While wide-eyed college applicants are agog over things like student unions, athletic stadiums, dormitories, and dining halls, the life of a graduate student is different. While you also will want some of the same features as college students, your campus visit will be focused on other aspects of the school’s physical amenities and the surrounding community, which will affect your success and enjoyment of graduate school.
If you plan to make an official visit, the school’s website will likely provide you with details on how to get a guided tour, meet with faculty and other officials, and spend time in classrooms. In addition, we offer some other points on non academic considerations as you plan your campus visits.
As a prospective graduate student, it’s likely that your campus visit will focus less on the football field and more on libraries, research facilities, studios, computer laboratories, and spaces for graduate students to collaborate and socialize. If you are entering a healthcare field, you will want to tour the clinical facilities where you will be learning and providing care. We’re only offering a broad-brush stroke of possible here, as each field of graduate study entails different experiences far beyond the classroom. Whether your campus visit will include a tour of a mass spectrometry lab or a chance to estimate the size of a stage, be mindful that your educational experience will be effected by the physical spaces you will work in for the next two or more years.
You will also want to learn about parking and public transportation and, if you are looking at a large, multi-campus university, the school’s own transportation system. If you will be driving to campus, be sure to check out parking availability and cost. Prime campus parking can be expensive, and on-street parking may be limited to one or two hours. Campus and municipal parking personnel are notoriously strict about enforcing the rules and levying hefty fines for those who try to stretch out their time on the meter.
While some schools do provide housing for graduate students, others can hardly find enough space for incoming freshman. Because the majority of graduate students normally live off campus, you will want to expand your school visit to nearby neighborhoods and check on the availability of safe, affordable rental housing. Your campus visit might also include a stop by the off-campus housing office to learn about opportunities not advertised elsewhere.
While on campus, look at how people navigate the buildings and open spaces. Do students have to cross busy streets, as is the case on many urban campuses? Or does it seem fairly easy to get from building to building? While your graduate education is more about cerebral things than pedestrian walkways, a hard-to-navigate campus can put a dent on your experience.
If you plan to attend graduate school in a region other than where you now live, think hard about the climate. If you live in Georgia, it might be hard to imagine just how tough it can be to survive a windy winter in Chicago or elsewhere in the Upper Midwest and North, but if snow and ice are going to be a big part of your life from November to March, you will need think about how you will fare under those conditions. While on campus, ask students how the campus typically responds to inclement weather. While snowfall rarely causes school closings in northern climates, potential commuter students will want to have their own inclement weather plans in place when driving and parking become a challenge.