Finding the right graduate or professional school program for you takes work. Not only will you need to invest time gathering and analyzing information, but you will need to do so in the spirit of a detective, such as the one depicted here (photo credit: Paurion on Flickr).
Some of the most important aspects of a graduate program will not be evident from their websites, brochures, or admissions officers at a grad school fair. This brings us to the following vitally important point.
WORD TO THE WISE: There is no substitute for an in-person visit to departments or programs you are considering for graduate or professional study.
WHY VISITING IN PERSON IS SO IMPORTANT
Consider these facts you might uncover on a visit:
- The laboratory or studio facilities are not what you had expected or hoped for OR they exceed your wildest fantasies.
- The general area where the school is located is too urban, too rural, too far from things you value, difficult to reach, with limited housing options OR just right on those dimensions.
- The professor you had hoped to work with has just accepted a position elsewhere OR a professor who would be perfect to work with just accepted a position at your target university!
- The program you are considering is brand new and not fully staffed or solidified, which entails some risk OR the program you are considering has countless illustrious graduates, active alumni, and a sterling reputation.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
Here are six key points to bear in mind as you investigate a potential program.
- Before you visit, learn everything you can from the website and printed material. There may be facts easily obtainable that would rule out this program or place it on your short list.
- Visit at a time when you can see the university in operation. Schedule visits with admissions staff, faculty, and current students. Visit labs, studios, the library, and other facilities.
- Visit with a list of questions in hand---questions that get at the key factors that will figure into your decision and differentiate this program from others you are actively considering. You may want to brainstorm a list of what it is you most value in a graduate program to help you develop your list of questions.
- In Sherlock Holmes style, look beneath the surface! Observe everything, including posters and bulletin boards, conversations happening around you, clues about graduate student life in this Department. Chat with people who are not recruiters and were not expecting you.
- Make notes of the names of people you meet so you can contact them later with thanks and follow-up questions.
- Do not settle for generalizations. Press for details or examples where appropriate. “All our graduates get great jobs” is not helpful and perhaps not even credible.
ADMISSION TO GRADUATE OR PROFESSIONAL SCHOOL IS A TWO-WAY STREET
Sometimes students are so focused on obtaining admission to certain graduate or professional schools that they lose sight of the fact that they too have choices. The decision to attend graduate school is a huge commitment of time, energy, and funds (often including the opportunity cost of not being employed full-time).
Most students have a range of options for graduate school. The most prestigious program may or may not be the best fit for you. The most obvious program may not be the best for you.
Through careful investigation, including one or more in-person visits, you will be able to make a sound decision among the options available to you that takes into account many factors. These include the substantive focus and quality of the program, number of students, physical setting, facilities, availability of graduate assistantships, and many other considerations. The time invested in research and detective work will be well spent!
HOW DO YOU "VISIT" GRAD PROGRAMS OFFERED AT UMBC?
Obviously you know all about climate, parking, and the library. Nonetheless, you should delve into the details of the UMBC programs you are considering. Read the websites, talk to faculty and current students in the programs, and investigate the kind of research under way in the department. The Graduate Student Association is another source of valuable information about social and intellectual life for graduate students at UMBC.
The Grad School Campus Visit, idealist.org
VIDEO How Important is it to Visit, Talk to Faculty, etc.? Graduate School Panel, Bridgewater College, Virginia
The Guide to Applying to Graduate Schools, UMBC Career Center
Sherlock Series 3 Trailer, BBC on YouTube