Timing a grad school visit
February 11, 2016 8:02 AM   Subscribe

What are the pros and cons of visiting a grad school on an admitted students day vs. visiting on a regular day?

I have applied for a Masters program. I won't know whether I get in until about April 1. For the purpose of buying cheap flight tickets now (I also have a relative in the area, so if I buy a flight only to find out I'm rejected I can still spend the time visiting her), I am trying to decide when to visit if I am accepted: on the official visit day for admitted students, or on a regular, run-of-the-mill day.

The only reason I'm even asking this question is because I'm part of a hobby group that has a performance on the same date as the visit day. Not a huge deal, it's something I could miss if need be. But thinking about this has made me wonder about the pros and cons of visit days in general.

On the one hand, if I were to go on the visit day, I wouldn't really have to be too proactive about planning my visit, since the admissions office already has the events of the day planned out. This includes a mixer with current students who are open to having their brains picked about the program.

On the other hand, if I were to go on a regular day, I think I could probably spend my time focusing on parts of the program I'm most interested in, scoping out the classes I think I'd like to take (provided the professor is okay with me doing so) and talking to a variety of students, not just the ones deemed good advocates for the school.

But I haven't done the campus visit thing in awhile, so I would love input on what factors I could be missing. What else should I consider? Which makes the better day for visiting?
posted by dean_deen to Education (6 answers total)
One thing to consider is whether you will know if its a "normal" day or not. For timing reasons I did a grad school visit which turned out to conflict with some graduate conference or job prep weekend and only got to meet one graduate student. Generally, if you don't show up for the planned event you may be missing out on speaking with some of the students with more obligations (academic or personal) who need to schedule time in advance. How much that matters may depend on your circumstances as a potential student.
posted by sputzie at 8:44 AM on February 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

My experience is from visiting for a PhD program, and at least in that context I would highly recommend doing the official visit day if at all possible. For a few reasons:

1. Professors are busy people and often travelling for research and/or conferences, and they don't necessarily come to campus every day. But at least in my program, it was definitely the norm that they would make every effort to be in town/on campus during visit days to arrange times to meet one-on-one with admitted students. Having the chance to speak with the professors I might be working with was a huge factor in my decision. If you pick a random day, there is no guarantee that the people you wish to speak with will be available.

2. Visit days are the only way to meet the students who will be in YOUR cohort. And while, of course, you'll interact with students in the years ahead of and below you, depending on the program, a LOT of your contact will be with your cohort. So it's not a bad thing to start the bonding/getting to know you process. Plus, I definitely know people who met future roommates, etc. during visit days because they already had those in-person connections.

3. Of course it depends on the school, but I think you're likely to meet a wider variety of students by going to visit day events. At my university, some of the visit day events (like if there was a panel or something) might be invite-only, but the majority of happy hour/dinner/reception-type events were open to all current grad students and there was the expectation that people would show up and spend a good chunk of time chatting with people. Versus if you show up on a random day, they are probably going to have to convince some poor student to set up coffee with you, and said person will be annoyed at getting assigned this task. Nothing personal! Just, grad school is freaking stressful and busy, and I would not necessarily have jumped at the prospect of spending time I didn't have touring around some random applicant who couldn't be bothered to visit on the correct day. :) While it's possible you could try to randomly ask people questions in the hallway, that's also a sort of weird tactic.

Basically, if you're doing something out of the normal schedule, a bunch of people are going to have to specially schedule around you, and I don't think that's a great reputation to start with unless there's a truly serious conflict.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:44 AM on February 11, 2016 [15 favorites]

Rainbowbrite has it. As a professor, I leave visiting day pretty open, as do most of my colleagues, whereas during the normal week I may have 4-6 open blocks of time that may not line up with your visit.
During our visiting days, the graduate students host all sorts of formal and informal events where you get the scoop. I could imagine the grads being similarly busy on an off day.
Also you do want to meet the other prospective students and see how you like them.
Except for extreme circumstances, you really should try to go on the official days.
posted by k8t at 8:55 AM on February 11, 2016

If your masters is scientific you may not be able to visit the labs you'd be working in if you're there on a non-official day - they're not someplace to just wander into and poke around in, safety is an issue. Also people are prepared to be there and discuss what they're working on. Otherwise students scatter to the wind and frankly most have no idea what's happening outside their own projects. Speaking as a former research associate in charge of lab management and tours
posted by lizbunny at 9:52 AM on February 11, 2016

I agree with the other folks. There may also be a bit of a "special snowflake" factor; going at some other time means that you're making all the people in the department who previously had to do one tour, class observations, etc., to double their work. I'm involved at the periphery of this sort of thing, and it's hard enough to fit in tours and meetings with people already on campus, with plans to do academic work with me, who want more information.

I also think you're more likely to meet a cross-section of students at the visit day vs. on a random day. In grad school, I knew unhappy students who had no problem with discussing their criticisms of the program while being fed on the department's dime. At other times they'd be much harder to find.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:55 AM on February 11, 2016

Thank you for these answers. I will go on the visit day!
posted by dean_deen at 9:39 AM on February 12, 2016

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