Searching for the perfect university can be one of the most exciting times in a person’s life, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t stressful too. In addition to ensuring that your short list of schools possess the faculty and resources that you desire, you will likely also wish to know what the campus environment and surrounding city or town is like.
Researching potential colleges is stressful and time-consuming for American residents, but it can be exponentially harder for international students, who may not be able to afford the costs associated with traveling to a U.S. campus. Although personally visiting universities is the ideal scenario, there are other more cost-effective methods of learning about American schools, even if you’re halfway around the world.
1. Virtual tours
Not every university offers a virtual tour, but if your school of interest does, take advantage of this opportunity. Virtual tours can vary in their coverage and depth, but in most cases, they will allow you to view videos and photographs of the campus, classroom structures, and other resources like libraries.
Virtual tours aren’t likely to provide nuanced information about programs, faculty, or current students, but they can show you what the overall environment is like (i.e. urban vs. rural) and the general size of classrooms, dorms, and lecture halls. While virtual tours may not tell you everything you need to know about a college, they can be a great first step when narrowing down your short list of prospective schools.
2. Official literature
Another way to learn about a university is to simply ask for any applicable literature from its admissions department. More often than not, these documents are produced by the school as a way to introduce prospective students to their programs and facilities—which means that they are biased in the school’s favor. Nevertheless, this is the best possible way to investigate basic information like available majors and minors, cost of tuition, scholarships, etc.
3. Student reviews
Official informational material is great when you desire simple, straightforward answers, but for more nuanced thoughts on the school or its programs, turn to current students. One place to find a wide variety of thoughts and opinions is on a consumer review website. These sites will provide a broad spectrum of insights on everything from the quality of the classes and faculty, to the variety of food in the cafeteria.
If you do choose to collect information from these websites, it is important to keep mind that, like the material from the school, student reviews are also biased. This means that a handful of positive or negative reviews might not be an accurate reflection of the college. After all, these tend to be based solely on the person’s individual experience, and what he or she is willing to invest in his or her education.
4. Online communities
For additional student opinions about the school or campus community, you might consider looking for online communities or commentary that are built around that particular college or university. For example, many schools have formal and informal social media websites that are used for networking, sending out announcements, or just making personal connections. These aren’t always open to the public, but in the event that they are, they can be a great place to ask questions about aspects like faculty, campus life, or any other questions about the quality of the school or program of interest.
5. Local news sources
Whether it’s a rural or urban environment, colleges and universities tend to play a considerable role in the larger communities in which they’re located. This means that they might be reported on regularly in local newspapers, websites, or blogs, which can provide a different perspective and give you some insight into the school’s commitment to community and student life. For example, if you check local papers for information on the school and find that the faculty is engaged in an ongoing dispute with administration over items like pay or tenure, this could have an effect on your education and experience at the school, as it relates directly to the resources of the faculty, staff, and administration.
David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.