When you pick up the phone, send an email, tweet or post a comment aimed at a grad school, who do you get to talk to?
Schools are sometimes overwhelmed with the number on inquiries and applicant communications that candidates can feel neglected. I submit that this is an early warning sign that should tell you about your possible future experience with the school. Schools should apply the same service standards to the application pool as they do to students and you can learn a lot about the culture of an institution by observing how they treat you.
I once walked into the career services office of a prestigious university in New York City and waited at the front desk, and waited, and waited. Finally someone came out and said no one was available, not even the person that was telling me there was no one else. It was an absurd scene. I helped myself to the printed guides on the wall and left. Over the next few years as I worked with a candidate pool that frequently also considered that particular school, I learned their experiences with the admissions office were sometimes comparable to my random experience in career services. Alumni frequently commented in online forums about feeling like a number. On my visit to that school, I didn’t even warrant the courtesy of getting a number.
When you are working with a school’s representatives, you have a lot to learn about the school. How they treat and engage you is an important telling sign about the school so be observant as you go through your application process.