As admissions are slowly rolling in, we’ll be talking about what I believe to be the single most important part of your decision-making process—admitted student days.
What are Admitted Students Days?
Most schools offer an admitted student’s day where you can visit the school for a day or two to learn more about classes and student life. I would highly, highly recommend you attend as many of these as you can because I believe they’re the most accurate way to get a picture of who your peers would be and what the school environment is like. What sets these days apart from college tours or short interviews is that you’ll be able to see what each school is truly and candidly like. Of course, while the students in charge of organizing these events will undoubtedly paint a picture that might not be wholly accurate, it’s nigh impossible for an entire school to conspire for two full days to create a false environment. Whatever affectations might be in place would quickly dissolve in a few hours, and it’s then you’d be able to see what really goes on at the school.
During these admitted student’s days, you’ll typically be lectured to a few times, as deans and professors explain the school’s different core curriculum and research opportunities, but more importantly, you will be able to interact with current students and see how classes are actually taught. Typically, students and clubs will hold mixers where you can awkwardly mingle with others, but what I would recommend is that you step slightly beyond these and peek under the rug. Seek out random students who might be waiting in line for coffee or who might be browsing Facebook instead of studying. See if they’ll talk to you about how they feel about the school, if there’s anything they wished they could change. As long as you’re not bothering someone studying for an exam or doing homework, you’ll find that most students are incredibly eager to share their feedback because a college student’s favorite hobby is complaining about their school. In this manner, you can get a feel for any undercurrents or side-issues at the school, and you’ll hopefully be able to form a more accurate perception of the school, one free of overly-positive upselling by part of admissions committee members.
If you’re also able to attend classes as part of admitted students day, I would highly recommend doing so. Take a look at the course schedule provided to you, and go attend anything you might be interested in or what students recommend to you, though I would highly recommend avoiding large intro-level courses like General Chemistry or Physics II because oftentimes these courses are large and not representative of the best the school has to offer. Unlike admitted-students social programs, there’s little need to worry about classes that are contrived or affected—professors won’t go through the trouble of creating a special or wowing lecture for you prospective students, and in fact, I think you’ll find most professors are actually surprised that today was even an admitted student’s day. When viewing these classes, pay close attention not to the actual course material, for that’ll likely go over your head, rather, pay attention to the energy of the instructor and of the course. I’ve found that any class, no matter how mundane the topic, can be interesting if the instructor has a true passion for the subject and for the teaching. Note if the instructor seems to enjoy lecturing, and note if he/she is receptive to questions and if they use the Socratic method rather than just droning on for an hour. Pay attention to these things because when you’re halfway through a semester and needing to wake up at 8AM for organic chemistry, the only thing keeping you from walking out is going to be the passion of the professor.