Do not be alarmed if there is a substantial time lapse between the completion of your application package and a formal offer being made by one or more of the schools you are considering. Graduate student selection committees usually work with groups of applicants for the sake of comparison; thus there are only certain time frames when the applicants are considered over the course of an academic year. There are also those cases where an applicant may be considered borderline for acceptance and it may be as late as April before an offer is made due to rejections from other applicants.
Offers may begin with a phone call from the interested school but should always result in an award letter. This letter should be scrutinized carefully with respect to the offer being made. Signing an acceptance offer is in effect signing a contract which acknowledges your understanding of the offer. Items which should be included in the award letter are:
Graduate support: All schools will offer some form of financial support in the form of teaching and research fellowships. Does the school provide nine or twelve month fellowships? If nine months, is summer support guaranteed? Are you guaranteed continued support throughout your doctoral program provided good academic standing is maintained? Most schools will provide initial support through teaching assistantships. Do not be lured into a program which offers top dollar stipends if you feel that another program will provide you with better opportunities.
Scholarships/fellowships: Additional incentives that may be given to students with excellent potentials at the graduate level include waiving teaching requirements, awards of research fellowships upon entering, or additional stipends on top of the level given to most graduate students in the program.
Fees/tuition support: Many schools waive tuition and fees for every semester you are
enrolled as a full time graduate student, or reduce these amounts substantially
provided that you remain in good academic standing.
Health insurance: Some schools offer paid health care packages (even with dental coverage!)
Reimbursement for campus visit prior to acceptance: Many schools offer reimbursed travel packages for you to visit the campus and department. Expenses for moving to the school that you accept are covered to a certain extent at many universities as well.
You should make every effort to visit the campuses of the schools for which you have the most interest. You can usually set up the visit dates, arrangements for transportation, and meetings with specific faculty through the chemistry department at the school. Most schools have now gone to a format where several weekends are set aside each Spring to bring in groups of perspective students for tours and interviews. At this time you should make efforts to talk with faculty and more importantly with graduate students already in the program to get a feel for the place with respect to attitudes, work load, time required to complete the degree, and possible living arrangements.
At some point in time (usually by mid-April) you will have to make a final decision and accept an offer. On the other hand do not let a school push your decision time ahead of your need to visit all campuses and consider the pros and cons of each program. Once you have signed a formal agreement with an institution, immediately inform the other schools which have made offers of your intentions. This permits the "rejected" schools to extend offers to students on their waiting lists.