While the majority of readers of these blogs are likely prospective undergraduates, I’m writing this in hopes of helping out any students who are curious about what the process of applying to graduate school from Caltech looks like. I hope the blog can lend some insight to the process.
Now that it’s early April, I’ve finished visiting grad schools in person. This is, of course, one of the final steps in the graduate school admissions process, which I’ve posted a bit about previously. In order to get here, it’s been a strenuous process of essay writing, editing, more writing, and waiting. After this, the rewarding period finally arrived.
Due to COVID, some grad school visits have been over Zoom. These are definitely a very different experience than in-person visits, and hopefully, none of the readers of this blog will have to experience this! The online visits have tended to be shorter, and I haven’t had as much time to talk to the grad students in each program. This necessitated having many one-on-one Zoom calls to talk to individual students, and to talk in a setting a bit less awkward than in a Zoom call with 20 other students.
In-person visits are much more insightful. They have let me get an impression of not only the lab spaces and the research, but to meet current graduate students more organically, to walk through the surrounding area that a school is located in, and try food from the area. As a very food motivated individual, this has been pretty important to me! Most visits have allowed me enough free time to walk through the area, get coffee, meet up with alumni friends, and in some cases, to even visit museums. (Over the course of the visits, I’ve finally also been forced to figure out how public transportation works. Living on the west coast for my whole life had let me avoid that up until this point.) Figuring out whether one’s research interests align with the program’s is important, but figuring out whether or not the program’s location would be a good fit is important too!
While the advice “go with your gut feeling” has been one of the phrases I’ve heard the most frequently in these visits, I would recommend asking a lot of questions for information to accompany the possible gut feeling that one experiences. This is where meeting up with Caltech alumni that are in your graduate program of interest, or simply meeting lots of current students can be really helpful. In the end, the decision will be a very personal one, but it’s always good to go into it with as much perspective as possible, especially if you end up indecisive between options!