Actually, we are not sure why kicking tires provides useful information about a vehicle, but we do know why taking a close look and a test drive are well-advised. The same principle applies to seeing the graduate or professional schools on your short list.
Sure, you can learn a lot from the university’s website. But that is just the beginning—the homework you need to do before visiting. You may also make some telephone calls or have e-mail exchanges to learn more about application procedures, available degree programs, and housing options. Those contacts are valuable, but no substitute for an in-person visit.
Ten Excellent Reasons to Visit a Grad/Professional School Campus
1.To see the campus facilities (studios, labs, offices, libraries)
2.To see the general environment where the campus is located
3.To learn more about the curriculum, philosophy, and history
4.To get insider tips on upcoming changes in staff or program
5.To learn what type of student the program seeks
6.To gather data about the placement success of graduates
7.To learn more about funding sources, including assistantships
8.To strike up a rapport with key persons so they will remember you when you call or e-mail later with additional questions
9.To find out if everything they say exists really does exist
10.To talk informally with current students in the program
When should you visit?
Now that you see the tremendous benefits from visiting a school, when do you go? Here are the three main options:
1. It would be great to visit on a day when the campus is in full swing, classes in session, theater productions in rehearsal, faculty around their offices. You may even be able to make arrangements in advance to visit a class or lab session or to meet individually with an admissions staff person or a faculty member.
2. Another approach is to attend an advertised “visit day,” which may or may not be on a weekend. The plus of visit day is that the whole point of the event is to recruit and provide information. However, they will be putting their best feet forward and may not be as candid about limitations or drawbacks as they might be on another day. And you may not see as much if the visit day is on a weekend.
3. Visit the campus whenever you can fit it into your life. Even if you have to visit during a holiday period when the campus is quiet, you can still accomplish a lot. You really do not want to attend a university you have never seen.
Tips for your Visit
Do homework; take a list of questions and things you want to see.
Take notes, take pictures, pick up brochures, lists, newsletters, catalogs.
Read bulletin boards and signs (a treasure trove of data).
Write down the names of any persons who spent time with you so you can send a followup thank you e-mail or ask additional questions later.
If you attend a class or meet with a faculty member, write them a meaty thank you note with pithy commentary demonstrating that you were paying attention.
Stories, Some True
These stories illustrate the value of visits to potential graduate schools:
An engineering student decided to pursue mechanical rather than aerospace engineering when he saw the labs at a grad school. Another engineering student was offered an R.A. (research assistantship) on the spot during his visit.
An urban planning and urban design student decided to attend a school located in a city where she observed that there were many urban rehab projects as a “living laboratory.”
A student decided that attending a prestigious law school in the heart of downtown Philadelphia or New York was expensive and congested, so she attended a university in her home state where she hoped to practice law later.
An English literature student decided to pursue a graduate program at a large university where there were several professors with expertise in Renaissance literature, and not just one nearing retirement age.
What About Graduate Study Here at UMBC?
If you are considering staying on at UMBC for graduate study, you have the perfect opportunity to gather detailed, in-depth information about the faculty, facilities, ongoing research projects, and every other aspect of the programs. In fact, you may want to get a jump on graduate school by entering a combined bachelors/masters program offered by some departments.
When you do your research about UMBC grad programs, you can skip the part about checking out the housing and the parking because you already know that. But if you are weighing UMBC against other programs, go visit those other programs so you can make well-informed comparisons.
EXTRA CREDIT DISCUSSION QUESTION
What do you think is the most important thing you can learn about a graduate or professional school by visiting in person? Share your thoughts in the Comment section below.