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Ask 6 Questions About Your Grad School Admissions Experience

How a graduate school treats you as a candidate is telling, says a former b-school admissions dean.

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When applying to graduate school, one tip often given to prospective students is: "Remember, you are always making an impression on the admissions committee." However, that statement applies the other way, too: "Remember, admissions personnel are always making an impression on you." 

Finding the right graduate program doesn't only mean that they like you, but that you like them. This is your education, your money, your time, and your career—so be sure that you are enrolling with your eyes wide open, knowing a great deal about the school before you arrive for orientation. 

[Avoid 7 deadly sins of business school applicants.] 

How the admissions office handles the interpersonal relationship with you as a potential student can be very revealing—whether on the phone, via E-mail, or in person. And one of the best ways to learn about a school is by observing the way you are treated. After all, how you are treated as an applicant is very likely the way you will be treated as a student. 

When reviewing your admissions office experience, keep these six questions in mind as you consider your grad school options: 

1. Did the admissions staff seem to care? Did you feel welcomed? Were they thankful for your interest or visit? Do you sense the staff was personally interested in you? Did they seem genuinely committed to helping you get all the information you needed? Or, did you feel more like a nuisance—treated as a number and someone to fill a seat? 

2. How professional and informed was the staff? This is huge! How professional was the admissions staff? Were they informed? Could they answer most or all of your questions? How often did you hear, "I'm sorry, I don't know the answer to that; someone will have to get back to you"? Was the information provided accurate? Did it square with or contradict information already communicated to you? 

3. How did the admissions staff behave during the campus visit, event, or fair? Did you get a sense that the staff members took pride in their association with the school? Did they make you feel welcomed? Were you engaged in conversation, or asked how they could help be more informative? Were they aloof, detached, or spending more time with other staff members than with you and other candidates? If you visited the campus, was your visit confirmed with you in advance? If you sent an RSVP, did you get a friendly reminder? 

[Learn how to get more money from your graduate school.] 

4. How long did it take to get someone on the phone or receive E-mail response? Did you have to navigate through a maze of voice prompts only to end up having to leave a voice mail? And after leaving a message, did you receive a return call? If so, how long did it take? How quickly were you able to speak to someone? When you sent an E-mail inquiry, did you get a personal or an auto response? When you did receive a personal E-mail response, was it timely? Was your question answered? 

5. How was admissions information presented on the website? This is very telling. Was it, or is it, fairly easy to navigate? Did it offer thorough information on programs of study, courses, faculty, student life, etc.? Were the requirements and deadlines clear and easy to find? Was contact information readily available? Did you sense the website is saying, "We want you" or "You should want us"? 

6. What was the online application procedure like? How difficult was the online application to complete? Was it intuitive, simple, and straightforward? Could you save parts of your online application if you were not ready to complete it all at once? How easily were you able to correct an error? Did you receive timely assistance if you hit a snag or were not sure how a particular function worked? 

[Read about the midcareer benefits of going back to school.] 

Based on some 28 years as a higher ed admissions professional, I know there is a strong connection between your treatment as an applicant and your treatment as a student. As a candidate, if your treatment by the admissions staff was excellent, it tends to show that there is more of a "service" mentality at that graduate school. If your treatment was anything less than excellent, it tends to show that this institution is more concerned about filling seats.