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Conflicting interview - one school won't budge & already RSVPed to another


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I'm in a bit of a predicament. I've been blessed with several interview invites for Psych PhD Programs, and unfortunately I've run into a dilemma. School A invited me to their interview weekend a week ago, I RSVPed and spoke with the professor by phone confirming that I would be attending. School B notified me a few days after that they wanted to interview me on the same day as School A. Because I already RSVPed to School A, I emailed School B back and apologized but told them I had already made a commitment to another school but that I would love to come another time to visit and interview in person. School B emailed back and essentially said no, that that was not possible.

I'm very confused about this response. I guess first of all, is this a typical response from a school or is this a reflection on that school? I realize I could go back to School A and ask if there are alternative days, but given that I already RSVPed and spoke with the professor, I feel like that would not reflect very well on me. I'm not really sure if there is anything else I could do in this situation, because it sounds like if I don't attend School B's one specific interview day, I will no longer be considered.

I would say I like both schools equally and would like the chance to visit at both.

Thanks for any thoughts/advice.

Edited by cherry12055
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Hi, this is a tough situation, but let me say congratulations on the interviews even if it's a complicated situation! This is a really frustrating situation for school B to have put you in, not that they have a responsibility to avoid conflicting with other schools when there are so few weekends. I don't have experience here, but I will say that a colleague of mine got accepted to schools despite turning down interviews (she had already accepted an offer).

FOR SCHOOL B: Is it possible for you to reach out to the PI (if it's not who you're communicating with already about the interview), explain, and ask them if they would be willing to do a skype or phone interview, or if you can come visit them personally at a time that works with their schedule?

FOR SCHOOL A: Or, you can talk with the person coordinating the interview (grad secretary, maybe?) and ask about alternative days. That way, you don't have to communicate further with the PI until you know if there's alternate days. If there are other days and you reschedule and can attend interviews at A and B, just send the PI at school A an email explaining that you had to change your interview date due to a conflicting interview (or, if you don't want to seem like you're choosing B over A, you can just say a conflicting event) but that you are looking forward to interviewing with them on Alternate Day.

If school A doesn't have an alternate day either, in my opinion you should just go to school A's interview day and put school B out of your mind after sending the aforementioned explanation and offer alternatives to the PI at B. The reality is that you *might* still get an offer from school B despite them not meeting you in person, but if you cancel at A to go to B for whatever reason, the PI will know and that will hurt your chances more than a "sorry I have already an interview I've committed to, can we work something else out?" will. Good luck!

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Sometimes schools will present themselves inflexible at first in order to reduce the amount of extra scheduling/rescheduling they have to do. You're in a tricky situation because you say that School A and School B are equal to you, so the usual advice of asking the less favoured school to bend won't work as well. To answer your question in your second paragraph, I'd say that I wouldn't consider this a negative reflection on the school at this point. 

Here's how I would proceed:

First, realise that you now have to make a small choice in favour of one school or another (but see the note at the end). I know you said they are equally desirable to you and it sucks to have to make a choice this early but ultimately, you can only pick one anyways! If you favour B over A, then ask School A if they can reschedule your interview. I think @dormcat's advice above is very good. If School A agrees, then problem solved :) If not, then follow the steps below (switching "A" and "B" and amending other statements about the other school as necessary).

If you favour School A over B (or if you favoured A but A won't budge either):

Next, I would try to separate the interview component and the visit component. Write back to School B and tell them again that you have already committed to a visit at School A (it's okay to name the school) for dates XYZ. Tell them that you understand that the visit is for those dates only but you are still interested in their program and that you would like to interview at another time on Skype if possible. The reason why I suggest this is because it will be the true test of whether their original "no" was a hard no or just them trying to discourage people from rescheduling. 

If they agree to interview via Skype on another date, then this is great news. You're still in the running for positions at both schools. You can worry about trying to visit the school once you are accepted and have a reason to need to visit. If you get an offer from them, maybe you can combine a visit to their campus along with a visit to something else nearby. If you end up visiting another school nearby, you should contact School B again and say that you're visiting School C on dates XYZ and you'll love to also drop by before or after those dates if possible. Sometimes they will be able to set it up (and pay for it too). In my field, we don't usually interview but we still have visits and schools have told me that they will only allow me to visit on a specific date, but once I arranged my own travel they were happy to be more flexible. You might encounter the same thing with School B---once they have accepted you, they might be more willing to recruit you!

If they absolutely refuse to interview you at any other date and basically say that "if you don't drop the plans with the other school, then you won't be considered for our school" (it's okay to double check that they really mean this if they don't say it directly), then I think it does reflect poorly on that school. You'll have to really choose one or the other and I'd consider their inflexibility in my decision. 

Finally, regarding the first step, I originally wrote it with the intention that you should prioritize the school you really want more. I don't usually recommend "gaming" the system. However, if you want to consider another (risky) perspective and you still cannot decide between the two schools, then consider prioritizing the school that you think will be less flexible. Generally, I would say that prestigious schools with tons of money are more flexible than lower ranked schools with less money. So ask the school that is better off (in general) to bend. This is also a good time to follow the other part of @dormcat's advice. If there is a professor there that is interested in you, talk to them about an alternate date too. Usually whatever department policies can be bent by faculty members that want to recruit a particular candidate.

Good luck!

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