grad skool rulz #26: what should I do during the grad school visit?
On June 3, 2011, I said that I was ending the grad skool rulz. Totally wrong. People keep asking me about things I hadn’t thought of before, so I kept on writing! This week’s question: What should I get from the campus visit after I have been accepted to a PhD program?
Usually, the campus visit is a brief one or two day trip where you show up to campus and with current graduate students and faculty. The visits vary a great deal in quality. For example, when I visited Chicago, I had to pay my own way and it was very hard to make appointments to meet people. During one appointment, I asked about graduation rates and this senior professor simply said that such statistics weren’t important. Now you understand the genesis of the Rulz. In contrast, Indiana has one of the most highly organized graduate programs around. Students who visit meet with professors, grad students, and they go to seminars. And of course, we have a great record of placement and publication with students that we freely talk about.
So what should you expect or demand from your visit?
- Ask for money. A lot of graduate programs will provide funds for air fare and the like.
- Accommodations – Don’t pay for hotels, most programs will have a current student host you.
- It is normal for faculty to meet with potential students. If no one is around to meet you, it is a bad sign.
- Meet with the graduate chair. At the very least, you can get some information on the mechanics of the program. Also, ask for placement and graduation rates.
- Meet with current graduate students. Often there is a lunch attended only by students. The idea is that students can candidly talk about their experiences.
- Attend a class or seminar.
- Meet with senior faculty, the folks who mentor most graduate students. Ask them about current research and current students.
Now, how should you evaluate your visit? A few rules of thumb:
- You can safely ignore about 90% of what people say. The faculty all say that their program is the best, even if students fail to get jobs. It’s rare that graduate students openly admit how much they hate life and how their friends in older cohorts are being weeded out and failing to get jobs.
- You should closely pay attention to what people actually do. Did the faculty take the time to meet with graduate students, many of whom will not matriculate? If so, it shows commitment. Can your graduate student host point to a master’s paper or dissertation chapter that was promptly read? Or a paper that the faculty helped him/her publish?
- Pay very close attention to the total number of people that the program places in an average year. My rule of thumb is that a program is effective if # of tenure track jobs = 50% of incoming cohort size. The reason is that 50% of people won’t graduate for a variety of reasons. The issue is what happens to the 50% who manage to finish.
- It is a bad sign if the faculty will only talk about the one guy who made it to an Ivy league position. It is a good sign if they can point to multiple students who made it to R1′s, Liberal arts, and good regional universities. Don’t look at a biased sample.
Consider this an open thread on grad school visits. And of course – buy the GRAD SKOOL RULZ!!!