The fall is high season for school visits from prospective
students. I am a great believer in doing this remotely-while some greenhouse
gases are generated by a Google search it is far less than a plane ride to a
distant campus. I suggest visiting schools only after you have been admitted
(and not even then if you don't have a really crucial question that can only be
answered on site). However, if you can't bring yourself to even apply to a
school in a place you've never visited, and promise to buy carbon set asides, a
tour may be worth it. The following tips can help you make the most of the
- Try to
go to an open house. You'll not only meet faculty and see the school,
you'll also meet students who might be your graduate school peers.
- If you
are going independently, don't contact faculty directly to organize your
visit, except as a last resort. Most schools have a graduate program administrator
who can provide information and assist with campus visits. If there isn't
an administrator, a faculty member who is the program director may have
this as part of their job description. They can coordinate schedules
better than you could.
prepared. Read the web site for the program and come with additional
questions for the program administrator, faculty, or students. If the
question is fully answered on the web site, don't ask it-use the time to
check out the local area.
questions that show you have investigated the school. Don't start an
interview with a faculty member by asking "Tell me about your research".
If they have a strong research program their publications will be
available and they will wonder why you haven't read them; if they don't, you'll get to hear about the Environmental Impact
Statement they wrote for a highway rest stop in 2001. Instead ask
questions along the following lines (and these are just a sampling--there are many more):
noticed you have written a lot on solid waste disposal planning, has
there been much funding around for that kind of thing recently?" This
indicates you know their research and want to understand the logistics of
doing it; it can also help you raise the issue of research grants and
contracts (including funding for students).
do you think students like most about the program?"
campus-wide opportunities and resources do students seem to appreciate
with students as they can provide a really valuable perspective.
- Do a basic
campus tour to get oriented and find out the range of facilities.
expect faculty to review your vita or statement. Many faculty won't do it out of
fairness to other candidates and in consideration of the time it takes
away from work they could be doing with current students.
For other advice on applying to graduate school see my
on writing statements of purpose and my earlier one on applying to
Ann Forsyth is professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University.