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Hi everyone! I'm sure this has been addressed in other forums, but I'd love to hear more from the literary group...

 

Any advice for visiting prospective schools? Any serious do's and don't's or important things to pay attention to/ask? I'd love to hear any feedback!!

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Hi everyone! I'm sure this has been addressed in other forums, but I'd love to hear more from the literary group...

 

Any advice for visiting prospective schools? Any serious do's and don't's or important things to pay attention to/ask? I'd love to hear any feedback!!

 

Always be prepared and dress professionally (no matter if others aren’t). By be prepared, I mean take copies of your CV and SoP, study up on the faculty members, try to infer a bit about the campus culture, and make sure you are on time and ready to be receptive.

 

 

Most of all, enjoy it :)

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1. Look for happy grad students that are friendly and communicative about the program. These will be your future friends and colleagues! Run down, secretive or unfriendly grad students are the sign of a poorly managed program or are an indication of uneven funding and a hypercompetitive atmosphere.

 

2. Check out the area and the living situation. You should plan to live close to campus your first semester so that you can fully immerse yourself in campus life. Ask the grad students questions about the area, the cost of living, how public transportation works and where the affordable housing is.

 

3. Be able to sum up your interest in the field in a single sentence (believe me, you'll end up repeating yourself a lot).

 

4. Look for active participation, attentiveness (if it's a lecture) and enthusiasm in classes. No-one wants to go to a program where there are bored looking students.

 

5. Try to meet as many faculty members as possible to get a feel for the program, even if they're not in your area of study.

 

 

Here are some sample questions I've compiled:

 

What is the time to degree?

Do I get summer support?

Do I get health insurance?

What is working with X person like?

How many students does X professor have / how many dissertations are they directing? (to get a sense of workload).

Will I get conference funding?

Will I get private research funding?

What is the teaching load like?

Are there any fellowship opportunities?

How many classes do students take each semester?

Are summer classes covered by tuition remission?

Are there paper writing workshops, conference workshops and themed working groups in my area of study?

How does the school handle professionalization and job placement once I'm on the market?

How easy is it to access other libraries and archives?

How are the language requirements fulfilled (and will I have support for fulfilling them)?

Will I be able to take classes at other schools or in other departments?

What is the departmental average for job placement in tenure track jobs within three years of graduation? (make sure they give you recent numbers).

 

Hope this helps!

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A couple of years ago, a user on here (can't remember their name or I would credit them) compiled the most kick ass, comprehensive list of questions ever. I saved it to my desktop, because I was so impressed! I'd also second that you should look for happy grad students. I ended up choosing my program over one with much better funding because I wanted to be in a place where I could have a good life as well as a good education. As soon as I saw how strongly they value camaraderie here and got to spend time with my then-future cohort mates, I knew I was golden.

 

 

PLACES TO STUDY AND WORK
-Where do most people do their writing and reading?
-What study spaces are available? Do students get a carrel? Do those who teach get or share an office?

-LIBRARY
-What is the library system like? Are the stacks open or closed?
-What are the library hours?
-Are there specialized archives/primary sources that would be useful to my research?
-Are there specialist librarians who can help me with my research?

-FACULTY
-Are the faculty members I want to work with accepting new students? Are any of those faculty members due for a sabbatical any time soon?
-Are professors willing to engage you on a personal level rather than just talking about your work?
-Are there any new professors the department is hiring in areas that align with my interests?
-Students’ relationships with their professors – are they primarily professional, or are they social as well?

-FUNDING
-Is funding competitive? If so, do students feel a distinction between those who have received more generous funding and those who haven’t?
-How does funding break down among the cohort? i.e., how many people receive fellowships?
-How, if you don’t have much savings, do you make enough money to live comfortably?
-Are there external fellowships one can apply to? If so, what is available? Does the program help you apply for these fellowships? How does receiving an external fellowship affect internal funding?
-If people need more than five/six years to finish, what funding resources are available? (For instance, Columbia can give you an additional 2-year teaching appointment.)
-Do you provide funding for conferences or research trips?
-How often is funding disbursed? (i.e., do you get paid monthly or do you have to stretch a sum over a longer period of time?)

