A couple of years ago @lyonessrampant posted a list of questions that I found super useful for when I visited programs.
The post itself is here, but these are the questions:
-PLACES TO STUDY AND WORK-Where do most people do their writing and reading?-What study spaces are available? Do students get a carrel? Do those who teach get or share an office?-LIBRARY-What is the library system like? Are the stacks open or closed?-What are the library hours?-Are there specialized archives/primary sources that would be useful to my research?-Are there specialist librarians who can help me with my research?-FACULTY-Are the faculty members I want to work with accepting new students? Are any of those faculty members due for a sabbatical any time soon?-Are professors willing to engage you on a personal level rather than just talking about your work?-Are there any new professors the department is hiring in areas that align with my interests?-Students’ relationships with their professors – are they primarily professional, or are they social as well?-FUNDING-Is funding competitive? If so, do students feel a distinction between those who have received more generous funding and those who haven’t?-How does funding break down among the cohort? i.e., how many people receive fellowships?-How, if you don’t have much savings, do you make enough money to live comfortably?-Are there external fellowships one can apply to? If so, what is available? Does the program help you apply for these fellowships? How does receiving an external fellowship affect internal funding?-If people need more than five/six years to finish, what funding resources are available? (For instance, Columbia can give you an additional 2-year teaching appointment.)-Do you provide funding for conferences or research trips?-How often is funding disbursed? (i.e., do you get paid monthly or do you have to stretch a sum over a longer period of time?)-COHORT-Do students get along with each other? Is the feeling of the program more collaborative than competitive?-Do students in different years of the program collaborate with each other, or are individual cohorts cliquey?-How many offers are given out, and what is the target number of members for an entering class?-Ages/marital status of people in the cohort – do most people tend to be married with families? Are there younger people? Single people? What sense do you have of how the graduate students interact with each other socially?-Do people seem happy? If they’re stressed, is it because they’re busy or is it because they’re anxious/depressed/cynical/disillusioned?-Is the grad secretary/program administrator nice?-What is the typical time to completion? What are the factors that slow down or speed up that time?-I’ve read that there are two kinds of attrition: “good” attrition, in which people realize that the program, or graduate study, isn’t right for them and leave early on, and “bad” attrition, in which people don’t finish the dissertation. What can you tell me about the rates of each, and of the reasons why people have chosen to leave the program?-JOB MARKET/PROFESSIONALIZATION-What is the placement rate? How many of those jobs are tenure-track?-What are examples of institutions in which people in my field have been placed?-How does the department prepare you for the job search? Are there mock interviews and mock job talks?-Are the people helping you navigate the job search people who have recently gone through the process themselves?-If you don’t get placed, is there anything the department can do for you? (e.g., can you stay an extra year?)-How does the department prepare you for and help you attain conference presentations and publications?-SUMMER WORK-What is encouraged/required?-If there separate funding/is the year-round funding enough to live on during the summer?-Do people find themselves needing to get outside work during the summer in order to have enough money?-Am I expected to stay in town in the summer, and what happens if I don’t?-LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT-What is done to help people who don’t have language proficiency attain it? Does the university provide funding?-What is the requirement, and by when do you have to meet it?-Given my research interests, what languages should I study?-When do you recommend doing the work necessary to fulfill the language requirement? (i.e., summer before first year, summer after first year, while taking classes, etc.)-LOCATION REQUIREMENTS-How long are students required to be in residence?-How many students stay in the location for the duration of the program? (i.e., how many dissertate in residence?)-How is funding affected if you don’t stay?-Incompletes on papers at the end of the term: What is the policy, how many students take them, and how does this affect progress through the program?-TEACHING-What sort of training is provided?-What types of courses do people teach?-Does teaching entail serving as a grader? Serving as a TA? Developing and teaching a section of comp?-How are students placed as TAs? Is there choice about what classes you teach and which professors you work with? Do classes correspond to your field?-How many courses do you teach per semester/year?-How many students are in your classes?-How does the school see teaching as fitting in with the other responsibilities/requirements of graduate study?-How do students balance teaching with their own work?-Is the department more concerned with training you as a teacher/professor or with having cheap labor to teach their classes?-How, if at all, does the economic downturn affect teaching load/class sizes?-What are the students like? Can I sit in on a course a TA teaches to get a sense of them?-METHODOLOGY-Is a theory course required?-What methodology do most people use?-Where, methodologically, do you see the department – and the discipline – heading?-Is interdisciplinarity encouraged, and what sorts of collaboration have students undertaken?-Typical graduate class and seminar sizes-What should I do to prepare over the summer?-Ask people I know: What are the questions – both about the program itself and about the location – I should ask that will most help me get a feel for whether this is the right program for me?-Ask people I know: What do you wish you knew or wish you had asked before choosing a program?-Is the school on the semester or the quarter system, and how does that affect classes/teaching/requirements?-What is the course load for each semester, and how many courses are required?-What kind of support is provided while writing the dissertation? I worry about the isolation and anxiety of writing such a big project. What does the program do to help you break the dissertation down into manageable pieces, and to make the experience less isolating?-What do writing assignments look like in classes? Do they differ based on the type/level of class and/or based on whether you intend to specialize in the field?-Ask professors: what have you been working on lately?-Ask professors: What is your approach to mentoring and advising graduate students?-How long are class meetings?-How often do professors teach graduate courses?-Are course schedules available for future semesters (10-11, etc.)?-Can I see the grad student handbook? Are there any other departmental documents – such as reports on the program prepared for accreditation – that I can see?-QUALITY OF LIFE-Prices – how does the cost of gas, milk, cereal, etc. compare to other places I've lived in?-Cost and quality of typical one-bedroom apartment.-What does the university do to provide you with or help you find housing?-When (i.e., what month) do people start looking for an apartment for the fall, and where do they look?-Is it easy to find a summer subletter?-How close to campus can—and should—one live?-What grocery stores are there in town?-How late are cafes, bookstores, malls, restaurants typically open?-What do people do to make extra money?-Does the town have more of a driving or a walking culture? What is parking like near campus (availability, ease, cost)?-Where do most English grad students live? Most other grad students? Most professors? Where is the student ghetto? Do most students live near each other, or are they spread out far and wide?-How far does the stipend go in this location?