Etiquette During the Graduate Student Recruitment Process


            So you’ve decided to become an I/O psychologist, you’ve applied to several graduate programs, and now you are wondering about what comes next. (See How Do I Pursue an I/O Career for information about how to prepare for graduate school) Most graduate programs accept students only for fall admission, and their deadlines are between January 1 and January 15. It can take a month or more after the deadline for faculties to review applications and make decisions. Likely those accepted will be notified first, with those not accepted having to wait for as long as several months to hear, and it isn’t unusual to get no notice at all. Many schools have thousands of applicants, and the offices that send out notices are understaffed—not an excuse but reality.


            Schools can differ in how they handle their acceptances, but the typical process is the following.


            1. A committee of faculty first individually review applicant folders and rate each student’s qualifications. Keep in mind that this is based on imperfect and incomplete information—GRE scores, GPA, letters, personal statement, research experience, and other background information. Faculty are looking for predictors that indicate you are a good student, but they are also looking for fit to their program focus and  philosophy.


            2. The committee meets and rank orders applicants, and this determines who is accepted and who is offered support (for some schools these decisions are separate whereas for others they go together). Each year a target number of admissions is set, but not everyone accepted will in turn accept the invitation. For example, in recent years at USF, we’ve accepted about 3.5 students for each admission we want. Our approach is that we decide how many to accept and use the rank order to determine the order in which they are offered support. An initial group are offered support. As a student from that group declines admission, the support offer goes to the next student on the list. For some schools only those offered support are admitted, with the others being alternates, but the outcome is very much the same, since it is rare that a student comes without support.


            3. April 15 is the agreed upon deadline for students to notify graduate programs if they are accepting or declining, but schools will press for an earlier decision, since likely other students are waiting.


Dos and Don’ts: Some Etiquette


            1. Faculty know students apply to multiple places, so don’t feel you will insult anyone by talking about where else you applied. Likely you will be asked about where you applied, who has accepted you, and your preferences. Feel free to be candid—if University of the North Pole is your top choice because you have an interest in what their faculty are doing, or you are place-bound, that’s fine.


            2. Make your decision as soon as you can, and do NOT hold up places once you’ve decided not to go there. April 15 is the deadline, but this doesn’t mean you should wait until that date to notify everyone who has accepted you. Keep in mind that somewhere there’s a student waiting to see if a slot will open at their top choice, and you might be holding up that slot. It is possible that you are waiting to hear from a school, but the person holding your slot is waiting for the slot at another school that you are holding.


            Now if you are waiting for your top choice, there’s nothing wrong with holding your offer at your second choice until April 15 so see if Number 1 will come through. However, it is best to let the remaining schools know you’re not interested as soon as you can.


            3. It is fine to contact schools to check on the status of your application, or the status of possible funding. It is ok to call faculty about this.


            4. It is good to visit the schools to help you decide. Many have open houses where there will be events planned and you will meet other potential classmates. It is probably best to go to an open house, but if you can’t it is fine to visit other times. Just keep in mind that depending on the day you choose, there may or may not be many faculty and students around, e.g., a school’s spring break is not the ideal time.


            5. For most schools, the most appropriate attire for a visit is business casual. No one expects you to come in a suit, but shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals are a bit overly casual if you are trying to make a good first impression.


            6. It is ok to bring a family member, friend, or significant other for your visit. Just let the school know you won’t be alone.


            7. It is ok to ask questions. Don’t be shy about asking about support, the curriculum, the climate of the program, strengths and weaknesses, student life, or other things about which you are concerned. It is ok to ask different people the same question—you might get different perspectives.


            8. It is ok to talk (or e-mail) with current students—ask faculty to arrange this. Likely students will know about things that the faculty don’t, such as the best housing in the area for you, and what it’s like to be a student in the program.


            9. Don’t feel bad about turning someone down. This is your career and your decision, and having students decline is part of the recruitment process.


Copyright Paul E. Spector, All rights reserved. Last modified May 17, 2003.