I am in Boone, North Carolina, today to visit Appalachian State University, and particularly their Appropriate Technology department.
I'm scheduled to visit a renewable energy class, meet with the professor afterward, then meet with an admissions person.
In the afternoon I'm headed to Raleigh for a visit with Andrew Stewart from the [Frame] list. Photos to come.
Having done a few of these college visits as a prospective transfer student (RISD, VCU, John Tyler Community College, Hampshire), some guidelines have emerged:
- Ignore the official tour and information session. These tend to be filled with general info on the whole school (easily found elsewhere), and are usually geared toward high schoolers and their parents. They also consume valuable time that could be spent getting a more hands-on look.
- Get a map of campus ahead of time. Figure out the basic lay of the land so you know how to wander around. Find the dining hall, admissions, the student commons, the relevant academic buildings, and whatever else interests you.
- Spend your time with professors and students. These are the people you'll potentially be working with. They know the real deal, and they'll tell you, if you play your cards right.
- Set up a meeting with at least one important professor. Sit in on an interesting class if possible. Do this with plenty of advance notice.
- Get a good look at the facilities and the shops. These say a lot about the priorities of the school, the department, and the professors.
- As my sister says, the most important question is: "What are your graduates doing now?".
- Eat at a place you'd likely eat at as a student. Ditto coffee and beer.
- Buy a t-shirt. And a postcard.
- Send thank-you notes to the people who helped you. Better yet, send them something small that they seem to need.
- Come across as eager, enthusiastic, driven, and all that, but don't over-do it. Make an impression. Be memorable. This isn't hard--not many prospective students do this kind of visit. I am finding that 90% of success in academia (anything?) is due to good name recognition (a.k.a. networking).
- Even if this school won't work out, you can still learn a lot during your visit. These professors probably know their counterparts elsewhere. They definitely know the big names in their field. And they probably like helping enthusiastic students.