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Quick question/advice about visiting departments very early on?

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Apologies as I seem to be full of questions lately... I'm attempting to use the next month to hit program research hard because it's the last I have before beginning my MA!

I find myself in a position where I'll be traveling around the east coast for work next month and I believe it will be useful to visit some campuses on my way from points A to B to C. Right now I'm at a very large first-round list of about 40+ programs, so I'm thinking at the very least, seeing the areas where universities are in person will help me gauge whether I could see myself living there or not. But I'm wondering if I should be doing more than this. My application cycle isn't until 2020 -- should I be trying to arrange visits with departments at this stage? At this point I don't have a very solid handle on my research interests and I certainly don't feel equipped to wow anyone who might be on an adcom. But I also don't know how useful talking to faculty could be for me since this is not a situation where I have a firm list of 20 programs that I'm trying to narrow down to the final batch -- I really haven't started narrowing down based on faculty work yet.

Will anyone even be there over the summer? Should I just do my own quick self-guided visits and then look into visiting departments next year?

Ideas? Opinions? Anecdotes?

Edited by indecisivepoet
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No need to apologize. This forum was made to be used! Questions are good. 

There are some departments that would welcome a visit. However, it is my understanding that most will not entertain a visit to the department until after you've been accepted. I think the reason behind this is two-fold:

1) They want to remain as objective as they can

2) A visit from a prospective student would mean they'd have to open up the option to everyone and would disrupt the flow of the office. Professors would get bombarded with requests with students hoping to sit in on a lecture. There would need to be enough spaces to accommodate a couple of extra people each class session. Undergrads and Grads might have less access to office hours if prospective students wanted to talk to professors. There might also be concern from campus security due to the extra people and legal concerns if said persons got hurt. 

Unless the department says so on their website, I would not try to set up any appointments to visit the department. 

Edited by Warelin
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Thanks, @Warelin! Now I feel a bit silly for worrying about this; I overlooked the possibility that it's not even an option for prospective applicants to arrange formal visits. I think it was the wording on Stanford's FAQ page about visiting that made me think it was an option/something expected prior to application.

This is a bit relieving as I don't have a lot of time and am hoping to just do some drive-bys of the campuses/towns.

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Also, I want to add that after you start your Master's and explore your interests, you may not want to apply to a certain school, because your interests may change, there may a prof you  really want to work with somewhere else, etc. So, visiting now may not be as helpful. 

Just anecdotally, when I started my MA, I was like "YES I want to apply to schools x, y, and z next time" but then I found "My Thing" the fall of my second year that completely rocked my world. This Thing is different than my Previous Thing, so my list of schools changed significantly. I ended up staying where I did my MA because the profs there were doing My Thing in a way no one else in any other program is, but I wouldn't have been so keen to stay if I hadn't found this particular thing. 

So, if you want to get a head start visiting, maybe think about next summer, but for now, maybe ease up on the research and just focus on finding (or solidifying) Your Thing(s) that will become extremely important when you apply to programs but, perhaps more importantly, when you choose one. 

Edited by klader
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@klader This is a good point and something I often think about: how useful is it to narrow down programs based on my interest when my interest may change by the time I'm applying? I should add, though, that my MA is only a 1-year program, so I'm applying fall of 2019 for 2020 entry. I think timeline-wise I'll be beginning my SoP next summer and I'd like to have my list of programs done before then, so my plan was to research thoroughly maybe a program a week until I can get my list of 38 down to a list of 10-15 next summer. That way I won't be overwhelming myself with intensive PhD research at some point during my MA; rather it's spread out and I can also use the time to figure out "My Thing."

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