Grad school open houses can serve as an excellent way to gauge if a school is the right fit for you.
Graduate school open houses come in all shapes and sizes.
Some of them are nothing more than an information session followed by a reception. Others, however, last the entire day, where prospective grad students get to hear from current students and faculty, tour the campus, eat free food and even sit in on classes. Whatever the case, these events can serve as an excellent way to gauge if a school is the right fit for you.
That is, if you do it right. Here are five tips for navigating grad school open houses.
1. Research the school and program ahead of time
Coming into a grad school open house blind will serve as a disservice to you and the people answering your overly basic questions.
Karen Jackson-Weaver, the associate dean of academic affairs and diversity at Princeton University’s Graduate College, suggests students have a basic understanding of the faculty research, course work and general demands of the prospective program before going to a grad school open house.
“This will enable students to ask questions during their visit which specifically relate to their intellectual and professional interests,” Jackson-Weaver said.
Before each grad school open house Kelsey Hawley attended, she made sure she had a good understanding about what her potential program had to offer, along with cost of attendance, financial aid available, and what the admissions process entailed.
“It helps to be well-prepared and well-versed in what a particular program has to offer so that you can show and tell them in person why you would be a great fit for that program,” said Hawley, who earned a master’s degree in global policy studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013.
2. Ask good questions
A good question or two at a grad school open house can go a long way.
“Taking time to think through two to three really important questions that matter to you is useful because it allows you to learn about different aspects of campus life,” Jackson-Weaver said. “It also allows the faculty, staff and students to appreciate your perspective and your unique interests.”
Key words: good questions. Really give it some thought, Hawley suggests.
“Don’t ask questions you can get answers to easily online,” Hawley said.
3. Sit in on classes but with the right mindset
Some grad school open houses allow attendees to sit in on one or more classes. If you’re attending a grad school open house that offers this, take advantage. But be sure to prioritize that experience correctly in terms of your decision to go to that school, Hawley suggests.
“Attend a class, but don’t base your entire decision on how well that goes,” Hawley said. “Every program has stronger and weaker professors.”
Professors have bad days, sometimes. Keep that in mind, as well.
4. Meet current and prospective students
Grad school open houses aren’t only about meeting faculty. Introducing yourself to current and prospective students can be very beneficial.
“Meeting other prospective graduate students often leads to greater collaboration beyond one’s field or discipline,” Jackson-Weaver said. “It also enriches one’s professional network.”
Princeton’s graduate school open house allows attendees to introduce themselves and get to know each other. If you’re at an open house that doesn’t have that option, go out of your way to meet both open house attendees and current students, whether that means approaching a student on campus or introducing yourself to a fellow attendee of the open house.
5. Remember: you’re interviewing the school as well
It’s easy to fall into the mindset that open houses are purely about appearing your best and getting admissions folk to remember you so you can get accepted. But these open houses actually work both ways, Hawley likes to remind people.
“Remember: you are interviewing them for a best fit as much as they are interviewing you,” Hawley said. “There were schools I loved because their open houses were extremely helpful, revealing and insightful, while others I ended up not even applying to because they were inattentive and unhelpful.”
This doesn’t mean attend the open house in a tank-top and shorts and say to them “impress me.” But go in with a balanced approach, recognizing that you’re as much of a catch as the school is.
Grad school open houses can sell you or dissuade you and get you remembered or forgotten (or negatively remembered). Going in to an open house prepared, eager and well-mannered can ensure you have the best possible experience, even if you ultimately decide not to apply to that school.
And hey, there’s always the free food.
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