I'm assuming this is the most critical point in the entire selection process. I arrived at the hotel room that night and met my roommate. She was the sweetest girl from UChicago and we became instant friends. I thought we would feel competitive or suspicious of each other, but we didn't. She confided in me later that she set up two or three alarms because you just never know. One of her friends had an experience where the roommate turned off her alarm so she was late to a similar interview. Very good advice, I thought.
I'm very glad I wore my nicest 2 piece black suit with a knee-length black pencil skirt. Some people also wore pin stripe suits, but most wore black. This definitely calls for a matching 2 piece business suit although one girl did wear a nice black dress with a suit top.
Meeting the other Pickering finalists that morning was intimidating to say the least. I was seriously wondering what I was doing there among Ivy League students and students who had acquired competitive experience all over the world. I transferred from a community college just the semester before and the only abroad experience I had was driving (or walking) over to Mexico because I live in a border town. All of my extracurricular and volunteer work was inside the States, and what I love about the Pickering is that I was still a competitive candidate. The Pickering Fellowship is very comprehensive in that they also look at not only what you've done but also your personal background. I didn't quite understand this at the time, and thought I was among the (if not the) least competitive candidates that just barely managed to make it on the finalist list and didn't stand a chance.
There were two interview sessions so I met only half of the finalists. A few were viewing the pre-interview speeches via Skype. The 20 finalists on my day were split into two groups which took turns going to the two sessions. One of the sessions had speakers about the contract, the clearances, and FSO work. Even some previous Pickering Fellows spoke with us. This is a great time to ask any questions about the process. The other session consisted of the interview schedule, and free time (to freak out, stress, and go crazy, of course) before and/or after the interview. For me, the interview session was first.
Take care what you do during the info session and your downtime. Another fellow told me about an incredibly competitive candidate (great school, amazing experience, multiple languages) who did not get the fellowship because he did not interact with other Fellows during this time. Apparently, he had simply listened to music on his headphones the whole time. I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I'm sure it makes sense that your time outside of the interview when you think no one is scrutinizing you is used to judge your character. The State Department is making a huge investment in you after all.