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brentthewalrus

Visiting Prospective Program's Campus

10 posts in this topic

How important do you guys think visiting the campus of the University you are applying to is in order to get in? How many are enrolled as students or candidates that never visited the campus previous to applying? (I am not here speaking of bring invited to campus after the fact)

I plan on scheduling campus visits for August and September for my top 5 schools or the 9 I am applying to. I feel this is a good idea but not entirely sure.

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Not important at all before applying. That's what interviews/accepted student visits are for. 

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9 hours ago, brentthewalrus said:

How important do you guys think visiting the campus of the University you are applying to is in order to get in? How many are enrolled as students or candidates that never visited the campus previous to applying? (I am not here speaking of bring invited to campus after the fact)

I think most people apply and get admitted without ever visiting. If I had to put a percentage on it, I'd say upwards of 80% of applicants. 

(Caveat: that doesn't mean they've never met someone from the university they're applying to because there are conferences, colloquia, etc. where one could meet prospective advisors.)

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I'll third the previous answers: it's not necessary. Sending out emails to prospective advisors is plenty, but even that doesn't really provide any significant advantage I don't think.

I did meet one prospective advisor in person, but the university was very local to where I was living during my app season. I ended up being accepted there, but I was also accepted and ultimately ended up attending a program where I'd had no contact at all with my POI. Whatever money you'd end up spending on travel would be much better spent revising/editing your SOP and writing sample with a professional. But even that probably isn't necessary.

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I'll also echo that it doesn't seem to make (much of) a difference. You're better off going to a big conference and talking with them during the receptions. In fact, you're better off meeting/emailing the current graduate students. They are much more likely to give you their time, tell you what kind of students their department takes, and so on.

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The main advantage to visiting isn't that it will improve your chances of admission (as others have noted), but more your own benefit, in helping you get a sense of the program and the culture of the department or whether this is a place you actually want to live in. Can help you narrow down schools a bit in that sense.

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4 hours ago, Rabbit Run said:

The main advantage to visiting isn't that it will improve your chances of admission (as others have noted), but more your own benefit, in helping you get a sense of the program and the culture of the department or whether this is a place you actually want to live in. Can help you narrow down schools a bit in that sense.

But why would you do this before applying, when most schools will pay for you to visit after you've been accepted?

Seems like a lot of effort (and money) to spend for something when you don't even know if the school is a possibility (i.e., you getting accepted) and something you'll get for free later if it is.

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3 hours ago, Eigen said:

But why would you do this before applying, when most schools will pay for you to visit after you've been accepted?

Seems like a lot of effort (and money) to spend for something when you don't even know if the school is a possibility (i.e., you getting accepted) and something you'll get for free later if it is.

It did help me tailor my applications to a few schools a bit better and it made me realize I didn't want to bother applying to one program. 

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I don't think it made a difference in my department (different field, though!) The majority of students that visited my PhD program prior to applying did not get in. There is only one person who visited prior to applying and also got in, but I don't think the visit made much of a difference. This student won major fellowships and other honors that would to me, signal that they would have gotten in even if they didn't visit ahead of time.

Fortunately, almost all visitors did so (or at least claimed) at very little extra cost to themselves. Most visitors were either within driving distance or visited because they were in town for some other reason (visiting family, attending a conference, etc.) My only advice is to not do what one visitor did and just show up one morning, unannounced, and expect to be able to meet with people.

45 minutes ago, Rabbit Run said:

It did help me tailor my applications to a few schools a bit better and it made me realize I didn't want to bother applying to one program. 

I feel like whether this is worth it really depends on each person and how far they have to travel to visit. For me, every program visit would cost around $700-$1000, so I definitely did not do any visiting prior to admissions. I was able to find other ways to help tailor my applications (meet prospective advisors and current grad students at conferences, email/Skype chats etc.). As for saving time on an application, I think I would rather spend the $100 app. fee plus 2 hours of my time (marginal cost) to apply to a school I wasn't sure about than to spend a couple of days and $700+ to visit! But if I had a program close enough that I could drive to and back in a day, then I might have done that :)

The way I see it is that the info gathered prior to applying is mostly about the academics of the program, so I could do all that via electronic means and/or conferences. The stuff that you really need to visit in person for, things like department atmosphere, quality of life, affordability etc. can wait until after you have some offers. I personally find that things like quality of life is hard to assess in an absolute manner. It makes more sense, to me, to compare my choices against each other instead of evaluating each place against some absolute standard that might not even be attainable.

But as I said, this is all a personal choice of how people want to spend their time and money!

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In my experience, I only visited one school because I was already passing through town (no extra money spent there!). The discussion I had with the Director of Graduate Studies was very beneficial as he gave me information about applications and the program that were not posted anywhere online. Moreover, he walked me through what they really look for in applications from the essay all the way to GRE scores. The visit, however, did not mean I got in (I was waitlisted as there were only two spots available). The program I was accepted to was one in which I never set foot on campus (skype interview). In fact, I had never spoken with them before the offer of an interview.  

I would say if there is a school you are very interested in and are not able to meet up with professors at conferences and they do not have a lot published online about the program, feel free to visit but not if you are spending hundreds of dollars to do so. Also, if you are not comfortable with contacting professors until you have met them in person (just do it anyways), you could find a visit to be helpful. However, until you are accepted your goal is to make your application the best it can be. While a visit may help you tailor your application to a specific school, it is often better to save the time and money, email professors and current students, and take the saved time and make your paper and essays better (and current school work, as references are often make or break it). 

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