Visiting Graduate Schools

If the end of undergrad has you considering graduate school over the workforce, you may be considering visiting some graduate schools.

Masters or PhD

Visiting a university where you’d like to attend graduate school is DIFFERENT THAN UNDERGRAD. Namely, it’s MORE LIKE A JOB INTERVIEW. The all caps here are because this is one of those notorious secret club like things. If you try to visit a graduate school before applying or being accepted, they might meet with you, but more likely you’ll be blown off, you’ll irritate the professors, and in a really bad case, it could hurt your chances of getting in. Trust me. When I was in graduate school this happened a couple of times with prospective students; I speak from observing how this was handled in the graduate office.

Graduate school visits are more like a job interview than an undergraduate college visit. Typically, they happen after you’ve applied and been accepted. It’s an opportunity for you to figure out if this university and these professors are the ones that you want to spend the next several years working for and with. Masters programs vary in whether or not they hold a formal visit; most PhD programs do. If you get an invitation to visit the school, you should try to go (many programs will cover all or part of your cost). You’ll have the opportunity to meet with professors, see the campus, get to know some of the other graduate students and prospective students. It’s a very valuable experience (even if you aren’t trying to compare programs).

When you prep for a graduate student visit, you want to approach it like you would any job interview. Get some background on the professors you’ll meet with, and the graduate program itself. This will allow you to prep a list of questions that you’ll want to answer, including: policies on graduate student research (will professors co-author with you, or expect you to hand over your ideas for them to publish?), health care (what’s the graduate student insurance policy like?), pay scale and schedule (are there assistantship opportunities? Will you get 12 month or 9 months of funding?), graduate student life (Do grad students have offices? Where do most of them live–and is it in a nice/safe part of town? What is the university culture like?). The better prepared you are, the more you’ll get out of the visit.

Law School

Before I decided I wanted to pursue a PhD, I seriously considered attending law school, including visiting a few universities with programs I was interested in. Law school visits can be more similar to undergraduate university visits. I experienced two types:

  1. The Tour: some law schools offer a campus tour (similar to the campus tours that are tailored to undergraduates). These can be helpful in introducing you to basics about the school and give you a chance to speak with a current student (albeit one who is being paid to talk the school up).
  2. The Open House: again, similar to undergraduate programs, these are events where the school puts together a set of events that introduce you to the school, sometimes to the faculty, and to student life.

These types of visits are really helpful at any point in the admission process. They give you some insight into what life is like at that law school, the program, the campus environment, and the students. The other cool thing is that you don’t have to have been accepted into law school in order to attend. Taking advantage of these types of tours and open houses allowed me to figure out that law school wasn’t really going to be in the cards for me. For you, it might help you figure out which schools you want to apply to.

Medical School

Med School visits fall into two categories. Similar to the law school process, you can visit the school prior to applying and take a tour. This will help you figure out where you want to apply.

Similar to the Masters/PhD type visits, you will also likely be invited to visit after you apply, and you’ve been invited to an interview. Like the Masters/PhD visit, you should treat this as a job interview. In addition to doing your research beforehand so that you have some good questions to ask, make sure you dress for success, have updated copies of your resume/CV, and are prepared to field questions they ask you. After your interview, make sure to send follow up thank you notes to the people you interview with–so be sure to get their names (and minimally their email addresses) while you are there. Bringing a business card to exchange is a great way to get this information easily.


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