Visiting prospective graduate school campuses is a great way to find out what the school has to offer before you attend. Even if you don't go to a campus tour, you should also consider meeting with professors of your program to ensure they share the same academic interests as you. These interests might not be perfectly aligned, but they should, in the very least, allow you to focus your studies on something that you enjoy as well as will help you reach your long-term goals.
Check with admissions first
First, as a grad school applicant, you should ask the admissions committee if it is acceptable to even contact a faculty member. Most schools encourage speaking with current professors, but this will help you find out who you should contact and also show initiative and respect to the department. Once you have a list of which professors would be best to contact, you should first email them in advance before calling them on the phone. And before you email them, also consider reading some of their work and researching each of one the professors so that you can show interest in their particular work. The initial contact should focus on them, rather than you.
After the initial contact with a professor
If they invite you to speak with them in person or via phone, be prepared to ask questions about the program and what you will be able to get out of it. Consider asking:
- What are the strengths of the program?
- When kinds of coursework and capstone projects should I expect?
- What other opportunities outside of class do I have to help me achieve my goals?
- What are the other professors and the academic community in general like?
You should also ask other questions that are specific to your own interests, but in general, these will give you a good overall view of what the academic program has to offer. Other, more personal and in depth questions include:
- Where did you get your Ph.D.?
- What are the real-world applications of the work you do at the university?
- Are you happy here?
- What advice would you give to a student who wanted to be successful?
- Are there any downfalls of the program?
These questions will help you get an insider's perspective of the program and help you narrow down your options.
While contacting someone who you have never met before may seem awkward at first, these conversations are intended to help you decide what college and academic program is the right fit for you. Contacting the professors outside of a campus tour or visiting day experience will also give you a more candid view of the professors and the program.