How to Successfully Handle Grad School Admissions Challenges

By dealing with challenges calmly and maturely, you can impress the admissions committee.

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If you handle interview challenges well, it can help rather than hurt your admissions chances.
If you handle interview challenges well, it can help rather than hurt your admissions chances.

On occasion, something goes wrong during the graduate school application process. There are several kinds of mistakes that applicants or admissions officials might make, and this post addresses three examples:

1. You arrive on campus for a visit or an interview, only to discover that you have mistakenly arrived on the wrong day. This could be due to either your error or a mistake by the admissions office.

2. You receive notification that your application is incomplete when you have proof indicating otherwise.

3. Your interview goes awry, which can occur in a number of ways. The interviewer may arrive late; she or he might talk about his or her work and accomplishments, rather than asking questions about you; or she or he may repeatedly interrupt the interview to answer a call or respond to a text message, or behave inappropriately by asking personal questions or flirting with you.

[Ask six questions about your grad school admissions experience.]

The key in these trying circumstances is your response. In most cases, a bad experience does not have a huge impact on the final decision, provided that you handle yourself honestly, calmly, and professionally. A situation like this, as difficult as it may be, provides insight into who you are and how you behave in nonoptimal situations.

If you have made a mistake about the date or time of the interview or campus visit, acknowledge the error and ask how to resolve the situation. If you live close to campus, offer to come back another time. If you've traveled quite a distance, be assured that you will be accommodated. There is no need to keep apologizing. However, it would be a nice touch to send a thank-you note to those who assisted you.

If you are informed that your application is incomplete, don't argue. If you have proof that you submitted all of the materials, provide that. But the bottom line is that if the admissions office believes something is missing, it's most likely missing. Your focus needs to be on getting the missing information to the committee as soon as you can. Thank them for letting you know, and keep your cool.

[Read about four graduate school myths debunked.]

Responding to inappropriate behavior during an interview is challenging. If this happens, wait at least 24 hours before doing anything. Think through what you want to communicate to the admissions staff, focusing on being accurate and professional. Prepare a letter, not an E-mail message.

In the letter, communicate what happened, provide your contact information, and offer to speak with someone about the matter. When you believe your letter is ready, call the admissions office. Indicate that you need to communicate a concern about your interview, and ask for the fax number. Then fax the letter. If you have not heard from anyone within three days and you have confirmation that your letter did reach its destination, call and ask to speak with the admissions director.

The response you receive will tell you something about the institution to which you have applied. In particular, it will let you know how committed it is to ensuring a good interview experience for all applicants.

In most instances, if an interview has not been conducted properly, you will be given an opportunity to have another one. Many admissions staff utilize current students and recent graduates to assist with interviews. They are committed to ensuring that anyone conducting an interview is representing the institution in the best possible way.

Coming forward to let the admissions committee know of a less-than-appropriate interview experience does not hurt you in any way. As mentioned earlier, it could actually help your candidacy, if you handle things calmly and professionally.