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How to Evaluate a School When You Are Abroad

In Part I of this discussion on “fit” we looked at the categories of schools and discussed how the identities of schools get labeled. For American students, the search for the ideal fit is highlighted by the campus visit. Mom, Dad, and siblings pack into the family car and tour prospective college towns and campuses. It is common to visit dozens of schools in the search process, helping guide the student toward feeling comfortable with their selections.

The campus tour starts with the admissions office, which often is defined as a welcome center. At larger schools students assemble in a small theater and sit through elaborate presentations. They then break into small groups and are guided around campus, getting a chance to see facilities and mingle with students on the campus. Upon return from the tour they get a chance to meet with a school admissions officer who conducts a preliminary interview, giving the school a chance to assess the student and giving the student a chance to ask questions and help with their decision making process. The visitors may even be invited to partake in a meal in the school dining halls. All of this is designed to help the school and the student address the idea of fit.

While this practice is common for an American student, it is certainly much harder for a student from overseas. As knowledge of schools and first-hand experience is limited in many places, students and their families are more likely to take the word of professional advisors. Sometimes these advisors work as agents, giving student a professional opinion about where that student may fit. It is important to understand that these advisors are receiving compensation for giving advice and that money comes from the student, or perhaps the school or perhaps even from both. When you receive advice, consider who is paying the advisor and how that may influence the advice that is given.

While there are many barriers for the international student to get the same experience as domestic students, it is possible, especially through the web. Most schools provide good web sites that have picture and videos of campus and campus life. Almost every school publishes a student-run newspaper, most are independent and most have online versions of the campus news. If you are interested in a school, reading about news on campus is a great way to get a sense of the culture of the campus and insight about the types of people the student will meet. It will help identify the personality of the campus, especially the op-ed articles and editorial columns written by students. Universities will also produce publications of their own, often publications about academic success and faculty profiles and calendars of official events. These are also great indicators of what campus life is like. Yet another great source of information is the alumni office. Most colleges have and alumni office that communicates with graduates of the school about the school. The alumni office will produce nice magazines and publications, often online that also give prospective students a sense of what to expect after graduation.

If you like what you see, then the Internet also can help you connect with a school. American college recruiters are less likely to travel overseas than recruiters from schools in other countries, but they can be approached. International recruiters can usually be reached by email and there is growing use of video conferencing to bridge the distance. Many admissions counselors will have Skype accounts and can schedule time to conduct interviews.

Not to be left out, many of the premier agents are adding video conferencing capabilities. In a growing number of cases, the agent’s best counselors, experts on fit and matching are also using video conferencing to help students. These virtual counseling sessions are great ways to connect students to expertise. Online tutoring and online education have been strong growth industries in the United States so keep an eye out for an emerging online and video counseling industry.

Mark Shay is a business developer with a long history of success helping higher education institutions recruit students. In an illustrative career that has spanned three decades, Shay has served thousands of customers, ranging from individual faculty members and graduate deans, to university presidents and foreign governments. He is well known for balancing the non-commercial spirit of educators with the commercial realities of operating efficiently and effectively using technology to improve results. He founded StudyAbroad.com, GradSchools.com and has worked in leadership roles at two universities and IDP Education. He has recently started a consulting practice and is serving as an advisor to AAE. Mark is also the editor of ChinaTrend: Insights into the Higher Education market in China

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