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Making Sense of U.S. Universities while Living Internationally

Finding the perfect college or university a few hours’ drive from home is daunting enough, so imagine what it’s like for those geographically removed by an ocean or continent from their prospective schools.

Can we say “challenging”? Living outside the US, though, doesn’t mean you can’t still whittle down your stateside college choices to a manageable set of applications—it simply means you might not have the luxury of visiting all your potential schools. It means you’ll have to find alternative lines of attack for discerning what might be a good fit.

So where do you even begin? How can an international student get a feel for a school without stepping foot in the US? The following are a few suggestions for getting your college research started:

  • Get the facts. Many US college campuses have thriving international communities. According to the 2016 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, over one million international students studied in the US during the 2015-16 academic year alone, with one out of three of those students studying in California, New York, and Texas, the country’s three most populous states. Open Doors not only clues you into which campuses welcome large numbers of international students, it’ll also tell you which college campuses send a decent proportion of their undergraduate students abroad for a semester or two of study— international friendly schools, so to speak.
  • Conduct preliminary research. Sites such as the Princeton Review and Unigo are great resources for getting a quick take on a school. Reviews are mostly written from the student’s vantage point and lean towards brevity and unvarnished honesty. So if you have a long list of prospective colleges you need to shorten, and you don’t have the time to immerse yourself within each school’s website, these two resources might be good starting points.
  • Dig a little deeper. Once you’ve narrowed down your list some and are ready to take a more focused dive into each school, head to their websites. You might just find virtual alternatives to the standard campus visit: Campus YouTube channels, virtual information sessions, online tours, and admission chat rooms. It also wouldn’t hurt to rummage through the course catalogue to get a feel for the curricular offerings within your prospective major!
  • Seek out contacts. Ask the admissions office if there are alumni representatives in your area you might be able to contact or if there any upcoming alumni receptions scheduled close to home. If you’re unable to visit campus, local alums or even current students who might be visiting local schools while home on break can be great resources.
  • Don’t assume. Ask! Does your prospective school offer an orientation for incoming international students? Does it help transition international students to US academic culture, to US academic expectations? Does it have a writing center, and if so, does it specialize in instructing students whose native language is not English? Learn what’s important to you early in the process. And ask! It’ll make weighing the pros and cons of each school that much easier.


Written by Zaragoza Guerra
Zaragoza Guerra is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Zaragoza previously worked as a senior admissions officer at MIT, Caltech, and The Boston Conservatory.