Love in the air during grad school visits

Courtesy of Drue Sokol

After spending countless hours toiling over applications for graduate school, now is the moment when it all finally pays off. I’ve been lucky enough to be accepted into multiple schools, with each one offering comparable programs. It is comforting to finally feel secure about my future, but I am now confronted with a new (albeit fortunate) dilemma: Where will I spend the next five years of my education?

During this stage, however, the roles have reversed. I am no longer trying to impress the grad schools; they are trying to impress me, and I’ve never felt so truly wanted. The universities offer all-expense paid weekend trips during which I have the opportunity to visit the campuses and consider my options. With each school trying to win me over, my communications between them make me begin to feel like I’m balancing romantic relationships. The process becomes an elaborate mating dance, in which I share flirtatious escapades with the universities I like, while trying to let the other schools down painlessly.

With my top choices, the rendezvous are exhilarating. I am whisked off on an adventure better than the best of first dates. Having already gone on my first visit, I’ve begun to experience their attempts at seduction firsthand. First, the school buys me an expensive three-course dinner at a fancy restaurant. Then, talking over drinks, it tells me about itself — the faculty, the facilities, you know. I discover the things we have in common, and there’s real chemistry. Afterward, the program even takes me out to a show. Just two weeks later the entire courtship process is repeated with another university. It is a very flattering experience in which each program tries to compete for my attention.

On the other hand, the situation is problematic with my lower-tier universities. While their proposals are equally impressive, I simply don’t have enough time to entertain every offer. Perhaps it’s my own neuroses, but the form letters outlining the program details seem very personal to me. Although I realize it’s an expected and necessary part of the process, I still feel uncomfortable sending the rejection letters: “I’m sorry, admissions committee. It’s not you; it’s me. No hard feelings.”

Still, at times, I am tempted to take those free trips. In my mind, I can almost rationalize the scenario: If I visit, I may decide to go there. However, in my heart, I already know that I’m not interested. By visiting, I would just be taking advantage of them. I feel bad turning the schools down, but it’s better to break things off quickly without leading them on. It has to be that way.

With just one weekend to visit, there is hardly enough time to see everything. As I am shuttled around between poster sessions, meetings and events, it is difficult to get an unbiased perspective. The school fixes everything up in an effort to appear perfect. Even the professors seem more like used-car salesmen than researchers or advisors.
The whole extravaganza is like an exercise in speed-dating. When my metaphoric 10 minutes are up, the bell rings and it’s time to move on to the next school. Everything ends as quickly as it began. What’s more, the midnight hour isn’t far away and by the end of the night I will need to make my decision.

At the moment, the overall situation appears almost too good to be true. I worry that the whole production is a thin, glossy veneer that paints over possible flaws. Indeed, as I’ve been told by professors here, this month I’ll receive what is probably the nicest treatment of my life. However, once the initial euphoria and intense infatuation wears off, what will be left? As the romantic flame settles down, the ideal picture will give way to a more realistic and sustainable relationship. That’s the only way to form lasting bonds. I only hope resentment doesn’t set in. At that time, I’ll be working 70 hours a week in a lab for less than minimum wage, and that requires real commitment from everyone involved.

Oh, well. For now, I’ll just enjoy the romance.

Raybin is a member of
the class of 2012.

You can contact Jonathan at

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