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How to Choose a Grad School Without Visiting Campus

May 4, 2020
Here are six things to do besides campus visits that will help you choose between grad schools in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic

By Kara Sherrer

Look up any list of tips for choosing a grad school, and “scheduling a campus visit” is likely to be one of the first suggestions. Unfortunately, campuses around the world have had to cancel all campus events, including tours for prospective students, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many prospective grad school students now find themselves choosing between schools that they’re never seen in person.

Cherrie Wilkerson

“Students get specialized master’s degrees to launch their careers, and the wrong decision can eliminate opportunities for students,” said Cherrie Wilkerson, Assistant Dean for Young Professional Programs.

If you find yourself in this situation, here are six things you do besides a campus visit to help you choose a grad school:

Take a virtual tour.

You can’t visit campus in person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tour it at all. Most schools now have an official virtual tour of the campus at large, and some also have more in-depth tours of specific buildings, including the grad schools. (You can find the Vanderbilt tour here). If the school doesn’t offer one, Google Maps satellite view is a great back-up. While you’re at it, don’t forget to explore the surrounding city as well, as location can have a major impact on your quality of life in grad school.

Browse the school’s media channels.

Most grad schools have a lot of great content available online, either on their own website or on outside platforms. Some schools are more active on their social media platforms, while others run a thriving YouTube channel or have blogs dedicated to student voices or other topics. At Vanderbilt Business, we have an archive of news stories that covers everything from application advice to timelines showing how b-school graduates got their full-time offers. Set aside some time to browse the websites for each school you are considering and see what you can learn.

Talk to current students.

If you want to get a deeper understanding of the student experience at a particular school, the best way to find out is to talk to some actual students. An admissions counselor should be able to match you with students who align with your interests and demographics, whether that’s by gender, ethnicity, or the career you want to pursue. In fact, many schools have a dedicated group of students who specifically volunteer to act as liaisons to prospective applicants, so there should be plenty of people for you to talk to.

Bailey McChesney

Bailey McChesney

“Talking to current students will help bring the program to life when you can’t step foot on campus. Asking questions about the student’s interaction with their classmates and the feel of the classroom experience will allow you to picture the day-to-day within the program,” said Bailey McChesney, Senior Associate Director of MBA Admissions.

Connect with alumni.

For a fuller picture, you might also want to reach out to alumni (plus alumni won’t be dealing with the crush of final exams). Alumni are excellent resources for learning more about what the career trajectory looks like post-grad school. While they won’t be as close to the current student experience, they will be able to talk about how going to grad school helped them get to where they are today and what they wish they’d known when they were choosing between schools.

Talk with professors

If you want to know more about the curriculum and other academic opportunities, professors can provide a wealth of information. If there’s a particular concentration or discipline that you’re interested in, figure out which professors teach those classes and reach out to them. If you’re not sure where to start, your admissions officer, current students, or recent alumni will probably be able to connect you with the right people. Most professors are more than happy to talk with students about their areas of expertise, though do keep in mind that some of them might be swamped with exams right at the moment.

“Faculty enjoy talking with students who share their research interests,” Wilkerson said. “To connect well with faculty, learn about their research and develop questions that will give you some common ground. Email them to start a conversation.”

Attend any remote recruiting events.

By now, most grad schools have shifted all their recruiting events online. Many of them have extended their deadlines or added additional application rounds, and are still hosting admissions webinars for prospective students. If you’re just now thinking about grad school, sign up for as many of these as possible to learn which schools could be a good fit for you. Grad schools have also transformed welcome events for admitted students into virtual programming as well, so if you’re already applied and been accepted, you should attend as many of these virtual events as possible to help you narrow down your options.

“Since school is out for the summer and on campus visit opportunities are unavailable, seek out virtual opportunities. These will allow you to interact virtually with a career coach, current student, and the Recruiting and Admissions team,” McChesney advised.

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