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Visiting prospective programs


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I wonder if any of you have visited your prospective programs either before or after being admitted. How did the visit go? Did you like the campus/town/faculty you met? I'm interested in people's impressions of programs from first-hand experience rather than from rankings and email contact, which I think can be misleading. Did you change your mind about a program as a result of visiting it? What factors do you think would change your opinion of a program?

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During the fall, when I was solidifying which programs I would apply to, I did go out and visit 3 places I was interested in. They were very beneficial in helping determine a "gut feeling" of how I would fit in with the other students and faculty, and how interested they would be in my success and potential contribution to them. Two of the departments I visited met my expectations, but one of them made me feel like it would likely not be a place where I could meet my goals. So these pre-applying visits were very helpful to me in that way. As for post-applying visits, we'll see!...

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I have visited UMass, MIT, and UIUC, and of course I was at UCLA for awhile. I decided not to apply to UIUC because of the visit, simply because the pluses about the place weren't strong enough to counterbalance the major minus (the small town). UMass is in a very similar location, but Boston is a BIT closer than UC is to Chicago, the program is a BIT (or a lot) stronger. All the other places I applied to are in major cities (except New Brunswick? But close enough to NYC to count), which is my natural habitat.

UCLA: None of the campuses I visited were as nice as UCLA's (which you're familiar with even if you haven't visited; it's played colleges in hundreds of movies and TV shows). The rest of LA can be quite detestable though. This is my undergrad department, so it would obviously be impossible to communicate the entire nuance of my impression in a couple lines. To summarize though, it's a great department, very personable and welcoming. There's a lot of interaction, with some pretty blurry lines between the top undergrands and the first year grads (all of the advanced undergrad courses are also intro grad courses designed for students who didn't come from linguistics or a top ling department, so they're often even in the same classes). There's a lot of space to go do your own thing though. Also Campbell Hall is in a great location -- close to a food court that makes the best burritos on campus, steps from the research library, and right next door to the buildings for language and history departments.

MIT: would be my top choice even if the program there weren't as strong, because Boston is such an awesome city. Visiting MIT was intimidating at first, because you're in a building that's a world-reknown architectural masterpiece/eyesore (opinions vary) and Chomsky's in there somewhere! as well as a multitude of the biggest name people in a wide variety of disciplines. Being a linux guy, I was actually more nervous about the chance of happening upon Richard Stallman that Chomsky. I didn't get to interact much with the department here and just explored the campus thoroughly.

UMass: was much less imposing, with a plain little brick building and a hand-written sign on the door that said to go around to a side entrance for Linguistics, and had a little drawing to show which door. Everyone was pretty cool, but they obviously had their own things. I did get to sit in for half a class (I visited in the first week, so everyone was new). Amherst is a VERY small town, but has a vibrant student community; understandable since there are two world-class colleges there. UMass was an agricultural college until fairly recently, and it shows on campus. There are huge cow pastures in several directions, and the campus is very spread out. However, this being New England, there are towns and small cities every ten miles or so, so it's not like you're ever actually in the countryside. And of course Boston is an easy daytrip.

I didn't apply to or visit NYU specifically, but I live and occasionally work in lower Manhattan. The impression from the outside is that it's quite unlike any other college, in that there's no campus per se. Even Columbia has a discrete campus, but NYU is a building here and there spread out over several blocks, with regular apartments and businesses in between. It's in one of the most absolutely hopping parts of town though, and I've walked through the Village at 3am and pushed through crowds as thick as you would find at 3pm. And don't assume that's all students either. In any other place a major university would dominate the landscape, but in Manhattan it's barely a drop in the bucket. Above any others that you're considering, I would recommend visiting this one if you're not familiar with NYC, because it is a completely different world.

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