1. PF Contest - Win "Conquering the Physics GRE" book! Click Here to Enter
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Did I make a mistake? Intl. student visiting grad schools

  1. Feb 16, 2015 #1
    I'm a European student currently applying to a few grad schools in America. This year I am taking a gap year to travel through Asia (where I am now). A professor I recently happened to speak to (unrelated to the schools I applied to!) said two weeks ago that it should consider flying to the USA and meet up with some of the professors that I want to work with, claiming that it could have a sizeable effect.

    I decided against it. Partly because it would be such a hassle (overthrowing my plans) and expense, but also because I couldn't imagine it having a big effect--or at least quite unlikely so. I feel I couldn't talk about much more than some of their papers I liked (which I read when deciding on schools), or to rehash my preparation and motivation as described in my SOP. Combining that with the realization that many of the professors wouldn't be in the admission committee, I decided against such a hurried undertaking.

    However it stuck with me and I wonder whether I made an unfortunate choice. I fear the situation where I get nothing but rejections (haven't heard anything back yet...) and would be left to wonder whether my visit would have likely offered a different outcome. I realize ''that's life'' but I suppose my question is: does it sound like I made a reasonable choice? Or could have the mere fact that I would have taken the effort to visit them have had a sizeable impact (which, I feel, was the only real part my visit could have offered).

    EDIT: After the first two posts, I am now even wondering whether I should still go? I find it very hard to have good intuition when it comes to admission committees...
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 16, 2015 #2

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    The professor said it could have a sizable effect. Why do you think he was lying to you? (And as a follow-up, if you think he is a liar, why would you want to work for him?)
  4. Feb 16, 2015 #3
    I think you may have, but you wont know until you get accepted/declined! In many cases if a professor is interested (through discussion via email, for example) you can arrange the university to pay for your trip and hotel stay. I had this done with two schools. The first time, the school tried to schmooze me and a small group. My gut feeling told me get out of that place...I wish I listed to it because their offer seemed "too good to be true" The second visit was more special. I met a professor who's research I've been following on and off for a long time. It was neat to meet the man behind the papers. I would say it is crucial you visit the school. Not doing so deprives you of an opportunity to asses whether or not you can live and work at the university for the next 5 years. It is never too late to change your plans.
  5. Feb 16, 2015 #4
    Vanadium as i said he wasnt a professor at those schools. In fact he has only partly been in the USA, in a subject unrelated to physics. Anyway I thought multiple opinions might make clearer exactly how I should estimate the effect. After all perhaps that professor maybe thought I could be very exact about what i want to work on etc.

    husky, you seem to be more talking from the perspective of which school I would want to choose. Good point though, but not exactly what i'm wondering about here. But i see you also imply it could have helped with acceptances.

    Thanks for the replies. Just checking: to those strongly advocating a visit, is there still time now as well? And even the aspect of just visiting is enough, or should one be able to say a great deal?
  6. Feb 16, 2015 #5

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    I'm sorry - I misread that. So you should ignore what I wrote; I would think it makes a small difference, and only on the opinion of someone there would I change this opinion.
  7. Feb 16, 2015 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Visiting a school can have an impact on decisions made by an admissions committee for a number of reasons.

    First, it gives people on the committee and/or potential advisors tangible evidence of interest in the program. It's difficult to tell how interested a candidate is based only on a statement of interest and a CV. A candidate who is willing to spend his or her time to come to the school will come across as a lot more likely to accept an offer than someone who may simply have applied to the program as a "safety."

    Second, it puts a face to your application. Potential advisors are likely to remember you and spend time thinking about you if they have met you. Some people can be picky about who they want to work with, or can be looking for specific qualities that extend beyond GPA. Along these lines, it becomes more difficult to say 'no' to someone you've met (and liked*) than a piece of paper.

    Third, being there in person presents the opportunity for a two-way dialogue. That way, if the faculty have any questions they will ask in them in the moment, whereas it's rare for faculty to contact applicants with questions.

    Finally, consider it a two-way street. If you're planning to spend the next 4-6 years of your life there, it's nice to check the place and the people you'll be working with out before hand. Too often students end up going to places that they thought would be nice because the school had a high ranking, or the program looked good on paper, but on arrival they found that they just didn't fit in. A quick visit can raise a lot of warning flags if you're willing to look for them.

    All of this said, I wouldn't call it a "mistake" not to go. Not everyone can afford to visit every graduate program they have applied to. And spending time travelling while you're young can be very important. Visiting conveys some advantages, but comes with costs.

    *Note: one of the key assumptions here is that you'll make a positive impression on the faculty. It's possible that some students who look good on paper will show up and make a negative impression, knocking themselves out of the running. Although, in the long run, often this can be in everyone's best interest too.
  8. Feb 16, 2015 #7
    Thank you for the honest and helpful replies!
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Threads - mistake Intl student Date
Keep losing focus when doing math Aug 30, 2016
Other Accepted PhD Offer, Am I Making A Mistake May 9, 2016
Testing Keep making silly mistakes in exams Mar 7, 2016
Have "Silly" Mistakes in Math Ever Cost You Your Grade? Nov 23, 2015
Programs Intl EE Masters -> US EE PhD Jan 30, 2012