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Recruiting Events and Practices

If a goal of your program is to recruit more high-quality students to your program, here are some tools that other units on campus have used:


Graduate Student Groups
Strict Criteria/Screening
Recruiting Events
Program Reputation
Guaranteed Support


Graduate Student Groups

Agricultural and Consumer Economics: One practice that we have found very valuable is close interaction with and empowerment of our Graduate Student Organization (GSO). The GSO assists the department in recruitment of incoming students. A current graduate student e-mails each applicant who is offered admission to share experiences and answer questions. The current students are selected to match country of origin and area of interest.


English: A practice we could share would be our recruitment strategies: our network of graduate-student hosts has routinely secured nearly 80% enrollment from top applicants who make a visit to campus. We are greatly indebted to and thankful for their efforts. For each recruit, the department develops a schedule with events specific to their areas of interest, including seminars, classes and meetings with faculty. During the visit current graduate students host the recruit at their homes, tour libraries and building with them, escort them to scheduled events and have meals with them. Although the department pays for meals, students are given guidelines for acceptable charges before the visit.


Geology: One activity that worked out particularly well is the Annual Research Reviews for graduate students. This is organized entirely by students. Faculty are invited to judge on posters. The forum is effective in motivating students and increasing student/faculty interactions. It is also used for new graduate recruiting.


Plant Biology: Our graduate students are actively engaged in our graduate recruiting program. A member of the Plant Biology Association of Graduate Students (PBAGS) sits on our Graduate Affairs Committee (GAC) and acts as the Committee’s liaison with PBAGS. As soon as we receive an application from a promising applicant in whom at least one faculty member has expressed interest, the GAC grad rep assigns one of her/his fellow PBAGS members to that applicant as a ‘buddy’. The ‘buddy’ establishes email contact with the applicant and acts as co-host (along with another assigned ‘buddy’) when the applicant visits. The ‘buddies’ collect visiting students from the airport or train station, host them at a pot-luck dinner on their last night in town and generally see that their charges are looked after and not abandoned during any significant period during their stay. Visiting students see from the beginning how the student community of which they may become a part is fully engaged in the business of the department and that we respect them as collaborators not only in the enterprise of research but also of department affairs.


Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology: Each February our student group, Graduates in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (GEEB), coordinates a day-long seminar, during which current students give 15 minute presentations. Presentations are evaluated by faculty judges, and several awards are given. The timing of the symposium coincides with our graduate student recruiting weekend, allowing prospective students to experience first-hand the diversity of research being conducted by current graduate students.


Slavic Languages and Literature: In the past few years, our unit has given its graduate students a lead role in the recruitment of new graduate students. This has proven very effective. It works in part because of the point above: our continuing students are given to understand that they will not be hurting their own chances of financial support by helping persuade new admittees to choose Illinois.


Strict Criteria/Screening

Anthropology: We apply highly rigorous selection criteria, examining multiple elements of student academic performance for admission and support considerations. Despite large numbers of applications, we only admitted 4 new graduate students from that pool for Fall 2010, as a result of our department’s fiscally responsible approach to the budget constraints imposed upon us by the University.


Pathobiology: Our application screening process is a best practice for our unit.

  • Pathobiology office personnel will conduct initial application screening. Incomplete applications or those that do not meet minimal departmental standards will be discarded.
  • One week before the faculty meeting to discuss graduate applicants, complete applications will be available electronically (via NetFiles) to all faculty members.
  • Application screening will be open to the entire departmental faculty. During the meeting, each application will be discussed and applicants placed into one of four categories by majority vote: 1. Strongly desirable candidates presently living in the United States 2. Strongly desirable candidates presently living outside the United States 3. Acceptable candidates 4. Rejected candidates Applicants in categories 1 through 3 will be ranked, keeping in mind those who are most likely to be funded by a fellowship. A list of applicants who will be invited to the graduate student recruitment weekend will be generated based on the distribution of candidates within the categories and available recruitment funds.
  • Foreign students who are not able to attend the recruitment weekend should be interviewed by phone by a small group of faculty members.
  • Following the recruitment weekend, each participating faculty member will rank graduate applicants in order of preference. The Department Head will make the final decision for admission based on available positions and taking into account the opinion of faculty members who have open positions available. A waiting list will be generated to fill positions in case some applicants do not accept an admission offer. This process will be completed by March 1.
  • If faculty recruit a student to their laboratory group that is not admitted through the annual recruitment process, students admitted by this alternate process will not be provided funding for the duration of their graduate program. Students admitted by this process will require approval of the PATH faculty prior to admission.


Recruiting Events

Agricultural and Consumer Economics: The Grad Student Organization (GSO) helps to plan the visit day for students offered admission.  During the visit day the GSO officers lead the campus tour, highlighting areas they consider important, address the visitors (in private) and have an evening social event.  These interactions usually lead to follow ups after the visit day.


