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Hey Team, I wanted to start a thread for people to ask questions / share thoughts about campus visits--what to ask, what to pay attention to, how important they are, etc.

 

Also, I have a question!

 

Do y'all think there's a way to go about getting two schools in a similar region to reimburse you for the same overall trip? Like, how do I ask Riverside and Davis if I can show them the receipts for my flight into LA and out of Sacramento, weeks apart, and get both of them to give me the max reimbursement (which still won't add up to the total cost of the trip)? Any thoughts / advice would be dope!

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haha!  It would definitely be okay for you to post the questions list, but here it is.  Also, I'd just be honest with the programs, especially since the money they're giving you won't be enough to cov

This is a great list! It's somewhat geared toward single, childfree grad students, so here are a few questions I'd add:    -What is the department's parental leave policy? -What form of health care

@tinymica: Remain calm--it's going to be okay. They are not going to pull your acceptance. All you have to do is be professional--as in, show up showered and don't tell bawdy jokes. They already think

Should I post lyonnessrampant's supercalifragilisticexpialidocious list of questions or should I let her do it? ;)

 

As for your question: I was speaking in private to someone on TGC and they mentioned an anecdote about how a candidate tried to pull the double reimbursement trick with UCLA and USC and (I suppose out of offense and rage at the gall) UCLA rescinded their offer. So I would be very.... VERY careful about that and perhaps just eat the cost if it comes down to it. 

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lol oh word? I mean, do you think erring on the side of transparency and honesty would be more acceptable? Like, no way $250 is going to get my underemployed ass to Riverside and back, nor is $400 going to get me to Davis and back. BUT, combined, I could probably make it work.

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As for your question: I was speaking in private to someone on TGC and they mentioned an anecdote about how a candidate tried to pull the double reimbursement trick with UCLA and USC and (I suppose out of offense and rage at the gall) UCLA rescinded their offer. So I would be very.... VERY careful about that and perhaps just eat the cost if it comes down to it. 

 

Yep, doing what appears like getting reimbursed for the same expense twice is a definite no-no. However, asking multiple schools to participate in the cost of travel is not unheard of. Email both departments ahead of time and ask if such an arrangement could be made, since you're combining trips and the overall cost is still above what they will each reimburse you. I had several schools participate in paying for my travel during my application cycle. The only trick is to make sure it's all transparent. If so, and they agree to it, then there shouldn't be any problem at all. I don't think it's that uncommon for students, especially those who live far away, to combine trips like this.  

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allplaid, maybe instead you could just ask for more from each, politely explaining your situation and being specific about expected costs?

I'm doing a visit to UChicago at the end of the week and very excited! It'll cost me since I'll be missing two days of work, but I'm really looking forward to it. I'm scared I'll be too happy and just accept the offer to attend on the spot and not be ballsy enough to ask serious critical questions. I already feel like I've made an ass of myself with some of the questions I've asked. There's an allotted time for brief one-one-one meetings with faculty -- is that when people usually do all the mysterious shadowy bargaining and presentation of placement statistics and whatnot? Ugh, I feel so unhip as to how all this shit works.

ETA: oops, cross posted with the statements above

Edited by mollifiedmolloy
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Allplaid, I live in Florida, and one of my schools is about 1000 miles away. Another is around 500 miles further than that. Since the cost of visiting both separately would be really prohibitive, I don't see anything wrong with telling school B, "hey, I'll be traveling from a campus visit at School A, could you reimburse me from there?" Then I'd mention to School A, "I'll be traveling to School B for a campus visit, so my return receipts are going to be dated a week later." 

 

It's a sticky situation, but if you ask if it's a possibility beforehand, I don't think it would be an issue. The only reason they might say no is for accounting purposes.

 

Should I post lyonnessrampant's supercalifragilisticexpialidocious list of questions or should I let her do it? ;)

 

My thoughts exactly.

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haha!  It would definitely be okay for you to post the questions list, but here it is.  Also, I'd just be honest with the programs, especially since the money they're giving you won't be enough to cover either visit individually.  

 

-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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This is a great list! It's somewhat geared toward single, childfree grad students, so here are a few questions I'd add: 

 

-What is the department's parental leave policy?

-What form of health care is available to graduate students and their families? Can they sign up for the same health insurance plans as faculty and staff?

-Are partners/spouses/children welcome at departmental and social events? Are they seen as part of the cohort?

-Where do students' partners work? (this was important when I was considering schools in the middle of nowhere, like Urbana-Champaign and Oxford, OH).

-What childcare services does the university offer?

-Where do grad students with families tend to live?

-Is there a lactation room in the building? Or on campus?

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Just wanted to chime in to say as long as you're transparent, I wouldn't worry at all about asking schools to pitch in together! I actually had a school suggest it on their own: "if you're visiting other schools in the area at the same time, we'd appreciate it if you split the cost with them." They just wanted you to be up front with receipts on how you made it happen!

