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Pacifist101

How long should I stay for a campus visit?

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Hi everyone,

I would like to visit two universities I have offers from. They are about 3 hours apart from each other and far from home. I'm wondering how much time should I spend touring campus, talking to faculty and chatting with grad students? Would a full day (or almost full) per school be enough to get a feel of each place?

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Hey! So sounds like you'll be doing this without a formal visit itinerary from the programs? The three visits I've gone on were structured, but each gave their respective programs roughly 8 hours for tours (though these could have been more complete), interviews with faculty and grad students, and meals. I think giving each of your universities a full day would be wise - after the 8 hours I felt I had a fairly complete snapshot of the programs. The more questions you ask the more you'll get out of it!

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Plan for at least one full day to visit each school. It sounds like you aren't visiting on their invitation / the department isn't hosting a visit day for prospective students. Usually when that happens, it's 2 full days of events (in my field anyways).

However, before you make any travel arrangements, reach out to these schools first and tell them that you would like to visit. Maybe they will indeed host a visit day and just haven't told you about it yet. Or, in many cases when you say you will be visiting, they might end up setting up an itinerary for you anyways. You can also ask them how long they would recommend visiting the campus when you write to them.

And don't forget to schedule a half or full day to visit the town/city too, if you would like! Maybe even scope out some neighbourhoods you would live in.

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16 hours ago, Synappy said:

So sounds like you'll be doing this without a formal visit itinerary from the programs?

Yes, there is no formal itinerary from either program. They are both master's programs, so I'm not surprised.

How bad is it if I won't be able to visit one of the programs? How much impact on your decision did visiting make?

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51 minutes ago, Pacifist101 said:

Yes, there is no formal itinerary from either program. They are both master's programs, so I'm not surprised.

How bad is it if I won't be able to visit one of the programs? How much impact on your decision did visiting make?

Personally, the visit made a huge impact. For a few schools, my opinion changed drastically after the visit. It did work out that for my PhD school, if I had to pick without visiting, I would have picked the same school anyways, however, that was partly luck and knowing all the positives of that school and all the negatives of the other schools made me much more sure/confident in my decision. I think knowing this was also very helpful during my graduate program, especially during tough times where I doubted all of my life decisions. 

However, while I did visit for my Masters programs, I don't think it matters as much. It's only 1-2 years. A PhD is a much longer commitment. Also, in my case, my PhD program was in another country, so I really wanted to visit to really get a feel of what it's like to live and work there.

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@TakeruK thank you for your input. I am trying my best to go visit both schools, but the timing, the distance and the expenses aren't making it easy.

Would you mind sharing why you opinion changed drastically after visiting? Was it interaction with grad students/POI, the place itself or just the general feel?

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14 minutes ago, Pacifist101 said:

@TakeruK thank you for your input. I am trying my best to go visit both schools, but the timing, the distance and the expenses aren't making it easy.

Would you mind sharing why you opinion changed drastically after visiting? Was it interaction with grad students/POI, the place itself or just the general feel?

All of the above! Here are some concrete/specific examples without school names.

Before visiting, I was really excited for School A. I really thought this would be tied with my pre-visit top choice school and that the decision would be very difficult to make. I was a little unsure about the location, but I knew many people who lived there and loved it and so I was pretty open to it. When I visited, I found many things that showed me the school wouldn't be a good fit for me, which did help make the decision a little bit easier. From the research perspective, I learned that while the department and professors said one thing on their website and through their emails, actual interactions with them showed me that their current/main interests were in another direction. The department had recently sold its access to some important astronomical facilities that I was originally hoping to use, instead investing for the future (well beyond my time there as a grad student). The students there were fine and great, however, the layout of the department didn't work for me. The department was in one tall building where the students and faculty were spread out over many floors. Students were grouped by their advisors (i.e. all of Prof X's students would work in one or two offices). I personally didn't like this layout because it felt very segregated/separated. It also meant that it would be more difficult to interact with students from other research groups. In my ideal department plan (and what I actually chose), all of the grad student offices and faculty offices were together on the same floor and our shared offices were all mixed up so that your officemates aren't necessarily in the same group as you. Finally, the location was a lot more remote than I had thought. The nearest airport was several hours away and the town itself wasn't for me. It's a very charming little college town, but that was not what I wanted. 

To be clear, the program itself is actually very good and the city is lovely. There are no absolute negative problems with School A and its town. It was just not a good fit for me and what I wanted. 

I also wanted to talk about School B. Before visiting, it was my third choice and I wasn't sure about it. However, I really enjoyed all of my interactions with the people there. The work environment was amazing. The professors I wanted to work with ended up having different interests in person than on paper too, so the research fit wouldn't be as good but still better than School A. The city itself is a location I never thought I would live in but it turned out a lot better than I expected. One really important thing that I learned while visiting though was that School B's international office won't actually sponsor me for the specific student visa status I wanted. 

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2 hours ago, Pacifist101 said:

Yes, there is no formal itinerary from either program. They are both master's programs, so I'm not surprised.

How bad is it if I won't be able to visit one of the programs? How much impact on your decision did visiting make?

My original first choice program turned out to be severely underfunded and underdeveloped which I only found out upon visiting. I would strongly suggest visiting each of your programs if possible, and if it's not be sure to request as much information as you can get. See if you could get a Skype tour with a grad student maybe if you can't visit one. 

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4 hours ago, Pacifist101 said:

How bad is it if I won't be able to visit one of the programs? How much impact on your decision did visiting make?

Honestly, even a master's program should be able to arrange some formal activities (e.g., sitting in on a class, lunch with current grad students) for you if you were to visit. I'd personally plan on a full day at each program. If they're three hours apart, you might consider flying into City A, renting a car and driving to City B (or taking a bus/train between the two), then flying out of City B. That would enable you to spend a full day at both without having as much total travel time. In either case, I'd see if you can stay with a current grad student so you can get additional insight into the programs.

2 hours ago, Pacifist101 said:

Would you mind sharing why you opinion changed drastically after visiting? Was it interaction with grad students/POI, the place itself or just the general feel?

This most applies to me for MA programs. I was deciding between School A and School B. Going in, they were tied in my mind (both had great POIs and research fit, solid funding, etc.). Both flew me out for visits, which was great, and the visits were back to back, which made it easier for me to compare them. School A was good at first but, it was clear that the grad students had some issues with one another and with the faculty. It was also clear that forming a committee would be more difficult than I initially thought due to dynamics within the faculty. Neither of those were things I could've known about without visiting, mostly because no one was talking about it. None of the senior grad students seemed happy about being there, despite the funding, great facilities, and top-notch faculty. 

By contrast, the grad students at School B were happy. They were quite willing to talk candidly about what they liked and disliked about the coursework, funding, TA positions, and faculty. They also gave me good insight into living on the stipend (including one person showing me their apartment). But mostly, I liked the vibe of School B way better, which I couldn't tell on paper. Hope that helps!

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Thank you for your input, guys! I think I will be able to visit both schools, even though I won't be able to meet with my POI at one of them.

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