Here's a question that may be relevant to a lot of people. Having applied to a dozen programs, what should I do if I am notified of an acceptance by phone? They won't expect a confirmation right there on the spot right? How does that usually work?
First, if you are able to keep any presence of mind, try to hold the phone away from your mouth while you're screaming with elation. Blowing out the director's eardrum is not always the best start to a working relationship.
Yes, of course they want an immediate confirmation, but they understand that you are probably looking at several programs and that you may not have heard from them yet. Here's the thing, once a program accepts you and extends the offer, you have until 15 April to accept (and to file your taxes). They can't take the offer away even if you act like a total dork on the phone. Don't act like a dork.
One way to handle it is to say, "Gee, I'm so excited. You're tied for my top two schools. I haven't heard from the other one yet, but in the meantime may I get the names/numbers/emails of some of your students and faculty to talk to them about the program? I expect I'll be able to give you my answer very soon." You can also ask to arrange a campus visit. They probably won't pay for it, but they'll be happy to arrange it.
I can't stress enough how important it is to get as much information as you can from the students in the program and to talk to as many faculty as possible. If you can go for a visit, that would be ideal. We've had a lot of candidates visit. I had the experience with several of my "top choice" schools turning out to be a terrible fit for me once I had a chance to talk to students and get to know the program more. I was also surprised by how great two schools were that weren't my first choices to begin with; I ended up choosing one of those schools and I couldn't be happier.
Note, however, that a lot of schools try to give you an earlier deadline to accept, say two weeks after the offer is extended or by 15 March or something. They're not supposed to do that, but understandably they want to get to their next top candidates before they're accepted elsewhere. 15 April is the national agreed-upon deadline. If you're given an early deadline, you can accept it and then back out, as long as you do it before 15 April.
Here are some observations from my own experience:
1. For the better programs, the director or a faculty member will call you or email you personally. They will be excited to talk to you. They will know your work and details from your application materials and be willing to chat with you and answer questions. They will already have names/numbers/emails of faculty and students for you to contact.
2. A red flag might be a message that goes: "Hi, this is (program director who will not be named). You've been accepted to our program. Let me know as soon as possible if you're going to come here so I can call the next person on the list if not." Yes, that really happened.
3. Write out a list of questions and put it by the phone. You may also want to include a list of schools with their various facts. You're going to be so excited that your brain will regress in that moment to the dork you were in seventh grade when Steve Driscoll asked you out and you were so nervous you turned around and walked into a wall of lockers. Or maybe that was just me. That list of questions will come in handy. Trust me.
Other's please jump in with advice and experiences, good, bad, and ugly.