When choosing an undergraduate institution, many students recall memories of touring campuses in throngs of nervous groups and feeling too intimidated to ask questions. The importance of these visits is heavily advertised in high schools, peer groups, and community centers. While the importance of scheduling a campus visit when researching graduate programs is advertised less, it remains a strong contributing factor in deciding where to attend.
You may be thinking, “I already know which graduate program is right for me. Isn’t understanding the curriculum, academic expectations, and outcomes enough?” True, these factors are important, but they do not provide enough information to make an informed decision about a graduate program that can impact your career for many years to come. This is where campus visits come into play. Most institutions offer opportunities for prospective graduate students to attend a variety of events on campus. Whether you choose to attend a general information session, schedule an interview with your graduate admission counselor, or even take a tour of the facilities, each campus visit experience can provide invaluable information that a pamphlet or website simply cannot.
Before visiting campus
You should prepare for your grad school campus visits like you would any interview—i.e., extensively. After all, these visits often involve some assessment of you as an applicant. Higher education professionals look for engaged, knowledgeable, and prepared individuals with a clear sense of their goals and passions. The best way to prepare for a graduate campus visit is to consider questions that may be asked of you throughout the event. These include but are not limited to:
- What are your academic, professional, and personal goals for the future?
- Where do you see yourself going over the next five years?
- What are you most passionate about in your professional and personal lives?
The answers to these questions will allow members of the graduate institution you are visiting to get a snapshot of you as a person and how they may be able to best assist you.
Do your research
Since graduate school is one of the largest financial and time commitments you can make, doing preliminary research about the institution you are visiting is also extremely important. You should research and prepare questions to ask throughout your campus visit about the following factors:
- Academic program of interest
- Research and networking opportunities
- Internship availability/requirements
- Career outcomes
- Financial assistance/scholarships
- Classroom space/learning environment
If you're presented with the opportunity to tour the campus with either a current student or faculty/staff member, take the opportunity to do so. Often, graduate campus visits and events are contained to one area of the institution. A full campus tour will allow you to explore details of the institution such as learning environments, classroom space, relevant technological equipment, support services, and so much more.
During your visit
By visiting grad schools, you are getting the best sense of your intended program and what it would be like to attend that school. It is imperative to take advantage of these opportunities if at all possible. Types of visits typically include tours, informational interviews, formal events, and class visits.
First, while on campus, get a sense of the environment and what it would be like to be a graduate student at that school. This may best be done on a traditional tour of campus. No, these tours aren't just for future undergraduates—though you will need to ascertain which resources are particularly relevant for graduate students. While on the campus tour, observe the following:
- Is the central space with graduate students alive with activity?
- Do you see students talking or studying with each other?
- Does your experience at this particular institution align with the vision of grad school you have for yourself?
- Is there commuter parking or easy access to public transportation?
- Are there lounges specifically for graduate students?
- Does the library have a plethora of digital resources in your field, and can you access these materials off campus?
Take the time to ask any other questions you may have so that once you finish your tour, you have a better understanding of the institution as a whole.
Informational campus interviews
In addition to tours, informational interviews are a great way to learn more about your specific graduate program of interest. Typically, these are one-on-one meetings with a graduate admission representative, but they may also include a program director, faculty member, or program administrator. You'll need to make an appointment, and you’ll want to know which building you are visiting, where to park, and other details in advance. Also give yourself plenty of time to arrive, and bring prepared questions to discuss with the representative. During a graduate informational interview, you'll often review your academic and professional experience, discuss the admission requirements and application process, and confirm the program requirements, such as curriculum and credits—not to mention how long it may take to graduate. You may also want to see if a program offers financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants, not just loans.
Open houses and other visits
Finally, you might attend an open house, class visit, or other formal event for prospective graduate students. Many graduate programs offer open houses, which may also be referred to as information sessions. These are typically offered at least once per term and typically feature set programming. They often take place in the late afternoons, evenings, or weekends and involve a general information session by admission staff, followed by more specific program information by academic department representations, as well as meeting fellow prospective students. A comprehensive event such as this is an excellent opportunity to get questions answered, speak with the graduate program director or other academic representatives on your candidacy, and network with your peers.
A class visit may be included in such an open house or could be a separate initiative. If provided, you will want to review the course content and interact with professors and students. If you have yet to meet enrolled students on your graduate campus visits, this is a valuable chance to experience the program through the lens of a current student. They may provide the most realistic perspective and can be a great resource as you start the grad school application process.
After your visit
After any graduate school visit, don't hesitate to reach out to the admission office or program administrator should you have further questions. It is to be expected that questions will arise that you had not thought of during your visit! Do not be afraid to use the graduate admission staff as a resource as you start your application too. Your campus visit may have been your first contact with the office of admission, but you should now have an open dialogue when you have questions or concerns.
If you’re unsure about visiting your potential grad schools, it’s recommended you do so. Your graduate experience may not be the community experience you had as an undergrad, but your comfort and familiarity with your new campus is of the utmost importance in this next step of your academic journey. Seeing the campus and meeting stakeholders may help determine which graduate program is the best fit for you.
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