Should I stay or should I go?

This month we’ll be talking about visiting grad schools – either before or after you apply – and I have a little story to share. Yes, it’s one of those “When I was your age” stories, but bear with me.

When I was applying to grad schools in 2007-2008, I only had three on my list. That’s a small list, but it ended up being sufficient. I was able to plan a single trip that would allow me to visit all three – via three flights and a few hours on a train. Two days before my trip, I was doing lunges in the gym (did this story take a weird turn?) and I dislocated my knee. My kneecap popped off to one side, and a piece of bone chipped off. I went to the hospital, and eventually they put it back in its proper place and told me I should have surgery and cancel my trip.

Seeing the Baltimore Museum of Art... in a wheel chair!

But I didn’t cancel the trip, and I am very glad I made that choice. Visiting schools gives you a perspective that you won’t be able to get via their websites or email. I discovered which departments had a sense of community and which ones had commuting students who spent much less time together. I found out which professors were best aligned with my interests and had compatible personalities. And I found out (and please excuse my personal bias) that a small town in the middle of Indiana was actually a beautiful, dynamic, welcoming place. I might not have given it a chance if I had never visited in person.

So is it important to visit the grad schools on your list? YES! It’s very important. If you’re applying to a PhD program, you might spend the next five to TEN years of your life there, so you better make sure you like it. Should you put your health or safety at risk to make it happen? That’s not the message I want to send. Do what you can, and if circumstances or finances prevent you, put that much more effort into getting to know the school and the people you might be working with.

In closing, I’d like to say: practice good lunge form, and always get a second medical opinion!