You’ve made the decision to attend grad school or have at least started thinking about it. Congratulations! For a whole host of reasons, this is an exciting time and not unlike deciding where to study for your undergraduate degree—a big decision for you. You may have heard from others that, for them, grad school was easier than undergrad. Are they serious? How can that be—how can obtaining an advanced degree be easier? Well, for starters, you’re probably (hopefully) more mature and fully ready for the challenge! Also, you’ll be taking a deeper dive into a field you’ve already established is your passion. The only remaining question is which institution is right for you.
Welcome to the grad school campus visit. True, some folks attend grad schools they’ve never visited before. This is typically because the program is so highly regarded, the student lives too far from the school to visit, and/or they’re willing to take the leap. For most other prospective grad students, however, campus visits are a great opportunity to “go shopping.”
Rules of grad school campus visits
The first rule of visiting potential grad schools is that it’s okay if you haven’t committed to the college yet—that’s why you’re there. This article is designed to help you build your shopping list so you get the most from your visit. The second rule of the visit experience—and a rule that will be critical forever going forward—is to make sure you advocate for yourself. Most colleges and universities have an online form you can fill out to sign up for a visit. Some have even added options like having a meal on campus, meeting with faculty, or sitting in on a class. If you’re making the effort to get to campus, make the most of your time there. If you don’t see something offered on the tour that you’ve heard about, ask!
Communication includes responding to the visit confirmation email. If it’s an online form, you’ll get an auto-response message. Hopefully within a week, you’ll get a confirmation email from someone in the admission department. If you don’t get that email, follow up your request with a call or an email about two weeks before your visit. Online forms are wonderful, but we all know sometimes things don’t get where they need to go! Save yourself the disappointment by checking in before you head out to see campus.
Similar to a job interview, it’s important to be on time, but arriving 30 minutes early takes that a little too far. Tours are typically guided by current students who work in the admission office, but they have planned their workday around your visit. If you’re coming from a distance and arrive too early, you might want to consider wandering around on your own. If the weather isn’t great, you could drive around campus or town to get a feel for the surroundings. Either option will give you great insight to the campus and its surroundings. You may even find a chance to have impromptu conversations with current students.
Faculty are busy folks, so if you want to connect with someone in your intended department, it’s best to give them as much notice as possible (ideally two weeks minimum). Make sure you’re prepared and have questions ready if you’re going to meet with faculty. They’re excited to share their program with you and will be happy to answer your questions. Take notes if you need to! This is your moment to confirm that the program you’re considering is going to help you get to the next level of your career path.
Your friendly tour guide is also available for your questions. They’ll do most of the talking, sharing the highlights of the campus, but the tour is yours. Questions are always welcome at any point. Academics are critical to a great grad school fit, but so is making sure the climate is what you need. To that end, a campus tour is a great time to ask questions about demographics and what services are available to you as a grad student if you attend. Can you access the health center, counseling, the rec center, and student activities? How do graduate students connect outside of class? What fellowship opportunities are available? Are there opportunities for funding to attend conferences or conduct research? And perhaps the most common (but important!) question: why did you choose to attend this college?
Inquire about housing
Another option to investigate is graduate housing. If the college you’re planning to visit is far from where you currently live, you’re going to want to inquire about this. Does the school own any housing specifically for graduate students and their families? Is it on campus or near campus? What is the layout, and is it possible to see it while you’re visiting? If grad students don’t live in college-owned housing, how do they find other options? Along the same lines, what are the dining options on campus for grad students? This is especially important if you’re planning to commute and might find yourself on campus for long stretches between classes.
It’s all about you
Planning to bring a friend or family member on your campus visit? That’s okay! It’s a good idea to check in with your admission representative to let them know it’ll be more than just you, especially if you requested to have a meal on campus. If your parents want to tag along, that’s understandable; they want to see where you might spend the next couple of years. However, now is a good time to check in and make sure everyone is clear that this is your visit, your experience. There may be certain moments during the visit that it will be best for them to give you some space, especially if you find yourself face-to-face with faculty or plan to have a one-on-one meeting with an admission representative. This visit isn’t an interview, but you are making a first impression. Make sure it’s the one you want!
Hopefully, these tips are helpful as you plan your journey on the exciting path to grad school. Graduate education opens many new doors for you, and perhaps the best part is that you are the one pushing them open. You have to be ready for everything that comes you're way. But if you're ready to meet the challenge, there's nothing you can't do.
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