There’s so much talk about ChatGPT these days, so I thought it would be fun to ask it a few university admissions process-related questions. Recently I asked it to describe the unique features of each Ivy League university in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, it required more than a few refinement questions to get some substance. But I realized you can usually get some valuable information if you know how to insist.

For this blog post, I asked, “How to Research a University When You Can’t Visit the Campus.” This time I tested how human intelligence can make the text more well, human. My refinements are in italics below. I hope you find them useful. 

Here goes

When deciding which universities to apply to, there’s nothing like visiting campuses to get a feel for what makes each university unique. But for international students, a limited travel budget or a busy schedule might stand in the way of attending an in-person info session and student-led walking tour. Fortunately, there are many ways to research universities without ever stepping foot on campus:

Websites and social media

University websites offer a wealth of information such as program details, faculty profiles, campus facilities, and student life. Most universities also have social media accounts – often run by student ambassadors. Instagram and YouTube can provide insight into the daily life and culture of the institution. If you really want to know what exciting things are going on at the universities you’re considering, read the news headlines in the departments you’re thinking of joining and check out what the faculty are researching. Who would you like to work alongside? It is also worth checking out any student-run blogs or forums to gain a more personal perspective.

International Admissions Staff

Beyond sharing detailed information on application requirements, deadlines, and scholarships / financial aid opportunities, International Admissions and Recruitment Officers widely promote various virtual events, such as virtual tours, webinars, and information sessions. These can provide a chance to interact with current students and faculty and ask questions without ever leaving home. Check out a university’s “Visit Us” section on its website for virtual programming to sign up for the mailing list (don’t forget to create a separate e-mail account for this purpose so your inbox doesn’t overflow!) and any appealing events. 

In-person university fairs

Sometimes, a piece of the campus comes to you. Attending in-person university fairs can offer a chance to meet with representatives from various institutions and learn more about their programs and offerings. These events are often hosted by education organizations like SRT, EducationUSA, the British Council, local international schools, and others and can provide valuable information in a one-on-one setting. 

Alumni networks

Local alumni networks can provide valuable insight into the quality of education and post-graduation opportunities at a given institution. Contact your city’s alumni chapter for any universities you’d love to learn more about. They can often put you in touch with recent graduates or organize optional informational interviews. These are great for asking any questions you may have about academics, student life, and the international student experience. 

Reviews and global university rankings

Online review platforms such as Niche and Unigo can provide a sense of student satisfaction through feedback on various aspects of university life, including campus safety, housing, and academic quality. Global university rankings such as QS World University Rankings, Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities can offer insight into the academic reputation and research output of a given institution. While rankings and league tables can be a good place to start when you want to get the lay of the land, know that their methodologies often do not measure factors that directly impact the undergraduate student experience at an institution. Try not to get so hung up on a university’s rank that you forget to consider the finer details of what it would be like to study and live there for three or four years. There’s so much more to the university experience than the name on the degree.   

When researching universities, it’s helpful to have made a list of your goals and priorities before visiting- whether in person, virtually, or at a fair. Degrees, study plans, duration, location, affordability, campus culture, and post-graduation opportunities are a good place to start. As are the quality and availability of resources such as career services, research opportunities, and extracurricular activities.

Ultimately, where to study is a decision only you can make. By utilizing the above methods, you can make an informed decision about which institution is right for you even if you can’t visit the campus ahead of time

Kara Madden
She is an International Higher Education specialist and founder of Madden Educational Consulting, based in Madrid, Spain. She is a professional member of IECA, serves as Inclusion, Access & Success Subcommittee Lead on the IECA Global Committee, and has the International, College and Graduate designations. She is also a professor of “International Recruitment and Admissions” in the Global Higher Education Master’s program at the University of Alcalá’s Instituto Franklin in Alcalá de Henares, Spain. Kara believes in advocating to remove the barriers students face when crossing borders to access higher education opportunities abroad and the lifelong practice of fostering mutual understanding across cultures.