10 tips for visiting colleges overseas
Updated: May 19
Now that the Covid-19 vaccine is making its rounds, many families may be considering a trip across the pond to check out international universities for their high school juniors.
But for those who may be doing this for the first time, it's easy to assume that visiting colleges abroad would be no different from visiting colleges in the U.S.
However, I would encourage you to read the following tips in order to manage your expectations and get the most out of your experience visiting colleges overseas.
Schedule an official tour
Never try to do your own tour unless there is no possible chance of getting on an official one; you just won't get the context of a campus without proper guidance from staff or students.
Without context, a campus is really just buildings with young adults.
Having said this, not all universities may be offering in-person tours this summer, depending on the Covid situation.
Manage your expectations about visits to colleges overseas
Campus tours abroad are generally not as robust as the ones in the U.S., which sometimes go for hours and always show all the flashy aspects of their institution, like model dorm rooms and large, extensive dining hall and recreational facilities.
At universities abroad, facilities just aren't going to be that way, and you may not even have access to see them.
For example, it may also be difficult and uncommon to be able to sit in on a class, meet with professors or even see an example of a dorm room.
But don't let this tarnish your opinions of the institution and/or experience; it's just the norm.
Dedicate sufficient time to explore the local town/city
University life abroad is much more closely tied to the local surroundings than just on campus; it's hugely important to see where you might hang out and what you'll get involved with locally.
And if you can't see yourself integrating into the local scene or don't know how you'd spend your time in a particular town, I would be questioning whether or not this university is the right choice for you.
So make sure you go do that Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb or the Tower of London tour; it's all part of the experience!
Don't make your decision based on the student guide
...Or based on any one particular individual at an institution.
The person could be having a bad day or just not be in the right headspace at that moment.
But it's important to remember that universities are large places with lots of moving parts, so try to be objective as much as possible.
Now, if you had the same experience with multiple people there, then definitely, there is a concerning trend that should be considered.
Limit campus visits to a maximum of 2 per day
Universities have a way of all starting to look the same after a while, and it becomes difficult to differentiate between them if you're visiting multiple campuses per day.
There are 40 different universities in London alone!
Add the element of jet lag to the mix, and you'll surely find yourself exhausted if you overcommit to commit to a schedule that's too intense.
It's best to go into these visits well rested, so you can get the clearest picture and make the best judgments and decisions.
Similarly to the tip above, because it's easy to forget certain details, take as many notes as you can along the way.
Make note of your impressions of the campus culture, the flyers posted on bulletin boards, the variety and quality of local food, the various clubs and societies you can join, the study spaces and anything else that really stood out.
Ask lots of open-ended questions
Don't be afraid to approach a student and ask open-ended questions; "yes/no" questions don't always get the best information out of people.
Useful open-ended questions include: why did you choose to study here, what's your favorite/least favorite parts of studying there, what are classes like, how are the assessments, what sort of student traditions exist, etc.
Another good one is: If you could change one thing about your university, what would it be?
Consider going over your spring break
Most students visit campuses abroad in the summer when there is more time to enjoy and see more places.
However, it may be more difficult to understand the particular vibe of the place, particularly in the smaller student cities where students go home over the summer--leaving a normally vibrant student scene to appear to be a bit of a ghost town.
If you're able to squeeze in a spring break trip, you're more likely to encounter campuses when they're fully alive, which would provide a more accurate impression of the student experience.
Unless you're on campus for an Oxbridge or Medicine/Veterinary Medicine/Dentistry interview, a visit to a college abroad is not an interview and doesn't affect your admissions chances in any way; no need to dress to impress!
Be comfortable, be prepared for various weather elements and be prepared to walk.
Save time for travel delays
Where there are international flights, there are sometimes unfortunate delays or missed connections.
As if you were planning your own holiday, it's best not to overcommit yourself to a travel schedule that would be quickly interrupted should one thing go wrong.
Try to schedule the tour for at least one to two days after your expected arrival in a city.
You're overseas; you're basically on holiday.
And it's not just about checking out your department's facilities or the library or labs; actually spend some time at a student cafe, coffee shop or just sitting outside amongst other students.
You can get a really good feel for the campus culture just from quiet observation.
Not everyone will get the chance to visit their overseas universities of interest, so just enjoy, be grateful for this opportunity and try to soak in as much as you can.