[Note: found this unpublished and unfinished draft of a blog entry I wrote early last year. Thought I'd publish it anyway.]
Like several of you, I've heard back from most of the schools I applied to (actually, all but1). I've had two in-person interviews (both followed Skype interviews), one just over-the-phone interview, and two acceptances (weirdly, not following interviews at all).
In-person interviews are the only way to go. I know SO much more about those schools, the city I would potentially live in, the faculty, grad students, and general climate of the program than I would have otherwise. In both cases they were game changers - I went in with set opinions that were totally blown out of the water. I literally don't know what to do with the two outright acceptances (without interviews) I did get. How am I supposed to make a decision based on the few pieces of paper they sent me? I'm planning to request visits.
In-person interviews are exhausting. Much more so than you think they'll be. I'm pretty sure I stopped forming coherent sentences about three-quarters of the way through. But it's okay, I think they expect this, and hopefully don't judge too harshly when you forget important pieces of information - like your name, where you're from, or who your POI is. And trust me, you get asked that a lot.
Similar-seeming schools and departments can be wildly different.
I unintentionally found out how to get schools to respond to your application much sooner. I noted in most of my applications that I would be backpacking and only available by email, and possibly Skype (internet connection permitting), after February. To be fair, at the time I thought this was true. I just ended up pushing my trip back until later because I had some work commitments I didn't want to bail on. And it's not like you can go back and correct your application after you submit it.
But as a result, I've had three POI's contact me concerned that I might be out of the country during their standard interview period - and wanting to know if they could interview me sooner! One of them even went so far as to obtain "special permission" from the adcom to interview me early. I actually felt really bad about that, and let her know I was still around and was happy to wait until the official period. So even though I haven't had that interview, at least I know they're interested!
Actually, my intention in mentioning that I would be gone was sort of unrelated. I wanted to include something about my travels, without doing the usual irritating equivalent of name-dropping. One of my LOR writers suggested I phrase it like that - as an FYI, rather than a "hey-look-how-cosmopolitan-I-am".
I'm definitely not advocating lying about it, but maybe the moral of the story is - it doesn't hurt to be a little hard-to-get?
So, I think I've moved beyond the stomach-churning anxiety of January, and am now into the February waiting-it-out blues. I'm resigned to the fact that checking my inboxes (yes, plural - apparently from a perverse need to torture myself, I gave out two different email addresses - ugh) every five minutes isn't going to speed anything up. I mean, don't get me wrong, I still do that; it's just that now it's more of a tic rather than driven by hopeful optimism.
I've been invited to two interview weekends so far, and have had a third request for a phone interview. But given that none of these are actual offers, it does nothing to stop me biting my nails. Especially since I've all but given in my notice at work - I plan to travel from April 'till school starts in the fall, and everyone at work knows this (because I can't keep my mouth shut about grad school, apparently). So yeah, worst case scenario, I have to no job, no school offers, no plan.. so no pressure there
To add to that, this is my second time applying - last year I applied to 6 PhD programs and was roundly rejected by most of them. But more about that later.
I know everyone says this, but it really is an emotional rollercoaster. When I got that first invitation to visitors weekend, I literally shed a few happy tears (they noticed me! I may have a chance!) but it was quickly replaced by doubt and certain unavoidable facts (they're inviting several candidates, I'm just one of many, what if I don't even like the school? etc).
Ah well. At least it's nice to know I'm not alone in this self-imposed torment. We'll make it through this! (maybe sans a little sanity)
Oh, and to pass the time, I've been making handmade thank-you cards to my LOR writers. It's fun, and I like to think it's more meaningful and conveys my appreciation more than a generic card. I know people on here have asked if it's appropriate to send thank-you gifts (it's not, IMO) and I think this is a nice balance between a gift and a regular card. I recommend it