Entomology: We coordinate large departmental activities to happen during student recruiting, for example, the Insect Fear Festival. 


Food Science and Human Nutrition: Our recruiting event focuses on our best applicants and begins in January with the goal of equitably assigning the available fellowship funding. The Associate Head reviews all the applications and selects about the top 20 The faculty admissions committee then reviews the selected files and ranks the top 12 or so into 3 groups and matches them to potential advisors. Some lower level students may also be invited if they are close enough to drive and have research interests in common with one or more faculty. International students will not be invited to visit, but the department will help faculty to have Skype meetings with those applicants. These students are contacted right away and told that they look strong for admission to the program and to watch for email about the recruiting event. Those students are invited to campus for a visit that starts on Sunday evening (usually the first Sunday in March) and lasts through Monday night or Tuesday morning. The department pays for hotel and travel and students are grouped for hotel stay. Sunday night is a dinner with the recruits, current grad students and faculty at Bevier Hall, and each faculty member gives an informal introduction of themselves and their labs. Monday is full of half-hour meetings between recruits and potential faculty advisors. Lunch is between the recruits and current grad students. So by the end of the day everyone has a good idea of who they really like. And that evening, student and recruits go out to Green Street together and the recruits begin leaving. Some will leave on Tuesday morning. Immediately students and faculty are asked for their input on the candidates they interacted with, and faculty must indicate whether the students were acceptable to them or not. Also recruits are asked to rank the faculty they visited with and give other feedback that is used to improve the event. The advisory committee then adjusts the rankings of the recruits based on their interactions and all the feedback. On Tuesday the department head is given a list of the top students that matches them with the fellowships available based on the rankings and the requirements of the fellowships. Offers are sent out as soon as possible and recruits are asked to print out their offer and sign and return it if they are coming. And although students have until April 15th to make a decision, they often decide sooner.  In this way student coming have also already met some of the incoming cohort.


Graduate School of Library and Information Science: The Annual Research Showcase is an opportunity for all doctoral students to present short talks and/or posters highlighting their scholarly work. This also serves as a recruitment tool to encourage newly-admitted doctoral students to choose Illinois.


Pathobiology: Selected faculty members, current graduate students and PATH office personnel organize the graduate student recruitment weekend. The optimal format for this event is evolving. Each graduate applicant will be assigned to a current graduate student. The name of the assigned student is provided in the recruitment weekend invitation letter. The student host will offer individual attention to the applicant by answering any questions the applicant may have, arranging for transportation at arrival and departure, suggesting overnight arrangements, and providing an informal campus tour. The student host will also have dinner with the applicant, potentially in larger groups that include faculty members. Organized recruitment weekend events include:

  1. Introduction of faculty members and presentation of an overview of the graduate program at a morning lecture gathering.
  2. A lunchtime poster session where current graduate students describe their research projects.
  3. An informal tour of departmental facilities and laboratories.
  4. A question-and-answer session.
  5. Dinner and evening entertainment with a mix of faculty members and students.



Pathobiology: The annual process of graduate student recruitment will begin with a vigorous advertising campaign that extends from July through the end of December. The effort includes:

  1. Establishing and regular updating of an attractive departmental Web page which will include a link to a substantial summary of the departmental “Rules and Regulations for Graduate Study” manual and a link to a “Positions Available” section which will list available research positions and fellowships. The website also includes statistical data from previous years such as the percentage of applicants admitted to the graduate program, total number of fellowships and residencies, average time to complete a PhD, etc. The departmental website also hosts web pages for each current graduate student that includes information such as year of matriculation, publications, presentations at meetings, dates when exams were passed, awards and honors received. Each student in the graduate program will be required to construct and update a personal web page.
  2. Posting literature describing the graduate program at scientific meetings.
  3. Participation in the University’s Recruitment Fair (hosted by the Career Center in September/October at the Illini Union).
  4. Targeted mailings to individuals and departments that might identify prospective graduate students for our program.


Pathobiology: By March 1st, letters of acceptance will be sent to the selected applicants. The letters must state the commitment to financial support (TA or RA position, % time and guaranteed length of support). Committee members believe that guaranteeing support to a student throughout his/her graduate program is important for recruitment of top students. The letter should state that acceptance of the offer in required by April 15, after which the offer expires. If acceptance letters are sent by E-mail, prompt acknowledgement of receipt is required. A letter should also be sent to each student on the waiting list indicating that they are accepted into the program without financial support and providing their ranking on the waiting list. A letter should also be sent to each student who is denied admission to the graduate program. 


Program Reputation

Education Policy, Organization and Leadership: We fully understand that nothing helps recruitment more than your record of retention and graduation, and it needs to be available to prospective students. In addition, our process of URM recruitment and the successful results have created a network and reputation that reaches from coast to coast. Many of our colleagues throughout the nation routinely recommend our programs to their outstanding undergraduates because of the diverse environment we offer for studying and professional development and our track record of producing a diverse pool of high quality doctorates.