Friday, March 11, 2005

it's Visit Day!

We are now at that point in the annual academic cycle when applicants to graduate programs have been admitted, and these prospective students are now deciding where they want to go. The department where I got my Ph.D. (Indiana) has a very different system of admissions decisions and funding than Wisconsin does--a matter about which I have many opinions and can go on for hours about. Anyway, one consequence of the difference is that Wisconsin accepts many more applicants for admission than Indiana does (Wisconsin also, as far as I can tell, receives many more applications).

The number of accepted applicants at Indiana was sufficiently modest that the students who wished to visit were told to schedule their trip whenever was convenient, and, when they did visit, appointments with faculty were set up for them. At Wisconsin, the number of accepted applicants is so large as to make this impossible. Instead, Wisconsin, like a number of other programs, offers a "Visit Day" and prospective applicants, if they are going to visit, are encouraged to visit on this one day.

Now, while proportions may vary from place to place, any graduate program of decent size is going to have some people who are at least moderately booster-ish about the program and some people who are malcontents. But, when a department's prospective students visit only one at a time, one might say there is a greater possibility for selectivity in what graduate students a prospective student meets. Back when I was at Indiana, booster-ish students volunteered to help with recruiting, and a relatively small number of students ended up doing a lot of the interacting with a large percentage of admittees.

Some people at Indiana really got into being boosters. One year, a student who was put in the role of chief recruiting liaison even sent out, on her own initiative, this FAQ-like-message to all the graduate students providing what she regarded as the appropriate answers to certain questions prospective students might ask about the program--including a couple answers that painted a plainly misleading picture of the department (e.g., I remember it said the usual time from BA to Ph.D. was 5-7 years, even though, when I was there, the count of occasional persons who finished in 5 years was dwarfed by the number who finished in 8.)

By contrast, here at Wisconsin, all graduate students are invited to Visit Day festivities. Malcontents who, at Indiana, would not have been allowed within a hundred yards of a prospective student are, here, encouraged to come to the reception and chat up prospectives to their heart's content. We might even ask if a prospective student can crash at their apartment that weekend.

That's the Wisconsin Way. I like it. I may have other complaints about the "Visit Day" system and about the system that makes a massive "Visit Day" necessary, but I don't have complaints about that. The decision about where to go to graduate school is so massively important for students, they might as well get the broadest array of perspectivse on the matter.

On Visit Day, I've several times been approached by people who have been admitted to both Wisconsin and Indiana. My standard line is that I can't say anything bad about Indiana's department as a place to study sociology. That is absolutely honest: Indiana was not just very good to me personally, but I think it's a well and smartly run place with a lot of great people. At the same time, I do point out that Madison is a much more entertaining and progressive place to live than Bloomington, which is completely true, and I also mention that, if they pay a visit to Indiana and are struck by how happy are all the graduate students they meet, they should consider the possibility that they might be being exposed to somewhat selective sampling.


Anonymous said...

When visitors come shall I sit at the greeter's table
n'er to tell the Seniors a fable
"Farmer Sociologist" shall proclaim'th my name tag's label
then to ply some buxom lass with donuts and promises of sable
and lure'th her into yon stable

Anonymous said...

LDM = Old MacDonald?

Anonymous said...

"Indiana, Our Indiana"

Indiana, our Indiana
Indiana, we're all for you!
We will fight for the cream and crimson
For the glory of old IU
Never daunted, we cannot falter
In the battle, we're tried and true
Indiana, our Indiana,
Indiana we're all for you! I-U!

lago said...

In your opinion, does Visit Day work, in the sense that you are confident that it brings good people to Wisconsin who otherwise would not accept?

Anonymous said...

Verily it brought me here
now didn't it, dear?
Some say I but lurk'th near
and have no UW Sociology peer(s)
What do'st thou hear?
O! my delight be'th so utterly sheer
scurrying in anonymity bearing no fear