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How are you choosing a program without visiting the school?


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Exactly what the title says, for those considering multiple programs in different geographical locations.

I'm curious what are the main factors everyone is taking into consideration? With virtual interviews, honestly I am finding it hard to differentiate between programs. I feel like faculty and grad students from different programs say pretty much the same things about their program/school. Plus without being there in person we can't get "that feeling" most current students cite as one of their reasons for picking that school.

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I honestly have decided to fly out to nyc to look at Rockefeller and Columbia, and am close to Caltech, so I already saw it. I don’t think I could personally make the decision without seeing the school. However I will say that during the interviews I have definitely gotten “vibes” and feelings that have certainly helped me decide between my choices. (well i’m not decided yet, but in the weeding out process)

I also have felt it’s good to have 1 on 1 zoom meetings with grad students in the labs you’re interested in, that has definitely solidified my thoughts.

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Not to be cheeky, but why did you apply to your list of programs in the first place?  I mean, don’t you have reasons for each program?   

For myself, I looked at location and selected programs in areas that I was already familiar with, or did extensive research into the area. I also dug deep into programs looking for anything I could find over what I might expect if I were in attendance. I read student handbooks, blog posts, personal websites, social media, newsletters, and so on. 

I too have found that most students and faculty will stick to saying good things about the program, so why not ask them directly?  It’s okay to ask if there is anything they don’t like about the program or a particular advisor. You can also ask what students do in their free time or what ECs they may be involved in. Doing so will also give you a good idea into the nature of the program.  

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I am planning to fly out to the schools in my top three that I'm weighing between. 

Obviously, we applied to these programs for a reason. But once you interview and potentially get an offer, you have harder decisions to weigh, and it's valid to be conflicted. I know I am. 

I have also been reaching out to the students hosts I was connected with, following up with them about professors and if they know additional faculty researching topics I am interested. Further, I am reaching out to faculty I interviewed with (saying thank you & remarking on their research -- many of which respond and have a "you should consider rotating in my lab!" line) as well as faculty I did not interview with (and setting up meetings with them separately) to get a feel for more potential mentors and their science, vibe, and thoughts. 

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On 2/19/2021 at 1:07 PM, icsyr said:

I am planning to fly out to the schools in my top three that I'm weighing between. 

Obviously, we applied to these programs for a reason. But once you interview and potentially get an offer, you have harder decisions to weigh, and it's valid to be conflicted. I know I am. 

I have also been reaching out to the students hosts I was connected with, following up with them about professors and if they know additional faculty researching topics I am interested. Further, I am reaching out to faculty I interviewed with (saying thank you & remarking on their research -- many of which respond and have a "you should consider rotating in my lab!" line) as well as faculty I did not interview with (and setting up meetings with them separately) to get a feel for more potential mentors and their science, vibe, and thoughts. 

Hello, I was wondering if you talked to schools about reimbursing the cost to visit. I am planning to visit my top 3. I am pretty sure schools will know the cost to visit them can be a lot for some students. I am just wondering if it would be a reasonable request. 

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For those that can't fly, a good option (and free, though obviously less immersive of an option) is to spend a few hours on apple maps/google maps in 3D mode exploring the city to try to get some type of vibe for it if you've never been

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2 hours ago, grapefruitenthusiast said:

Hello, I was wondering if you talked to schools about reimbursing the cost to visit. I am planning to visit my top 3. I am pretty sure schools will know the cost to visit them can be a lot for some students. I am just wondering if it would be a reasonable request. 

Hey!

I've only talked to one school about it thus far, UCSF, and they said they'd really hoped to be able to reimburse students for travels to come tour the school but unfortunately are unable to (not sure why, maybe a health&safety / legality thing). It's not going to be the cheapest thing in the world, but it's crucially important for me to figure out where I'll be living for the next 5+ years. 

I absolutely think it is a reasonable request. And, per my convo with UCSF, they'd hoped to be able to do this very thing. I plan to ask Penn if they'd be able to reimburse this expense. 

I hope you're able to figure it all out!

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2 hours ago, grapefruitenthusiast said:

Hello, I was wondering if you talked to schools about reimbursing the cost to visit. I am planning to visit my top 3. I am pretty sure schools will know the cost to visit them can be a lot for some students. I am just wondering if it would be a reasonable request. 

I think it's reasonable. MD Anderson paid for my food+hotel room, but this was after I accepted their offer. Thankfully I didn't have to fly, which I know my school is discouraging rn due to COVID. 

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56 minutes ago, neurokenzie said:

I think it's reasonable. MD Anderson paid for my food+hotel room, but this was after I accepted their offer. Thankfully I didn't have to fly, which I know my school is discouraging rn due to COVID. 

Well, I do not see the point of visiting after you have already accepted the offer. I was planning on visiting to help me make a final decision. 

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22 hours ago, grapefruitenthusiast said:

Well, I do not see the point of visiting after you have already accepted the offer. I was planning on visiting to help me make a final decision. 

Some programs may be more willing to offer reimbursement if they know it's helping their own future student rather than someone still uncommitted. There are plenty of reasons to visit in person after accepting the offer, they just might not apply to you - checking out school facilities and connecting with individual PIs, checking out rental options, also seeing schooling and employment options if you're bringing family, etc.

I personally do not see most programs offering funding for visiting, unless it's stated somewhere in their recruitment agenda as an optional activity - or if they just really really want you specifically.

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