What's the Secret to a Campus Visit?

Above: Even William Shakespeare doesn't know, in one of the many interesting stone carvings you can see when you visit Yale.


Greetings everybody!  We here at YDS Admissions hope you all had a happy Fourth of July.  If you’re in America, we hope you got the day off, or at least took some time to relax and enjoy yourself.

While the school is quiet and students are mostly away for the summer, save the stalwart few who work on in our libraries or pursue CPE at one of our area hospitals, the Admissions office is a buzz of activity, from editing our application (due to go live in a month) to mapping out our travel schedule for the fall.

Today, though, let’s talk about something that's been known to cause trepidation for prospective students.  Let’s talk about how to prepare for, and conduct, a campus visit (you can schedule one here).

There are a lot of anxieties around campus visits.  Many students feel they are make-or-break opportunities to impress an admissions officer.  This mindset brings with it an enormous amount of pressure, and let’s face it, the world is full of pressure already.  You’ve got enough.  You don’t need any more.

So how to approach an on-campus visit or interview?  How do you avoid sinking into a quagmire of stress and tension as you sit on a razor’s edge, afraid one wrong word, one wrong clause, or one wrong sentence will spell your doom for admission?

Take a deep breath.  Relax.  It’s okay.

Do not overthink or overstress about your visit to a school, YDS or otherwise.  A visit to a campus, be it for a YDS-style info session* or an on-campus interview (akin to the kind required by many medical schools), is less an evaluative obstacle course and more a chance for you to get to know the school, and (in the case of a med school-type interview) a chance for the school to get to know you.

Each school, no matter the discipline, has its own culture, its own priorities, and its own unique elements that make it distinct from other peer institutions.  Despite their surface or subjective similarities, students at each school have markedly different experiences.  For instance, William & Mary Law School and the University of Virginia School of Law are located only two hours away from each other, are state-run and funded institutions, and yet offer very different types of educations.

Your visit/interview is a chance to learn what these differences are, and what makes that school unqiue.  The Admissions officer will ask you questions about what you want to do, how you see their school fitting into your overall plan.  This is not to weed you out, but to get a better handle on what you’re looking for and line that up with what the school offers.  But above that, you are there to learn.  The info session/interview/whatever** is not really for the school; it is for you.

But how do you do this?  How do you learn about the school without sounding like you did absolutely no research prior to meeting an admissions officer?

It is simple.  It is so startlingly simple, that it supersedes all other rules and regulations and guidelines and stuff you find in books and “helpful hints” that are barely hints and not at all helpful.  It is this:

Come with questions.  At least five of them, but always have a few back-ups.

Better to be in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip-flops with insightful, intelligent, and well thought-out questions than an immaculately-dressed mannequin who just stares and nods.  The people who meet the first person will say “Hey, remember the prospective in the Hawaiian shirt?  They were really on the ball!” and the people who meet the second person will say “Yeah, that guy had a nice tie I guess.  Hey, what’s for lunch?”

Which person do you think left a positive impression?  Which person showed more interest and engagement in the process of applying?  Hint: Not Mr. Mannequin.

The quickest, awkwardest, and most easily forgotten conversations I have with prospective students are when they have absolutely no questions.  It is a wasted opportunity.  Any question, even something like “What’s an MDiv?” from an MAR-focused prospective student, opens up the path to a conversation. 

Conversation-starter questions (in no particular order):

“What makes Yale’s MDiv/MAR/STM different from another school’s?” 

“What’s the faculty-student interaction level like?” 

“How involved are YDS students with the rest of Yale?” 

“What’s the social scene/food situation around here?” 

 “How’s the community at this school?”

“What are your LGBTQ resources?”

“What are the types of classes you offer?  How big are the lectures?  How small are the seminars?”

“Is the Dean around?  How often would I see him/her?”

“What kinds of work are you assigned?  Average paper length?  Average final paper length?  Are there exams?”

“How connected are your students to the rest of their community/town/city/state/universe?”

“It’s three p.m. on a Saturday and I’ve done all my homework for the weekend.  What is there to do?”

“What kinds of careers do graduates of this school wind up working?”

“I like cigars/dogs/coffee/movies/theater/bicycles/vegetarianism/whatever.  Are there people around here who are into that?  Where could I find them?”

You get the idea.  Get beyond the information on the school’s website.  Get to the heart of the school and the day-to-day life as a student therein.  You're not beign aggressive or pushy.  You're showing an interest and a genuine concern for the school and what it offers.  Students like you are an admissions officer's dream, for talking to interested and curious students is the funnest part of our job.

Asking these types of questions also has the wonderful side effect of leaving a very positive impression on your admissions counselor, but mostly they serve to teach you as much about the school as possible.  Which is the point all along.

That’s it.  That’s the big secret to a successful campus visit.  Ask questions.  You’re obviously interested, otherwise you wouldn’t be there, so just show that interest, ask questions, and follow the flow of the conversation. 

Hope that helps!  Have a great weekend, everybody. 


*Fun fact – the conversations I have with prospective students, scheduled by the student online, are technically referred to as “info sessions” in the nomenclature of admissions. 

**By this, I do not mean to equivocate an info session with an interview.  They are not the same.  An interview is a required conversation with an admissions officer and/or faculty member(s).  An info session is an optional school-focused conversation between an applicant and an admissions officer.  At YDS, we only do info sessions.