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Visiting a friend before or after interview day?

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Is it bad taste to stay with a friend on Thursday and/or Friday night of interview weekend?  Or try to get lunch or coffee with a friend at some point before or after interview day?


I know a lot of schools have their interview day on a Friday.  They often suggest you fly in on Thursday evening and have interviews/meetings all day on Friday and maybe a lab dinner in the evening.  And many schools have you stay with grad students.


I'm concerned that not staying with one of the grad students might send a wrong message.  Specifically, my concern is that the school might think I'm using the visit (that they are paying for) to hang out with my friends.  And I don't want to seem unappreciative.  Also - I realize that staying with a current grad student is a way for them to get to know you better and shed some light on the admissions process.  So would not plan to miss any of the activities they have planned - including getting drinks after the interview with other prospective students and grad students (which I've heard is sometimes common).


On the other hand, I also feel like a slight burden on the grad student who, despite what they might say, would probably prefer not to have to drive back and forth to the airport and have some random stranger staying on their couch.  


My first priority is obviously the interview and, currently, I'm not planning on seeing my friend at all -- but I'm just curious what you guys think about this.  Specifically, I'd love to hear from anyone who's been involved in hosting prospective students.

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At one school I visited, the visiting students were put up in a nearby hotel so we would be roommates with our future cohort mates. However, I also had a really good friend (who was also a student at the school too) so I requested to stay with my friend instead, in order to save the school some money. In return, the school increased the amount of travel support by $100 (which was needed to pay for the "International" flight). This visit was a Thursday-Friday but I chose to stay a few extra days with my friend whom I hadn't seen for a really long time! (Obviously, that part of the visit was on my own dime though!).


At another school, they originally planned for me to stay with a current grad student. However, since my spouse was travelling with me, we preferred to have our own lodging, so we stayed at a hotel in town instead. Using my spouse's employee benefits, we were able to get a very discounted rate, and since our total cost was still under the maximum travel support, the school agreed to pay for that too.


When applying for MSc programs 2 years ago, I visited the schools during my undergrad midterm break and I spent 3 days at each school -- one visiting the department and two visiting the city (looking at things we'd do for fun as well as potential places to live etc.). The schools were very accommodating, even offering to give advice and arrange for current students to show us around. One school even paid for the 2 extra hotel nights.


Overall, I don't think it's "bad form" to schedule additional personal activities before or after the scheduled interview/visit dates. Obviously, it would be very bad form to skip scheduled activities to do your own thing though!! I would also say it's probably better to stay with the grad student for the Thursday evening (the student might be the one meeting you at the airport after all) and give the school your full attention on Friday. Maybe it would be best to meet your friend after the lab dinner on Friday and then spend some time with them. If possible, you can always schedule your flight home for Saturday night or Sunday (or even later) so that you can focus on the school stuff on Friday and then have the weekend to spend with your friend!


However, if you are not comfortable staying on someone's couch etc. then it's perfectly okay to state your preference for staying with your friend (or arranging your own private lodging). When you bring up things like this, I would always mention that you will be paying for these extras on your own dime, but usually they will offer to pay for what they can. If you are applying to a good school, they should understand that not everyone wants to stay with random strangers and that they should not hold it against you if you don't want to do that.

Edited by TakeruK
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Honestly, I'd see if you can just move the flight up or back by a day rather than not stay a night with the grad student.  Usually this is not a problem if you get it cleared first, especially if it won't cost any extra money to the school.  Here's why I suggest this:


1. Staying with the grad student actually is a time you can really learn a lot about the program "off the record" when the grad student isn't worried about what other people are hearing her/him say.  You can ask questions that maybe you wouldn't feel comfortable asking in a group or with faculty in the room.  You can actually see what a typical grad student can afford on the stipend and what housing options are like in the area, as well as get a feel for local neighborhoods that you might actually end up living in someday.  These are things you don't get from being on campus and will remind you to ask real questions about quality of life outside the lab.


2. Admissions are a crap shoot and I'd take all the opportunities possible to get yourself an advocate.  Bonding with a current student can only help.  We use hotels, but if a grad student volunteered to share their apartment they probably want to talk to you and they can be useful to you!


3. Last year we invited students to visit and 2 of them took off after a dinner with the current grad students to go meet friends--everyone else hung a little to talk. They were already making the least great impression of the group, but having made the plans and run off did sour us on them even more.  It's probably not terrible if you're making a great impression otherwise, but if you're borderline it won't work in your favor.

Edited by watson
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I'm actually doing this for one of my schools. (My top choice school in fact). I asked my PI if it was ok.


He said that it was fine that I was staying longer. He asked if I needed extra funds. And suggested that I stay at the hotel for the time that the other students were their, so that I could get a better sense of future peers. But it would be a big deal if I wanted to stay with my friend for the entire period.


However, I already know that I've been admitted, so this may not apply if you're still fighting for slots (ie you're in clinical). 

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