-COHORT
-Do students get along with each other? Is the feeling of the program more collaborative than competitive?
-Do students in different years of the program collaborate with each other, or are individual cohorts cliquey?
-How many offers are given out, and what is the target number of members for an entering class?
-Ages/marital status of people in the cohort – do most people tend to be married with families? Are there younger people? Single people? What sense do you have of how the graduate students interact with each other socially?
-Do people seem happy? If they’re stressed, is it because they’re busy or is it because they’re anxious/depressed/cynical/disillusioned?
-Is the grad secretary/program administrator nice?
-What is the typical time to completion? What are the factors that slow down or speed up that time?
-I’ve read that there are two kinds of attrition: “good” attrition, in which people realize that the program, or graduate study, isn’t right for them and leave early on, and “bad” attrition, in which people don’t finish the dissertation. What can you tell me about the rates of each, and of the reasons why people have chosen to leave the program?

-JOB MARKET/PROFESSIONALIZATION
-What is the placement rate? How many of those jobs are tenure-track?
-What are examples of institutions in which people in my field have been placed?
-How does the department prepare you for the job search? Are there mock interviews and mock job talks?
-Are the people helping you navigate the job search people who have recently gone through the process themselves?
-If you don’t get placed, is there anything the department can do for you? (e.g., can you stay an extra year?)
-How does the department prepare you for and help you attain conference presentations and publications?

-SUMMER WORK
-What is encouraged/required?
-If there separate funding/is the year-round funding enough to live on during the summer?
-Do people find themselves needing to get outside work during the summer in order to have enough money?
-Am I expected to stay in town in the summer, and what happens if I don’t?

-LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT
-What is done to help people who don’t have language proficiency attain it? Does the university provide funding?
-What is the requirement, and by when do you have to meet it?
-Given my research interests, what languages should I study?
-When do you recommend doing the work necessary to fulfill the language requirement? (i.e., summer before first year, summer after first year, while taking classes, etc.)

-LOCATION REQUIREMENTS
-How long are students required to be in residence?
-How many students stay in the location for the duration of the program? (i.e., how many dissertate in residence?)
-How is funding affected if you don’t stay?

-Incompletes on papers at the end of the term: What is the policy, how many students take them, and how does this affect progress through the program?

-TEACHING
-What sort of training is provided?
-What types of courses do people teach?
-Does teaching entail serving as a grader? Serving as a TA? Developing and teaching a section of comp?
-How are students placed as TAs? Is there choice about what classes you teach and which professors you work with? Do classes correspond to your field?
-How many courses do you teach per semester/year?
-How many students are in your classes?
-How does the school see teaching as fitting in with the other responsibilities/requirements of graduate study?
-How do students balance teaching with their own work?
-Is the department more concerned with training you as a teacher/professor or with having cheap labor to teach their classes?
-How, if at all, does the economic downturn affect teaching load/class sizes?
-What are the students like? Can I sit in on a course a TA teaches to get a sense of them?

-METHODOLOGY
-Is a theory course required?
-What methodology do most people use?
-Where, methodologically, do you see the department – and the discipline – heading?
-Is interdisciplinarity encouraged, and what sorts of collaboration have students undertaken?

-Typical graduate class and seminar sizes

-What should I do to prepare over the summer?

-Ask people I know: What are the questions – both about the program itself and about the location – I should ask that will most help me get a feel for whether this is the right program for me?

-Ask people I know: What do you wish you knew or wish you had asked before choosing a program?

-Is the school on the semester or the quarter system, and how does that affect classes/teaching/requirements?

-What is the course load for each semester, and how many courses are required?

-What kind of support is provided while writing the dissertation? I worry about the isolation and anxiety of writing such a big project. What does the program do to help you break the dissertation down into manageable pieces, and to make the experience less isolating?

-What do writing assignments look like in classes? Do they differ based on the type/level of class and/or based on whether you intend to specialize in the field?

-Ask professors: what have you been working on lately?

-Ask professors: What is your approach to mentoring and advising graduate students?

-How long are class meetings?

-How often do professors teach graduate courses?

-Are course schedules available for future semesters (10-11, etc.)?

-Can I see the grad student handbook? Are there any other departmental documents – such as reports on the program prepared for accreditation – that I can see?


