Finding a Substitute for the Campus Visit

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Thursday, June 30th, 2011 at 10:35 am

In the summer of their junior year of high school, many American students will take time to visit the colleges to which they plan to apply. Their goal is to learn more about the schools and decide where they might be a good fit. For a lot of international students coming to the U.S., making an overseas trip just to visit college campuses might not be an option.

U.S. News and World Reports recently compiled some advice from college admissions officers and experts. Nancy Meislahn, dean of admissions and financial aid at Wesleyan University suggested:

Get on the mailing list (or today’s equivalent) so you’ll be notified of nearby alumni and admission office-sponsored events in your area. Visit websites of the schools you are most interested in often. Look for announcements of online chats or other opportunities to connect with students and faculty.

She also recommended you “[f]ind out who in your community attends schools that might be a good fit and meet with them when they are home on breaks.”

This might seem daunting, but many international students are probably willing to share their advice. Friend of the blog Shu Wen has participated in events in her native Malaysia to talk about studying in America and her experience at Colby-Sawyer College. And Ebrahim told me that he has helped out when his former college comes to Kuwait for college fairs.

Don Fraser Jr., director of education and training for National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) wrote in the same article:

Many colleges have virtual tours on their websites, and there are also sites like YOUniversityTV where you can “tour” other college campuses. Additionally, CollegeWeek Live allows you to connect with college students and hear from admissions officers and even professors about life at a particular college.

If you haven’t heard of CollegeWeekLive, they hold virtual college fairs, including some tailored specifically for international students planning to come to America. We talked to them earlier this year about how virtual fairs differ from in-person fairs. “Face-to-face interaction is always the best kind of interaction. That said, it’s also the most expensive. That’s where the virtual plays in,” said CollegeWeekLive’s vice president of college partnerships, Greg Wilkins.

Screencasts from CollegeWeekLive’s online college fair this fall:

One student from Mexico who attended the online fair told me in an email exchange:

I decide to attend the CollegeWeeklive because is a opportunity for know the universities of the world from the comfort of my home.

it is very very helpful for me and obviously for other people because is so important meet more universities and sometimes we cant go to visit the colleges and this is a opportunity for international students to take the best decision to study in US.

Our blogger Nick has a great story of how he ended up deciding where to apply, and ultimately where to go. He took advantage of all these options suggested above – and more! He describes his process like this:

Selecting schools was probably the hardest part in my experience applying to U.S. colleges, simply because there are so many of them. This seemingly impossible process became a little more manageable as I prioritized my criteria in the search. I basically had two main criteria, namely the quality of the department to which I was applying and its financial aid program (or the availability of any scholarship program specifically for international students). I wanted to study political science so in using the search tool on CollegeBoard.com and from exhaustive research on the schools’ websites, I came up with a list of 10 colleges. I then placed them in different categories: safe schools, fit schools, reach schools, and dream schools by looking at their acceptance rates – obviously the lower the rate, the harder it is to get in. Above all, this list made sure that I wasn’t overreaching.

Though the list gave me a little more confidence, I was very uncertain to whether I have selected appropriate schools. Luckily enough, I got to attend a study abroad conference organized by VietAbroader. Especially in the school fair with more than 45 colleges represented, I was able to see more schools in a much more broad and personal scope. I inquired many students as well as admission officers who are representing their colleges with questions about the school, the applying process, and its scholarship program. After this event, I redid and confirmed my college list; more importantly, I had gained much more knowledge regarding the colleges I was applying to and direct contacts for further inquiries.

The way I came to learn of St. John’s College was out of pure chance. During the summer of 2008, I encountered an old friend at a library event in Hanoi. She happened to be a prospective Johnnie (nickname for St. Johns students). She was telling me about the college’s weird yet amazing curriculum and how it is her dream school. That immediately caught my interest. I went home and did some more research and found myself charmed by this small liberal arts college. St. John’s College ended up on top of my list and since it had rolling admission, I invested a lot of time in furnishing my essays and submitted my very first application. Fortunately I got accepted with an excellent aid package.

If you’re looking for even more advice, check out a thread on college advice site Unigo, in which experts respond to this same question: “I know that college visits are a great idea but my family doesn’t have the time or money to visit some of the schools I’m really interested in. What else can I do?”

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