My Perspective: A Guide To Visiting Graduate Schools
While in England, I decided to visit the graduate schools that I am interested in. Here are some things I learned.
Check your email early and often
It's a good idea to confirm an appointment a few days prior to a meeting. Remember, professors and other college admin are busy and may take a few days to respond. One professor I was meeting with emailed me the night before to let me know that he would be at a different campus in a different city than we had originally planned. I could have easily missed the appointment if I had not checked my email one last time before heading to bed.
Although this is not an interview, you will be meeting a potential future professor and you should stress your seriousness in your appearance. In other cases, you may be meeting with college administrators. These people will most likely be reading your application and making a good impression never hurts.
I set up one meeting at a university that I planned to apply for without actually having any questions in mind. The website was incredibly clear about how the course works and all requirements were in black and white. However, I still wanted to meet the course director because I thought it could help my chances of getting accepted into the program. I don't know if this is true at all, but I figured a meeting couldn't hurt. However, showing up with no reason for the meeting could hurt my chances by wasting the course director's time. I therefore researched the course in as much detail as possible and came up with a few questions regarding a potential research project. I also asked about scholarships, partnerships with other organizations, and how many students find work within a few months of graduating. Although I originally thought I knew all there was to know about the course, forcing myself to come up with questions helped me learn about things not mentioned on the website. In other situations, questions flowed more easily as their websites did not provide as much information.
Have an open mind
Before visiting three universities, I had many preexisting views. I knew which one I would choose if I had my way, but would be happy attending any of them. However, after visiting each campus, I had a change of heart. I'm originally from Bristol, and so it was natural for me to consider Bristol University quite seriously. I'd be able to live back in the town I was born in while getting a great education. Unfortunately, I found out that the program I was interested in was not actually located in the city center like the main campus was. I also learned that there was a limited on-campus sense of community. The campus was also home to an animal crematorium, which I personally consider to be kind of a downer when comparing campus facilities. I was unable to make an appointment to meet with any professors or program staff, hinting that the program was not prioritizing visits from oversees students. A lovely woman from the housing department showed me around the campus, and a quick trip into the program office revealed a sense of disorganization with unfriendly staff. The visit left a bad taste in my mouth and I ultimately decided not to apply to this university, despite the desire I once felt. It's much better to visit a campus and discover your previously held views are wrong or misguided now than to accept and offer and find out that you and that campus don't mesh.
Look around the town or city
It's tempting to get swept up in campus facilities, but remember that you'll be spending the next year or more here. Do you really want to spend all of your free time on campus? Look around to see what the town or city offers. Look for good eats, quiet corners for studying, movie theaters, gyms, and anything else you might need for relaxation. Is it close to a train station or other public transit hubs? This will make it much easier if you'll be traveling abroad, to different parts of the country, or even just to a nearby city. Make sure this is somewhere where you'll be happy living for the duration of your graduate school career.
Visiting the different universities was pretty fun. I learned a great deal about the different programs, and even started to think about where I would want to live and eat. Oxford was the most incredible because of the history, I saw some expensive cars at the Ascot campus of Imperial College, and I had my mind changed drastically after visiting the other Bristol campus. I never was able to visit one university that I applied to and was accepted to, and I hope all my google street view searches will provide me with enough information to make a smart decision.