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lol oh word? I mean, do you think erring on the side of transparency and honesty would be more acceptable? Like, no way $250 is going to get my underemployed ass to Riverside and back, nor is $400 going to get me to Davis and back. BUT, combined, I could probably make it work.

 

I'd definitely be completely upfront about the fact that you're visiting other schools and trying to combine costs. Not least because it's a very good opportunity to non-obnoxiously let them know that you have multiple offers (ie creating a situation where some sort of stipend negotiation could arise without you coming across as pushy or entitled)

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I think, as most others have said, being upfront about your visiting other schools can only be a benefit. In my case a little more money was tacked on for visiting at one school (to cover the difference since I'm so very far away) and a week after that another little scholarship magically made it's way into my package. My adviser said that just mentioning another school is interested in you is a "magic little phrase". So take that for what it's worth :)

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Question: do most schools that pay for hotels make you double up with someone you don't know? Because I am deeply uncomfortable with this but maybe I'm being a princess. 

 

I don't think so. I imagine this would send the "we have absolutely no money" sign, which, even if true, isn't what programs are trying to indicate during their open house visits. 

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I don't think so. I imagine this would send the "we have absolutely no money" sign, which, even if true, isn't what programs are trying to indicate during their open house visits. 

That's a relief! I snore (must have tonsils out when I become rich in academia haha) and always worry so much about bothering people. 

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One of the programs I was going to visit booked me a double room with another prospective grad student, so it's definitely possible. You may want to inquire before, so you aren't surprised when you get there.

 

No kidding? I know programs will sometimes ask current students to double up if they're going to the same conference, but I figured they wouldn't do the same for prospective students. Thanks for letting us know about this possibility, proflorax. 

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Just got invited to an open house at Villanova. It's only two hours long though (from 5-7PM), and my transportation would take three hours driving or four/five hours if I have to take a train/bus/train. Is it worth taking off work? This is the only school that's sent me any personal emails and I'm freaking out/ecstatic. 

 

Edit: And lyonessrampant you are a saint, I'm going to print that list out.

Edited by pannpann
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Just got invited to an open house at Villanova. It's only two hours long though (from 5-7PM), and my transportation would take three hours driving or four/five hours if I have to take a train/bus/train. Is it worth taking off work? This is the only school that's sent me any personal emails and I'm freaking out/ecstatic. 

 

Edit: And lyonessrampant you are a saint, I'm going to print that list out.

 

I definitely recommend taking time off work to visit the open house if you're seriously considering the program. Talking to folks in person will always give you a better sense of the program than emails will. When I applied to MA programs, I ended up making the 12 hour drive from Michigan to Alabama, and I'm so glad that I did. I initially wasn't big on the program, but chatting with the people here really affirmed for me that this would be a good place to develop in preparation for an eventual doctoral program.

 

You'll also find that it's easier to get a sense of potential downsides from talking to people directly. Talk to the current grad students in particular; they'll be a little freer with their words, and will let you know about issues like cost of living and how one gets by on the stipend in a way that professors will not. 

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Question: do most schools that pay for hotels make you double up with someone you don't know? Because I am deeply uncomfortable with this but maybe I'm being a princess. 

 

I know UNC is one of the schools that does this, but we also invite ~40 students to the visiting weekend each year.  While it doesn't mean exactly that we don't have any money, we don't have infinite money, and it does beat what we used to do (and what I know a number of schools still do), which is putting visiting students up with current grad students (a bigger concern for someone like me, with infinite allergies!).

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I know UNC is one of the schools that does this, but we also invite ~40 students to the visiting weekend each year.  While it doesn't mean exactly that we don't have any money, we don't have infinite money, and it does beat what we used to do (and what I know a number of schools still do), which is putting visiting students up with current grad students (a bigger concern for someone like me, with infinite allergies!).

I'm coming to UNC's weekend. I think I'll opt to stay at an Air B&B or something. Thanks for the info! 

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Here (SC), the visiting acceptances get paired with current students, who volunteer their time and homes to stay. I think it's really helpful and nice for the visitors, as they get a better idea of the city than they might in a hotel, but I also know it helps save the department money. I don't know if it was originally borne out of a budgetary crisis, but in my experience here, it has been seen as a benefit to the visiting acceptances and is the department's SOP.

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I would guess that the whole "bunk with a grad student" thing is often not about money - both Yale and Berkeley do the same thing, and (in spite of UC budget stuff) I'm pretty sure neither program is so low on funds that they couldn't afford 12 hotel rooms if they wanted! I think it's kind of nice, personally - as others have said, it gives a sense of how current grad students live (and how strapped for cash they are/are not!). That said, I bet most schools would pay for alternate arrangements for people with allergies or other special needs - a decent hotel room is usually $75-150, which is a lot for some of us, but not for most of them. :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Visited a department  that was my dream program. Had wanted to go there for years. I honestly didn't like very much about it (not the right place for me personally or professionally). But it was still the single most helpful thing I could've done, because none of the things I learned were things I would've known from a website or phone conversation, and I would've always wondered if I was making the right choice to turn them down. Now I know. 

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