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I applied to several PhD programs for computer science for this coming academic year. I just received a conspicuously congratulatory email from one of them with an invitation to attend a virtual open house and a link to a page with information about the event.

While the email was very clear that this is a pre-admit event, the website was clearly a template from previous years and used the term "admitted students" in several places. I can see from the email there's about 50 of us who received invitation, along with a specific faculty member who extended the invite.

So to generalize this fairly anecdotal question: is it safe to assume this will become an offer for admission? And if so, what incentives to graduate departments have to structure their admission process in this way (open house, then final admission decision)? I find it very confusing.

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  • This is new to me, since my U.S. R1 math dept has an open house well after the first round... or even second... of offers has been made. Not counting pandemic time. We're trying to convince people that they'd like our program, not filtering them... Commented Jan 16, 2022 at 4:48
  • In my world (neuroscience) it's standard to invite about 2X the number of students who will be admitted for an interview weekend; the interviews are meant to go both ways, both identifying students who are a good fit and for students to identify things about programs they like. Are you sure this isn't an interview? Are you scheduled to meet with potential advisors? There's a lot more investment in taking on a PhD student than an undergraduate.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jan 16, 2022 at 23:45

2 Answers 2

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Yes, it's typical (at least in math, as paul garrett says in a comment) that such events are for accepted grad students. Based on your post, it sounds like this differs from their procedures in normal years.

Here is a guess: since the open house is virtual, there is no cost in inviting more people than usual to the open house event. So the department decided to invite people that fall in one of the following categories: (i) they are a clear 1st-round admit, (ii) they have passed an initial filtering of candidates and will likely either be admitted or at least placed on a waiting list, (iii) they would like more information on the student, e.g. a virtual meeting, before making a decision.

From what you wrote, it sounds like they haven't made any offers yet this year, and decided to wait until after the open house to make their initial list of admits. So I would take the invite as a good chance of admission, but not a guarantee.

FYI, my memory is hazy, and I was never in charge of this anyway, but my memory is that even in pre-COVID times we have sometimes had people we haven't accepted to our open house weekends for our grad program--I think these may have either been local students or people we were trying to convince to apply, but maybe we occasionally invited people at the top of the waiting list too.

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Most likely the open house is organized by one office (department secretary?) and admissions is organized by another office (dean's secretary?). Whoever does the admissions is simply behind schedule. They might just have taken a vacation.

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