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I am wondering if anyone as any advice about when is a good time to go visit schools that you are looking at. Are people going at all before they apply? During the months of the application process? And how do you go about this. I would want to talk to the possible advisers that I might want to work with if possible.

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It doesn't seem to be all that common, but it's not unheard of. At my MA program, there were usually 2 or 3 students who would visit for a day in the fall (usually prospective PhD students). The way it worked there was, they contacted the department, who then set up meetings with individual professors with whom the student had expressed interest in working (if possible). Also class visits, and then the dept would bribe one of the current students :P into taking the visitor on a campus tour. It's probably better to let the dept do the legwork in setting up a meeting w/a potential advisor, although I should think that you would still want to contact the prof beforehand.

One of the programs to which I applied said they welcomed visitors *except* during the time period between the application deadline and when decisions were sent out. I don't know if every dept has that rule, but it seems like a useful guideline to me.

But a visit is probably not necessary. I don't know about geology/geosciences, but many if not most science and science-ish programs with which I'm familiar do on-campus interviews for a group of finalists. A handful of humanities programs have them as well, including mine. It's a weird combination of you competing to get in and the school competing to get you to come there. Places that don't have interviews usually have an 'admitted students' weekend' for visiting purposes.

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I had the opportunity to visit a campus in August and meet with a professor I am interested in working with. He was very willing to meet with me and the grad coordinator was very helpful in giving advice - so perhaps you could contact the grad coordinator at schools you are interested in. I would suggest summer is a good opportunity, since its a 'downtime' for profs and they're not as busy as in the fall, but you should also be aware that some profs might be on vacation or away at conferences or doing research, so the summer might not be the best time. I guess it depends on the particular situation. I've also noticed that quite a few programs in my field have a prospective students day where they show off research that is going on at the university and applicants have the opportunity to meet with grad students and professors - at one school you can even apply for funding to visit the research day. This is usually around October - November, so perhaps you can look out for those at programs you're interested in.

Another option you could look into is possibly attending (or even presenting at) a conference in your field - it would be a good opportunity to network and meet potential advisors.

Edited by newms
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I don't think that there's anything wrong with going to meet with prospective advisors--I visited a school before being admitted, and my visit DEFINITELY influenced them in favor of admitting me.

Are the schools you're thinking of nearby? How much of a financial hardship would it be for you to visit?

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Most of the schools that I am looking at are not too far away, and have family nearby that I can stay with if necessary. Only a few would be a bit harder to do, like UT- Austin, since I am in NYC. I have an aunt 2 hours away from that campus, so even that would not be impossible, it would just be a matter of getting airfare together.

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Well I guess what I am really wondering if anyone knows how much it would help in getting into programs, if I went say, during the application.

I don't think that there's anything wrong with going to meet with prospective advisors--I visited a school before being admitted, and my visit DEFINITELY influenced them in favor of admitting me.

It seems to have worked out well for you UnlikelyGrad, and this is why I am wondering. Is it something that is more helpful for science majors?

I am assuming at this point that during the application season is a good time to go, and at this point I should just be reading up on possible advisers, getting in touch with them before hand in order to figure out where to apply, and then after I have done that, but before they have gotten back with acceptances/rejections go and visit at least some of the schools that I have applied to.

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I can't emphasize enough how important I think visiting can be in science fields (assuming you can make a good impression in person!). From what I can tell, it is more important in the sciences than in other concentrations - mainly because you are going to be spending A LOT of time with your advisor in the field or in the lab. I'm guessing this is not as important for other types of degrees that are less "hands-on".

I visited 3 of the 4 schools I applied to last year, and I have no doubt that it helped, especially for the one I am now attending. I didn't think I had a chance of being accepted here, but I decided to visit, and now here I am! Even if you can't visit all of the ones you are applying to, try to focus on your top two or three and make every effort you can to get there. Contact professors in advance of your visit, and they'll most likely be very receptive to meeting you. By coming to them you are giving them an opportunity to know you without them having to shell out the money that their department very likely doesn't have right now.

Depending on where you want to visit, you may be able to plan a road trip and visit several schools within the span of a few days, or take advantage of family and friends who may be able to provide free lodging while you visit. All of my friends at my school also visited, so it is VERY common.

Aside from greatly increasing your chances of being accepted, you are really doing yourself a favor by visiting, assuming you haven't been there already. It will help you gauge the overall attitude at the institution, the approachability of your advisor, and even if you would enjoy living in that area for the next 3-6 years of your life.

If you are really serious about grad school, it is definitely worth scrounging together the money to visit.

I visited from September to early January (I was living on a research vessel, so it was a bit more challenging than just hopping in my car for a road trip). By visiting before you submit your application, you will be able to mention the professor by name in your SOP (assuming the meeting went well), and if it didn't go well, you may decide not to apply, saving yourself the application fee and most importantly the time commitment of completing another application.

