6 tips for choosing a university abroad without visiting campus
Updated: Nov 8
It’s becoming harder than ever to choose a university in today’s Covid-19 climate, let alone choose a university in another country.
Campus tours and open days are all but cancelled, as university staff are mostly all working from home.
Some countries even have restrictions in place to prevent tourists from coming in and/or 14-day quarantine requirements.
But having to spend two weeks in a hotel before being able to actually step one foot on a college campus overseas really eats into a family’s campus visit budget.
So without being able to travel abroad for campus visits, how do you actually choose a university abroad?
Here are six tips to consider.
Chat with an admissions representative from a university abroad
Now that university regional representatives aren't really traveling due to Covid-19, there are a lot more virtual events and opportunities to chat with them online either in groups or individually.
One word of advice though -- just don’t judge the university based on this experience alone (though hopefully it's a positive one!).
Remember, the person may be having a bad day, may be new to the university or may be dealing with his/her own set of challenges.
Universities overseas are also usually large institutions with hundreds of programs, and regional reps tend to be more generalists than specialists in terms of what they know (speaking from experience here!).
So you shouldn't be discouraged if they don't know the entire in's and out's of your particular study area; they can always find out and get back to you.
Just like you wouldn't rule out purchasing a particular make/model of a car just because the salesperson didn't know about one function of the engine, you wouldn't want to rule out an entire university because of one brief conversation.
Research the city
Students who go to college abroad tend to find that life outside the classroom is often much more tied to the city than the campus, which is quite different from the typical American college experience.
So you'd want to look into what activities are available in a particular place, such as a local sports team to watch or join, the music or art scene, types of places where students hang out (and can afford), etc.
It's also worth checking a place's connectivity when it comes to local, national and international transport.
Can you catch a bus or train easily to another place if you're seeking an adventure or weekend getaway?
And what's the weather like? Does it rain so often that all your free time from class would be spent indoors anyway?
Are there opportunities to work part-time as well or intern within your field?
For students interested in the UK, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has some useful guides on some of the top student cities in the UK.
Connect with alumni in your field (and see if any are local to you)
A number of universities have extensive alumni networks in the U.S., so it may be worth reaching out to the group (many are on Facebook) or individual members to ask about their experiences.
I also recommend searching on LinkedIn to see if there are any alumni living and working near you, as they may be more willing to connect (everyone's busy nowadays!) if you share something in common, such as where you live.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that universities have access to some of the world’s leading technologies, it has become very clear which ones are leaders in this area and which ones have fallen behind the times.
For example, the University of Victoria in Canada no doubt has a beautiful campus, but its virtual tour is a glorified version of Google Maps, giving you mostly just an external view of some buildings without no students to be seen around.
I do give them credit for the student voiceovers, but it’s still difficult to assess the campus vibe and culture in this way.
After all, what's a campus without students? Just a bunch of buildings.
On the other hand, I quite liked the University of Toronto's virtual tour (even though it lacks customisability) because you get to see how campus looks on a normal day and how it fits into the city.
"Instagram is king"
A recent study of 9,500 students applying for college showed that 30 percent of students reached a university's website through social media, with Instagram being the main source of referrals.
Instagram, with its ability to capture the sights and sounds of campus and the student body, is one way some students are narrowing down their choices once they have a solid list.
In the meantime, we don't know how long this pandemic will last and whether or not this idea of virtual college visits is the new normal.
But one thing is for sure -- the way universities have had to adapt to the changing times and make it easier and more accessible for students to choose them without visiting will indeed pave the way for more students to access and consider applying for college overseas.
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