing since white bread and I guarantee that you will be much more likely to receive a reply back. It can’t hurt to see what part of your application was lacking or to learn that a part of your personal statement didn’t quite come across the way you hoped. It can’t hurt. Also, if you don’t get accepted to any of your schools it is not the end of the world. I promise. Keep trying to build that resume. Network. Make sure that the professors you really want to work with don’t forget your name. Make yourself known. Start a side research paper and send it to the professor if you are feeling ballsy before the next round of applications. Don’t stop if it is something you really want. It will pay off if you put in the work.
The "I got in!" scenario
P: Now for the best-case scenario. You opened that letter and you saw the sun! You read those words over and over and never get tired of them. You start happy dancing or screaming with your friends- Good! Celebrate! Your hard work paid off! Congrats! Now, to see if you receive any more acceptances or if you want to accept the offer you received. I believe most programs have a final date to make your decision around April 15th. You may have to make a hard decision if you get in more than one place but enjoy that people want you. You have the power now! It is so rare that we- as applicants- have any power so bask in it! Brag a bit! You deserve it!
Now here are some of my recommendations if you were accepted to the school you want to attend. Go ahead and accept. They may have a list of things you have to do to actually accept so go ahead and do them. Make sure you have done them all! Double and triple check. Email people if you need to. Make sure they have copies of official transcripts. Start figuring out if you can get any classes waived. For example, I got multiple classes waived in my doctoral program from classes I had taken in my masters! Saves time and money! It is worth the extra effort!
Now, start reading anything and everything from the professor you want to work with. Seriously. Mine actually called me and talked about my research and their research in April- within days after I accepted so be prepared! Put the time in to reading your program website and any manuals. I went ahead and started going over a tentative schedule and figuring out which classes I would like to take and the electives I preferred. Get acquainted with all the things you will have to do when you first start as well. Save all emails from the school after you officially accept! You will be getting financial aid information, instructions on forms to fill out, blah blah blah. Save them all. I ended up running around like a crazy person when I first arrived on campus. I arrived a full week before classes started and somehow I still didn’t get everything done I needed/wanted to. I forgot to go get a student ID card I was running around and so busy! Make a plan. Figure out everything you need to do. Do as much as you can ahead of time. You will thank me later.
S: If you can, try and visit the schools before you commit. If you have to travel for an interview you can kill two birds with one stone here. Art History programs don’t require you to visit or to interview beforehand so some students commit without even seeing the campus. Your advisor is responsible for getting you through the program. If you're working with someone you don’t get along with or who doesn’t have time for you it’s going to be a long 5 years. That’s why a face to face interaction is so important before you sign on the dotted line. Also, try and go out with students who are already in the program. After your tour, take them out for some drinks and honestly talk about the program. You can get some illuminating, and honest, feedback about the professors and the program when everyone’s outside the university setting and has a beer in them.
You'll also get a good feel for the atmosphere between the students. Are you going to a university where it's so competitive that the students try to one-up each other? Or are you going to a university that stresses collaboration? That was a huge decision for me when I started my master's program. I wanted to be friends with the other students outside of class, not fear the idea of them stealing my ideas.
Reputation vs. Aid
S: What’s more important to you – the reputation of the school or the amount of financial aid you’ll get? Would you rather go to a school with a prestigious reputation where you’ll have to take out a lot of student loans or go to a place where you’re fully funded but it’s not ranked in the top five? Decide now! In my opinion, it’s better to go to a school that’s not at the top of the field and be fully funded. I may be wrong, but I think that having a PhD, in general, is enough.