Good luck!

Edited by Lantern
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My old undergrad advisor told me to do WHATEVER I had to do in order to set foot in a school. If they can put a face with a name and maybe a personal story...and if you can potentially get an advisor in your corner, it will help you. Having said that only 2 schools invited me to a POI's office to talk about research. The other schools are in the area and have days where potential grad students can come down and check everything out. I plan on doing that all through November. I'll email the grad school coordinators and just tell them I want to come visit the school, etc. I'm sure most will say go for it. I'm hoping maybe one or two will ask if there is anyone I want to meet. We'll see. I planned on visiting ahead of applying to get a feel for the vibe of departments. Then, hopefully, I'll be able to visit in even more detail all of the schools to which I have applied in late Dec., Jan., and Feb.

But if you can get in there early DO IT!

I will warn you: I didn't specifically ask schools to meet. After my initial, "Hey, are you taking new students? This is what I've worked on" email I got the invites. It still feels a bit like collusion and I'm almost feeling like it kills the excitement as I'm trying not to get my hopes up. However, it may be presumptuous to outright ask if you can meet.

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Well I guess what I am really wondering if anyone knows how much it would help in getting into programs, if I went say, during the application.

It seems to have worked out well for you UnlikelyGrad, and this is why I am wondering. Is it something that is more helpful for science majors?

I am assuming at this point that during the application season is a good time to go, and at this point I should just be reading up on possible advisers, getting in touch with them before hand in order to figure out where to apply, and then after I have done that, but before they have gotten back with acceptances/rejections go and visit at least some of the schools that I have applied to.

I visited after my app was already in and had been read by the admissions committee. I was waitlisted because, while I had a lot of good points, I also had some serious negatives. (You can read about this in gory detail on my blog: http://unlikelygrad.wordpress.com/2009/01/08/missionimpossible/ ) I was speaking at a homeschool conference nearby and took the opportunity to visit my sister (who lived in the same town as the school)...the visit to the dept there was an afterthought.

The profs I met with reviewed my file before I came, and they each took a different approach to sussing me out. One was a very gentle, laid-back guy who had a "friendly chat" with me...we talked about his lab, his students, my background, why I was in town...He was a very effective (but gentle) interrogator, and even got me to drop names (which I never do, as I like to be evaluated on my own merits): my sister Chrissy (very well known in her field), my dad (not famous but has collaborated with some superstars), the friend who landed me the speaking gig (whose brother was this guy's best friend). The interview definitely swung him in my favor a little bit.

The second guy was very hostile and argumentative. I think he was trying to intimidate me, but unfortunately for him, I do best under adverse conditions. After arguing with him for the better part of an hour, he said he liked me and would strongly recommend me to the admissions committee. I was sort of in shock--we'd just yelled at each other and growled and bared our teeth (ok, not really, but it sure felt like it) and that meant he liked me??!! But as it turned out, he DID recommend me to the committee (and sent me an email telling me not to accept any other school, because he was pushing my case through as fast as he could) and he also offered me a summer research job! :blink:

Lessons I drew from this:

(1) Don't assume everyone will take your visit as a positive thing. I'm fairly sure Prof 1 wouldn't have thought as highly of me if I'd visited solely to beg and grovel. I'd mentioned the homeschooling conference to him in my email, but he actually followed through to make sure I was speaking there, and to double-check that my sister did, indeed live in the college town. He talked about this enough that I was pretty confident that he wanted to make sure I wasn't lying--that he didn't like people who showed up just because they wanted to get off the wait list.

(2) Don't assume everyone will be nice to you when you come.

(3) Don't assume that just because a prof is nice to you when you visit/email, they will push for your admission. In the end, it was the diligent efforts of MeanProf that won my acceptance from this school. My experiences with other schools (which I visited after admission) bear this out: many people were nice to me but didn't push to get me funded; one prof was very nice during the visit and did later secure funding for me; some profs who seemed apathetic during my visit (like my current advisor) actually were really desperate to get me on their team.

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Speaking of visits, one of the professors (Professor Y) I've contacted invited me to visit X University (I haven't applied yet). The coordinator of the graduate program at X U. was able to arrange a visit day (next week!--I'm in the area, though) with this professor and a few others (Professors L, M, N). I had mentioned to Professor Y that I was also looking into the a couple of the other professors' research groups, but I have not yet made initial email contact with them.

If anyone could fill me in on the protocol, that'd be great. Should I send an introductory email to Prof. L, M, N (with whom I've got an appointment), or should I just show up? This is somewhat of an awkward situation, and I should have emailed Prof. L, M & N earlier--just didn't get around to reading their papers yet.

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I would send an a quick email to all of them, letting them know some basics about you. Also, try to read at least a paper by each of them, or at least do a through look through their bio and research background so that you can ask them good questions.

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