Most colleges in the United States host campus visits and open houses to provide prospective and accepted students a better sense of the college environment as well as academic programs. It is easy for students who are from the United States to attend such events before they enroll into a college. For international students though, it is much more difficult to determine from afar which college atmosphere would be the best fit. So, how can international students who can not visit campuses decide on a college to enroll in?
Research! Before choosing to apply to colleges and especially after receiving acceptance letters, I did extensive research. While you should consider rankings, they do not tell the entire story. In order to determine the right fit you should:
- Get a sense of the campus environment and culture. What is the composition of the student body?
- What support services are available to international students?
- Get a sense of the area you would be in. Is it a small town or a big city? What facilities are available near the college campus?
- Review academic, research and internship opportunities, especially in your field of study. Is there flexibility?
- What other activities, leadership opportunities, and extracurriculars are available?
Here are a few ways to get this information:
Social Media and Technology
At RIT, we have a private social network called the RIT Loop that we use to communicate to prospective and accepted students. There are also Facebook groups for each accepted class every year. Along with these we hold online information sessions and Q & A chats. All these mediums connect students and even parents with admission counselors and student ambassadors. There are also helpful blogs by our student ambassadors (such as this one) on various topics such as housing, food on campus, academics, career resources etc.There are also unofficial parent Facebook pages for parents to talk about their students' college transition and any questions they may have. Social media platforms, such as those mentioned above, are a great way to ask any questions you have and understand the American experience. Some colleges also visit international students in their home countries for info seminars and/or have online videos and virtual tours of their campus as well. International Alumni might also hold accepted student info sessions in home countries. Look out for the colleges visiting your country and/or online info sessions and other such events!
Talk to people
There is no better way to get know details about a particular college than from the people who have graduated from there or are currently studying there. When I was in process of choosing a college, I connected with a lot of people - alumni, student ambassadors and current students. I even did phone/skype calls with a few alumni and student ambassadors. These people are more than happy to help and answer your questions and/or give you advice.
Online Reviews and rankings
Students should check out the college rankings, and reviews are worth a quick read. These give you a broad sense of the reputation of the college.
Check out the career services office at the university, and see what career support and resources they offer. RIT has a dedicated Office of Career Services and Co-op, which offers services like career counseling, career mentors, resume building advice, numerous preparatory workshops and presentations for interviews and job search. RIT also has an online search engine for jobs and co-ops called the RIT Job Zone.
Another critical factor for international students is the tuition cost and financial aid offered. You need to be aware of how much you can spend on college. And you need to consider if the university offers financial aid/ scholarships to international students or not. My advice would be to write to the university admissions office to make sure you know about all the scholarship opportunities available to international students and apply to all of them.
Academics and your area of study
Compare your chosen major and the coursework offered for that program in different universities. See if the college offers research opportunities, or classes in subjects you like other than your major.
One of the reasons I picked RIT was because it is a non-traditional art school. I have the opportunity to take classes in web development, business, advertising, etc. RIT's New Media Design program is one of a kind, and not offered by all universities. From the course material given online, the major seemed to be the perfect mix of design and tech and it really peaked my interest.
Good luck with your college search!