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Tips for International Students Visiting U.S. Universities

The vast majority of students applying to U.S. universities from overseas won’t have the opportunity to visit American campuses, and this fact won’t hurt your chances of admission. The university staff knows it can be impractical and costly to see all of your prospective schools if you live far away. However, if you find yourself in a position to travel to the U.S., be sure to take advantage of the extensive campus tours and information sessions most schools provide. This will not only give you a clearer impression of the schools and their rightness of fit, but may also give you a chance to show you’re actively interested in these universities. Here are our tips for how to make the most out of your college visits.

  • Plan your itinerary wisely: Since you’ve traveled so far, you’ll want to maximize your time. There tend to be clusters of universities in certain parts of the country, so it makes sense to focus your visits on particular geographic areas. For example, New England is a relatively small region, but has a number of both small liberal arts colleges and large research universities, so it’s an ideal area to explore by car or train. Not too far south of there, you’ll find a huge array of urban and suburban campuses in the metro areas of New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Feeling like you may be more of a West Coaster than an East Coaster? Plan a trip to hop between San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, three distinct California cities that together contain every type of campus you can imagine.
  • Make it official: While you do often have the option of simply dropping by a campus for a casual, self-guided visit, by registering for an official tour and/or presentation, you’re putting yourself on the radar of the admission office. This is referred to as “demonstrated interest,” and some (though not all) universities appreciate seeing it in a student’s file. The formal tours and sessions also provide not only in-depth academic information, but also helpful advice on how to be a competitive applicant and correctly fill out the application.
  • Don’t just focus on your challenging schools: The list of schools to which you apply should represent a range of selectivity; some should feel like a slam dunk while others can seem like more of a reach. Approach your visit list the same way. Just because you think a particular university will definitely admit you, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show it some love during your travels.
  • Make the most of your time: In addition to tours and admission information sessions, many universities allow prospective students to sit in on classes or meet with current students and faculty. These interactions are typically organized by the admission office or by the academic department of interest to you. Check with your admission representative to find out the best way to coordinate. You can also try reaching out to the international students services office or club to discuss the international student experience on campus.
  • Take notes: Not only does taking notes during a tour show you’re paying attention, all the info you’ve jotted down will come in handy later. Many universities’ applications include a question about why you’re applying there, and they want you to get specific in your reasoning. The observations you make and the anecdotes you pick up during your visit make for engaging, personalized content you can include in your answer.

Finally, trust your gut! Yes, these tours are a way for you to gather facts to inform future decisions, but be sure to give yourself a few minutes on each campus to just sit. Grab a spot on a bench and watch the current students. Do they seem happy? Can you see yourself among them? Could you call this campus home for four years? The answers to these questions may surprise you at times, but that’s the whole point of a college visit.

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Written by Emily Toffelmire
Emily Toffelmire is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Emily worked as an admissions officer at University of Southern California as well as a college counselor at high schools in the US and Thailand.