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What to look for on a campus visit


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For those of us fortunate enough to be invited for campus visits, what are good things to look for and (perhaps more importantly) what are red flags? What are you looking for in a campus visit? What do you wish you had paid more attention to on your campus visit?

Personally, I'm looking to click with faculty, current students, and other prospective students. I'm also looking for library facilities that are conducive to research and studying and a campus that I like aesthetically and places that I will enjoy spending time. 

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I am from a CS background so I can't tell you about your specific field, but I can advice you on general matters. When I had my visit days, I was an international student and I couldn't have gone to all the visit days, and eventually decided to only attend the visit day for my top priority school. Reflecting back on it, I feel it wasn't a very smart decision, and therefore I can tell you a bunch of things that you should definitely look out for --
1) Talk to as many current students as possible -- understand the overall environment in the university and your program, how happy/content are the current students, how friendly they are,  does it seem like a closely knit community or is everybody on their own, what is the trajectory of senior PhD students
2) Talk to anyone and everyone who has worked with your potential advisor -- understand their working style, the environment in the lab, how friendly they are, do they get along well with other people or not, funding situation
3) Have a very straightforward conversation with your potential advisor -- make sure they know what your expectations are, and if there is anything particular you are looking forward to. 
4) Try to estimate about your financial situation -- how much stipend you will get in hand, any fixed expenses from university, living expenses, additional funding options etc. 
5) Get a sense of life in the university/city -- what kind of activities you can see yourself becoming a part of, how is the city life in general, what is there to explore, if you are an international student (or a minority community in general), do you have a presence of that community in your university/city. 

Some obvious red flags can be -- if your advisor is too busy during the visit days and is unable to take out enough time to you. And this extends to everything, if you want to talk to someone or want to know something, but you cant find enough people who can help you or meet with you, I feel you need to be careful about it, and try to find out why it is, and if that is how it is going to be if you become a student there. 

Remember that most schools will try to project their most ideal version during the visit days, so you should be careful about even the small issues that pop up. 

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I'm looking for similar things as you! My priorities are meeting faculty, especially POI, to see how we get along and discuss possible work, speaking with current students to hear about their experience, and meeting other prospective students to get a feeling for what being in their cohort would be like. Secondarily, I want to get a feeling for the department and the school at large-- both the ethos and the 'vibe'-- as that can be a good indicator of how it'll feel to be and work at that school. I feel pretty confident that I'll accept at the school I'm visiting, but am treating this as sort of a confirmation to gather more information and make sure there aren't any red flags or things that feel really wrong. 

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I'm doing a campus visit next week, and already am impressed just because my POI is planning on spending a large part of the day with me and escorting me to see various resource facilities. She also invited me to sit in on her seminar, and provided the syallbus and reading assignments for that day so that I can participate in their discussions. I don't have anything else to compare this experience to (aside from this school, I have one rejection, one acceptance from a UK school, and waiting on the rest) but colleagues have expressed that it's pretty rare for a POI to dedicate that much time to a visit. 

From my experience with my undergrad, I'm also looking forward to meeting the Coordinator. My undergrad program transitioned from one department to another, and we lost a great coordinator in the process - I didn't realize how much it made a difference until I had to work with someone who wasn't very friendly or reliable. 

Edited by fauna876
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1 hour ago, fauna876 said:

but colleagues have expressed that it's pretty rare for a POI to dedicate that much time to a visit. 

I haven't yet received an itinerary for my visit, but the department is paying for flights (even though I live about a 2.5 hour drive from campus), hotel, and food for a 36-ish hour visit. I've been told by colleagues that it's very rare to have so much of a visit covered financially and that should catch my attention alone. Obviously your POI really wants to establish a strong connection as soon as possible!

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2 hours ago, canyah said:

 I feel pretty confident that I'll accept at the school I'm visiting, but am treating this as sort of a confirmation to gather more information and make sure there aren't any red flags or things that feel really wrong. 

Im in the same boat! I have a few more programs to hear from (which I am assuming are waitlists at best) but I'm ready to commit to the school I'm visiting. Getting the vibes are so important and I'm pretty much just trying to make sure we all have the same priorities. Really hoping there's no red flags for either of us!

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22 minutes ago, annarchy666 said:

I haven't yet received an itinerary for my visit, but the department is paying for flights (even though I live about a 2.5 hour drive from campus), hotel, and food for a 36-ish hour visit. I've been told by colleagues that it's very rare to have so much of a visit covered financially and that should catch my attention alone. Obviously your POI really wants to establish a strong connection as soon as possible!

Wow! That's a great sign - hopefully it also means a good funding package for you! 

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I am currently enrolled in a horrible M.A. program. Observe how the staff interact with students whose encounters are unplanned. Observe how students interact with each other. Do students want to interact with you? If you are brave enough, ask how they are enjoying the program and pay close attention to their expressions. If you encounter a student who is not part of the 'show' of the visit, and are brave, ask for their personal email to ask specific questions about the program. If you can find recent grads online, email them, Insta message them, etc.

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