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Is there any study/survey that tried to quantify to what extent visit weekends impact graduate school applicant's final decisions? (final decision = which school to attend)

I mostly interested in the computer science field in the US, but curious about other fields and locations as well.

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    This doesn't seem like the sort of thing that would have been heavily studied and have lead to a citable study. Are you trying to justify visit weekends at your institution (or perhaps find a justification for killing them)? I feel like there's an underlying unasked question here. – Bill Barth Mar 12 '16 at 19:36
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    It does not contain any hard data, but this article on the "Recruitment Wars" from the late 1980s on the escalation of recruitment weekends in the sciences is an interesting historical digression. – Bamboo Mar 12 '16 at 19:59
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    I have anecdata from my own CS department that prospective PhD students who come to our visit weekend are significantly more likely to accept our admission offers. But I'd be surprised if anything approaching a formal study existed; I can't imagine many departments would be willing to reveal how many admission offers they made. – JeffE Mar 12 '16 at 21:57
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    @JeffE, I'd surmise that really interested prospects are much more likely to show up... the age-old "correlation isn't causation". – vonbrand Mar 13 '16 at 0:58
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    @vonbrand Sure. But implication isn't correlation either. The students who are are really interested a priori are a relatively small fraction of those who show up; most are merely undecided, curious, and willing to accept a free trip. – JeffE Mar 13 '16 at 4:12
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I visited 5 schools as well, and did not choose my "dream school" because of visits. I had actually started doing research with a professor there (and it was published during my first year of graduate school), but during the visit I realized that the department was not what I was looking for. One big thing that got me is that, on paper, they (and every program) seemed "interdisciplinary", but when you talk to them you realize that the "math biologists" don't talk to biologists. Add that the students seemed to not be interesting and I started thinking that, although it's a top school in the field (math), I wouldn't graduate as the person I would want to be.

The other program started with biologists and mathematicians together in the same courses, then you split off after the first year. Everyone was really interesting and I kept in touch with them after the visit. I met with a bunch of professors one-to-one and found about 6 I would like to have as an adviser and already had projects I wanted to start. Lastly, they showed the funding statistics and showed the available computing supplies. I got the impression that this school would really help me become who I want to be, and so I chose this school.

Then again, some people choose simply by the ranking.

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Advisor/program fit is by far the most important aspect of choosing a graduate school. Visit weeks can both help or hinder a prospective student from obtaining this essential fit information. Below is a list of things to consider.

  1. visit weeks allow you to see how you get along with the incoming class. These are the students you will be spending a lot of time with in courses and during time outside of your specific research group. They can be an essential part of program fit.
  2. availability for meetings: Visit weeks can facilitate professor availability if all professors clear out their schedule for that day. However, if they don't, then trying to meet with professors in the department can be difficult if you are competing for meetings with all the other admits.
  3. visit weeks can prevent admits/prospectives who can't make the visit week from getting good information about the atmosphere of the program when they visit at other times. The administrative staff is often a bit burnt out after visit week, and sometimes treats new visitors outside of visit week as after thoughts.
  4. Gender equity. The structured nature of a visit week can give you a glimpse into how much the program thinks about diversity issues. A good visit week organizer will think about diversity and gender equity, from the way social events are organized to the gender ratio of the professors giving talks. For example one program I visited had a session for women grad students and women prospectives only, organized by the female grad students. Every female recruit at this visit week chose this school (possibly a coincidence; it was a great program). This event could not have happened as it was structured if every student visited the program individually.
  5. Along gender equity and incoming class assessment, a visit week, due to alcohol consumption and group dynamics can lead you to discover important information about "sexual harassment" and "hostile work environments". I've seen many examples of this during visit week and a telling sign is how other students respond when fellow students do something innapropriate.

I visited 5 graduate schools, 3 during visit weeks, one not during a visit week at a school that had a visit week that I couldn't attend and one that did not have a visit week. I was seriously considering all 5 schools. I enjoyed my time the most at the 3 schools with a visit week, but I was ultimately not there to enjoy myself but to make a better decision.

The school that did not have the visit week it was easier to meet with professors I wanted one on one (harder to do when you're competing with 10 other students for meetings).

The absolute worst experience was visiting the school that had already put on their visit week before I visited. The administrative staff treated me as an inconvenience. I had to pay for all incidental expenses (food, transportation to the hotel they were putting me up in). I was not offered to attend anything social. I was often eating meals alone. Ultimately, I didn't choose this school because the professor I initially wanted to work with rubbed me the wrong way (was far more arrogant and judgmental than the professors at the other schools and I perceived the potential for personality conflict, despite his great research). However, had the potential supervisors all been equal, my experience probably would have leaned me against this school. Note this conflict was not due to another visit week but an exam that a professor refused to let me take early.

So for me, yes the visit weeks made me view the institutions more positively. But it probably didn't affect my decision.

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