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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.