Finding Your College Fit as an International Student

Tips for connecting to campus when you can't visit

Photo of Eudora Okine
It seems like just yesterday I was a prospective international student sitting on my living room floor, staring blankly at the piles of university brochures that littered the carpet around me.

(OK, maybe it was more like a decade and a half ago but work with me here, I’m trying to relate.)

Each of those brochures featured glossy photos of students sitting on some lawn. They all included a long list of different academic programs that each sounded exciting. They outlined all the amazing opportunities that would be available to me on their campuses (the endless array of dining options were always most attractive). At face value, I had all the information I needed to craft my college list.

And yet, there I was, a young Ghanaian girl literally sitting tens of thousands of miles away from any of these opportunities. I don’t think I ever felt more confused. There were so many great universities and colleges to choose from. So many programs to pursue. But a part of me still felt like I was taking a shot in the dark. As an international student, I had to make this big life decision – based off a very limited amount of information. There was no way financially or physically I’d be able to visit every college I was interested in.

Feeling in the Dark

Looking back, I understand now what I felt was missing from my international student college search process: the opportunity to actually visit the institutions I was thinking of applying to. There were things I wanted to know about these colleges that a brochure couldn’t tell me. Like, what were the professors like? How far was the library from the dorm? Where did students hang out for fun? Where could I find good jollof? What was it like living in one state or city versus another? Just how different was Los Angeles, California from Syracuse, New York? How did you actually pronounce Arkansas, and was everything really bigger in Texas?

Having worked in admissions for the last twelve years, I know that there’s nothing like experiencing a college campus firsthand. It really does help you figure out whether or not you can see yourself there. But the reality is this: like 16-year old Eudora, not every international student will have the opportunity to visit the college campuses they’re applying to. And because of that, choosing colleges abroad can feel like a bit of a guessing game.

But Wait—There's Help!

Finding the right college as a prospective international student doesn’t have to feel like a bad game of pin the tail on the donkey. Not being able to visit a college campus doesn’t mean that you can’t take advantage of other resources to help you figure out which institutions should make your list. Here are some of the best ways students can stay informed and engaged with all the possibilities that are out there:

1. Connect With a Counselor

There are people whose entire job is to make sure you have the answers you need to make the right decisions for yourself throughout the college search process. At NYU, there are over 50 of us across three campuses and even more continents. We can tell you all about the different programs we offer, what research opportunities are available on our campuses, what the community is like. We can even give you details on where you can go if you need medical assistance or disability support. We’re available to speak to international prospective students via email and over the phone. We also travel around the world to meet with you personally and answer any questions you have.

2. Reach Out to a Current Student

Student Ambassadors in the NYU Bonomi Family Admissions Center.

Many universities offer the opportunity to chat with a student via email or over the phone. Some even offer international students chatroom discussions or webinars to connect with current students about their college experience. You can even ask specifically to be connected with a student from your country or region, or with someone who speaks your native language. Ask current students about their weekends and what they do off campus. Find out what their favorite studying spots are on campus. Ask an engineering student about what research they’re doing. At NYU you can email admissions.ambassadors@nyu.edu and be connected with a current NYU student. Who better to answer any questions you have about academics or the student experience at NYU?

3. Contact a Faculty Member

NYU Abu Dhabi professor with students and sound equipment.

A lot of universities will have the contact information for faculty available on their websites. Find a faculty member who is doing research or teaching in a field you’re genuinely interested in. Write to them and start a conversation about a subject they wrote on, a book on their syllabus you’ve read, or an issue they’re covering in a course that interests you. Then pick their brains about how you might be able to engage with them or their programs, if you chose to go to their institutions. You’d be amazed just how much information people are willing to share when they recognize a shared passion!

4. That Thing Called the Internet

The web is the most powerful source of information at your disposal. This is especially true when it comes to researching colleges and universities as an international student. You can learn more about academic and testing requirements, majors and coursework, financial aid, study abroad opportunities, international student support resources and so much more simply by spending some time perusing the website.

Meet.nyu.edu is of course one of those resources at NYU. Check out pictures of what it’s like to study abroad at NYU Sydney, find out what summer time is like in New York City, read more about what NYU Abu Dhabi faculty are doing in the Arts, or learn about how you can combine business and film at NYU in New York. You can also take a virtual tour of our New York, Abu Dhabi and Shanghai campuses right from your mobile phone.

5. Social Media

MeetNYU Instagram page.

Social media is not just for celebrity-stalking and cute videos of puppies with babies. Almost every college and university has a presence on at least one of the many social media platforms out there. It can be a great place to ask quick questions, or get a glimpse into campus and student life. You can even see the cities they’re located in, and learn more about their vision, culture and mission. On NYU’s YouTube channel, you can watch lectures from amazing faculty, see dorm tours of our three campuses, hear about the exciting projects our students are taking on, and even check out what’s cooking in our dining halls. On Instagram you can witness all our student and staff takeovers, and travel with us around the world as we interact with amazing students like yourself.

Summing It All Up

I know, there are way more resources out there than you ever imagined. It may even feel a little overwhelming to try to keep track of them all. At NYU we definitely want you to feel both informed and engaged throughout the college search process. We know it’s not always possible to visit us on our campuses. However, we do host webinars and events in cities around the world where you can connect with us. Sign up for NYU’s mailing list and we’ll keep you up-to-date with everything that’s going on both online and in-person!

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