Over Reading Week, I engaged in some exciting grad school preparation: visiting universities. The highlight of this experience was the fact that my top two schools (NYU and Columbia) happen to be in New York City. I am also looking at CUNY. So, naturally, I took one for the team and visited the Big Apple, strictly for educational purposes.

Street scene in New York

In truth, it was a business trip. I only spent two days in New York, and most of each day consisted of scrambling from one meeting to another. All the while leaving about two hours between meetings to arrive at the next one in time, account for public transportation pitfalls, and to stave off the most imminent threat of all: getting lost (which, I will confess, did befall me when I got off the PATH train at the World Trade Centre).

A few things I have learned about visiting universities in New York:

1) Ensure that you have left enough time between meetings if you are holding multiple meetings in one day. It also does not hurt to ask for a number at which to contact the person whom you are meeting, to protect against unforeseen circumstances on both sides. Sometimes, you have raced through the rain-soaked streets of Manhattan in order to arrive at one professor’s office, only to learn that you must first go across the street and acquire a guest pass before you may enter. Had there been a line, this process would have taken much longer, and would have caused me to miss my meeting!

Subway scene in New York

2) Confirm the date and time very clearly, so that there can be no confusion (it happens!). Also, plan WELL in advance. Schedules change, and everyone can be more reliable and likely to come through if advanced planning is involved. It can take a week or two to even hear back from professors at times, thus plan accordingly so as not to miss an opportunity!

3) Don’t be intimidated by the buildings. Within the buildings, and behind the imposing dark wooden doors leading into the grand offices of elite professors whom you have to woo at every opportunity in order to cement your future, is one very important thing: a person. Whether you are meeting a professor in an Ivy League office or a Greenwich Village coffee shop, it is important to remember that you are speaking to a human being who is approachable (generally), and who is separate from the entity of the institution in your grad-school-saturated mind. The institution is the people. So talk to them, because they are there in that moment for you!

Campus scene in New York

4) Ask any and all questions, since both your time and theirs is valuable. It goes without saying that you are presenting your best self at all times, since first impressions have significant weight in both minds; however, ask the questions you want to ask, ensuring they are tailored to the person you are meeting with. This should not be done because anyone is “above” answering certain questions, but for the simple reason that you will be maximizing the rewards reaped during your short meeting.

5) Remember that you are in NEW YORK. Stop. Look around. This is New York. This could be your future home, your future self. It has the ability to make anything possible, and to soften even the harshest blows by virtue of your experiencing them there, as opposed to anywhere else. It’s yours for the taking.