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Asking how many places available - appropriate?


neur0cat

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I wouldn't ask about the other applicants, you don't know how the question will be received. I do think that asking what size cohort they hope to have is okay, although that's often something you could figure out by yourself by looking at the website and counting how many students they have per year. I doubt they'll share their internal estimates of how many offers will be accepted (which will dictate how many offers they'll make as a first pass), and personally I wouldn't ask. You might ask instead what the next steps post-interview are and when you might expect to hear back, and that might tell you something helpful. If you do an in-person visit, you could (delicately!) ask other students these questions about how many people they interviewed and how many offers they usually make, but only after you get a feel for the place and how much information they are willing to share. 

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Thank you @fuzzylogician :) The main reason I would appreciate knowing this is because I am an international applicant who will be paying out of my own pocket for an international flight to the US. Thus it helps to get a better idea of what my chances might be like at this point, to assess if it is worth it or if Skype might be a more cost-efficient option (though I understand it is always better to be there in person). 

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I see. The relevant question is still about your chances, not who else is interviewing. I think you could certainly write something about how you are really excited about this school and want to do everything in your power to attend, so if being there in person is important you'd like to do that. But given that a flight is expensive, if they think that a Skype interview would give a similar chance to an in-person interview, you'd appreciate knowing. Say you realize that the decision about spending the money is ultimately up to you and not them, but you'd appreciate their input.  

And yes, an in-person interview is always better. But is it worth the extra hundreds of dollars in expenses? Probably not, actually. It's your decision, but for me, going to the US for just one interview and paying fully out of pocket would not be a good decision. They have to realize that it'd be difficult for international students to make it in person, and most likely they don't expect it and can adjust their expectations accordingly. But of course at the end of the day it's up to you. 

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In your case, I think it is okay to ask something like "what fraction of interviewed candidates are typically expected to get an offer?" and explain what you just explained here about travel expenses (they should understand that you may not want to pay for hundreds or thousand+ dollars if your chances are like 20%). But this is just my opinion, it could be the case that the person you ask will not receive your question well. (I also think that it is unfair to have in-person interviews where the candidates pay out of pocket because as you are experiencing, it gives a disadvantage to those who are not able to come to campus!)

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After seeing @fuzzylogician's second reply, I want to clarify that the reason I think it's okay to (indirectly) ask about other applicants is to determine whether or not the interview is a serious culling phase for admission, or if it's mostly to have one last check before they admit someone that looks very good on paper but isn't the same in person. So, I would ask the question expecting an answer like "about 1/3 of interviewed candidates should expect to receive an offer" (i.e. it's a real interview meant to thin out the candidate pool) or "90% of interviewed candidates should receive an offer" (i.e. it's just one final check). 

If paying for interviews is the norm in the field, then I wouldn't fly out for the interview if it's still a big part of my evaluation. As fuzzy said, I don't think the difference between in-person and Skype is enough to be worth that much money (unless you can combine several schools in one visit or something). But if it's the 90% case, then I might consider flying out (especially if there are other schools to visit at the same time) because it's also a chance for me to evaluate the school and determine if I would like living in the city and the new country etc.

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17 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

But if it's the 90% case, then I might consider flying out (especially if there are other schools to visit at the same time) because it's also a chance for me to evaluate the school and determine if I would like living in the city and the new country etc.

I mean, yes, it's good to visit the schools you're considering attending, and I would consider much more favorably spending money on that than on one interview. However, now is probably not the best time to visit; the OP probably doesn't have answers from anyone else, so they'd be visiting just this one school, and if and when they have other acceptances, they'll have to travel again if they want to visit those schools as well. The time when visits are most effective is post-acceptances, which would mean more like in February or March. At that point, yes, try and see if you can get some funding from schools to support your travel, even if partial, and combine several visits into one trip, if you have multiple options. You can definitely learn a lot from an in-person visit. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks very much guys - I decided that the international flight would be justifiable as I have received more than one interview invitation, including one of my top choices which offered to sponsor a substantial amount of the costs.  Really appreciate both your opinions on this! :wub:

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7 hours ago, neur0cat said:

Thanks very much guys - I decided that the international flight would be justifiable as I have received more than one interview invitation, including one of my top choices which offered to sponsor a substantial amount of the costs.  Really appreciate both your opinions on this! :wub:

Congratulations! :) Good luck!!

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On 12/27/2016 at 3:14 AM, neur0cat said:

Thanks very much guys - I decided that the international flight would be justifiable as I have received more than one interview invitation, including one of my top choices which offered to sponsor a substantial amount of the costs.  Really appreciate both your opinions on this! :wub:

Wow that's great news!  Best of luck!

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