The Campus Visit: International Edition
Updated: May 6, 2021
Campus visits are part of the research that helps students identify potentially “right fit” schools. Even with a plethora of information online, there is no substitute for that first-hand encounter with a place you might spend the next four years. They were a casualty of the coronavirus, but, pandemic permitting, some schools are cautiously optimistic that they will be able to welcome in-person visits this summer.
If you have the opportunity to visit a school on your list, you should. Take time to plan ahead, since a meaningful visit with the right questions and campus experiences is harder to achieve than you may think. And take notes and photos, since six months from now you may have forgotten what you learned from the hustle through the quad, down the hill to the science building, past the library, up to the student center and dining hall, around the construction site, and across to the newest dorm in the blazing heat with a motley assembly of students, parents, and siblings and a tour guide you can hear only intermittently who is droning on about the cheese club.
If you’re an international student, here is additional guidance to take along on your trip.
Avoid the Speed Date
International students are often on tight schedules when they visit the U.S. They try and pack in a long list of tours in just a few short days, running the risk that the visits will be too short to be meaningful, and in such quick succession that the outlines become blurry. And add to that jet-lag! Try to avoid more than two visits in a day, and, again, take notes. Try to adhere to a similar agenda on each visit so that afterward you can compare apples to apples, not fitness centers to studio space. And plan your visits to include a tour, a meal in a dining hall, contact with students and administrators, and time to poke around campus, the university neighborhood, or the nearby college town.
Take the Tour
Pandemic-related measures will likely prohibit a spontaneous visit, so be sure to register in advance for an official campus tour. Dorms are often closed in summer and COVID may further limit access to facilities, but a tour will ensure that you hear the school’s official narrative, see many of its high-value assets, gain a sense of the campus setting, and have an actual student answer your questions about academics and student life. Make sure you sign in and leave an email address for follow-up.
Meet with Student Services
International students often lack the safety net that their domestic counterparts can rely on -- the SUV that pulls up to collect a semester's worth of stuff -- so a stop during your visit at the offices for student services, international students, financial services, or even career advising may be useful. (These should be scheduled in advance.) They should have information about the support available -- transition services, visa assistance, mental health, moving, storage, banking, professional development, pandemic support -- to students who are far from home.
You’ve already decided to leave home and travel far and so you’ve accepted a certain level of uncertainty -- and adventure. But “fit” matters and should be your compass during your visit. (There's more on that elusive term here). Consider yourself a prospective member of the university community, not a visitor or guest, and stop, look, and listen to see if you feel you can belong. Are students approachable? Or is the campus culture alienating? Are there foreign faculty? Is the student body diverse? High international enrollment rates can be misleading: do the foreign students come from your country or region? Do students from different backgrounds eat together, or congregate in separate groups? Does the school have the support services you need?
The campus visit is one piece in a complex process of university research and choice. You may find a school that feels like a home away from home. Or, you may find several that feel like exciting, challenging, and supportive places to spend four years.
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