Your graduate school prep checklist includes lots of important things: your application and everything that comes with that territory, funding options, making sure your CV/resume is perfect, tying up loose ends with family back home. All of these are crucial, but one thing that you should be sure to do is visit some campuses! It’s so easy to completely disregard this piece of the GSP (graduate school prep) simply because you’re schedule is packed as you’re finishing up the current programs you’re in, attending and presenting at conferences, and of course, traveling cost money. Despite these things happening all at once, it is in your best interest to visit the campuses of potential programs because a visit could definitely impact your decision to attend or go elsewhere.
When should you do your campus visit? Should you wait until you’re accepted? The answer to these questions vary depending on who responds, the program/school, and other factors. Considering my own experience, I waited until I was accepted to visit. I knew that Indiana University (Go Hoosiers!) was one of the top schools on my list. So, I definitely wanted to visit, but I waited until I was accepted so that I would not incur unnecessary travel expenses.
I think it’s also a good idea to inquire about specific visit days for your program. Most programs have special days set aside in the spring semester prior to the fall that you plan to enroll when you can meet faculty, learn about the program, talk to employers about research jobs or graduate assistantships, etc. Think of it as an orientation before orientation. If this is place already, take advantage of it! That way, you don’t have to do any planning in terms of finding faculty who are available to meet with you; it will already be done for you, and all you have to do is respond, have your information and questions handy, and show up! My program, Higher Education Student Affairs, hosted prospective students in March of the spring semester before I moved here. It was fantastic! I met with faculty members in the department, and I chatted with prospective and current students as well. By the time I made it back home to Mississippi, I knew that I wanted to be at IU. The 8-hour drive in the middle of the week was certainly worth it!
When you visit a campus, you’re also visiting the city where the institution is located of course. So, be sure to explore the area! When you talk to faculty members or current graduate students, ask them about good restaurants, nice places to live, sights or main attractions. And check out their recommendations. Even if the place has to grow on you a little bit, at least you would be somewhat familiar with the area.
If you’re interested in multiple campuses, get accepted into multiple programs, and can afford to visit them, by all means do so. Aside from learning more about the program and meeting with faculty, you never know what other great things can come out of your trip. Enjoy!