-QUALITY OF LIFE
-Prices – how does the cost of gas, milk, cereal, etc. compare to other places I've lived in?
-Cost and quality of typical one-bedroom apartment.
-What does the university do to provide you with or help you find housing?
-When (i.e., what month) do people start looking for an apartment for the fall, and where do they look?
-Is it easy to find a summer subletter?
-How close to campus can—and should—one live?
-What grocery stores are there in town?
-How late are cafes, bookstores, malls, restaurants typically open?
-What do people do to make extra money?
-Does the town have more of a driving or a walking culture? What is parking like near campus (availability, ease, cost)?
-Where do most English grad students live? Most other grad students? Most professors? Where is the student ghetto? Do most students live near each other, or are they spread out far and wide?
-How far does the stipend go in this location?

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Holy crap dazedandbemused, thanks for sharing that! I'm quite nervous about some upcoming visits to Riverside and UCONN and this should help.

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The best advice I received was from a professor who reminded me that visits are all about the student. You are interviewing them to see if you're a good fit, not vice versa. You want to be courteous and professional, but also be sure to ask any pressing questions you have. Enjoy this brief moment when you have the power! I don't think you'll need a CV or your SoP, as you already have an offer. Rather, just enjoy yourself and strike up conversations with future colleagues.

 

Also, I'd suggest making connections with current students who you really vibe with and have similar interests. Even if you don't end up choosing that school, knowing the other rising scholars in your field makes putting together conference panel proposals much easier and attending conferences much more fun. Keep your eye out for possible collaborators on your visits! 

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 visits are all about the student. You are interviewing them to see if you're a good fit, not vice versa. You want to be courteous and professional, but also be sure to ask any pressing questions you have. 

 

I am wondering if I should go ahead and ask pressing funding/cost of living questions now, or wait until the visits. Any advice? 

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I actually just finished doing one, and I agree with all of this.

 

The part that's been addressed here, and that I hadn't really expected, was how...interested they were in asking me about what I did.  It wasn't so much about "so, how will you benefit us," as it was "I see you study this, and I love it/am interested in it/would like to learn more/haven't seen anyone study that before."  My experience was that they wanted to geek out with me.  It was surprising and nice.

 

Also, if you're teaching, find out if it's a pre-prepared course, if you will be designing your own, etc.  Also find out about summer funding/job opportunities.

 

...and if you're an introvert like me, sleep for a week beforehand, because you will literally be talking to people for 12 hours straight.  Amazing, but utterly draining.  We got stuck in traffic with only 3 of us in the car, and I was so relieved to just be able to sit and listen...

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...and if you're an introvert like me, sleep for a week beforehand, because you will literally be talking to people for 12 hours straight.  Amazing, but utterly draining.  We got stuck in traffic with only 3 of us in the car, and I was so relieved to just be able to sit and listen...

God, this. This is perhaps the best advice I've seen here. I am an extravert, and even I felt overwhelmed by all the scheduled socializing during visits. Find moments to take a breath in the frenzy of the visit. 

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I was originally planning to get a hotel, but the school has offered to put me up with grad students. Financial considerations aside, do you think there are any benefits to staying with students? They've suggested that it might help get a better idea of grad student life, but I definitely don't want to be in their way.

 

Any thoughts?

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I stayed with a student on my visit, and it was great.  Unless the program is really scary, the student you'd be staying with probably volunteered.  And it's free.  And also, it gives you a possible chance to have a long chat in an atmosphere where there's less "selling" going on.

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Yes, if the department offers the option of staying with a student, that means the student volunteered to have you stay with them, so you can be sure you won't be inconveniencing someone who didn't ask to be inconvenienced, ha. 

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Any advice if you're visiting while still on a waiting list??? I'm wait listed at Tufts and would LOVE to go there; they've asked their wait listed candidates to join for their admitted students day, and I'll be there on March 11th. WHAT DO I DO?!?

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Have tomorrow through Saturday at noon at Duke. Can I just inject caffeine into my veins? Do they sell caffeine patches at the airport?

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Any advice if you're visiting while still on a waiting list??? I'm wait listed at Tufts and would LOVE to go there; they've asked their wait listed candidates to join for their admitted students day, and I'll be there on March 11th. WHAT DO I DO?!?

GO. And be aware that you are selling yourself!

Edit: Just realized you're already going. Assuming you are interesting, fun, and nice, be yourself. Otherwise, be someone else who is. Enthusiasm goes a long way. Be interested. Know that connections might help you, but be genuine.

Edited by smellybug

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Also a good idea to go because, if you get in off the wait list, then you've already seen the school and can make a faster decision.  Especially important if admission comes close to the 15th.

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