Based on interviews with clients in two welfare programs, this article explores three questions regarding application encounters: (a) What criteria do applicants use to evaluate the treatment they receive? (b) How do application experiences affect individuals' expectations of the status that they will occupy as clients? and (c) How do program designs influence these evaluations and expectations? The analysis sheds new light on a longstanding tension between observation research, which suggests that clients are subordinated in welfare encounters, and survey research, which suggests that clients are satisfied with the treatment they receive. The program comparison also offers a basis for reflecting on recent critiques of the dual U.S. welfare system.