When students decide to start looking for information about universities in the USA, most begin by visiting the schools’ websites, or by emailing requests for hard copy brochures and other marketing materials (many receive unsolicited information way beforehand once they take the PSAT/NMSQT). Note the term “marketing materials”, for although they will provide some basic information about school culture, they are largely bland, indistinct, and serve to position the school in the most positive and unblemished light possible. As was mentioned in previous issues of Study In America, students and parent should view such brochures and particular elements of schools’ websites with a degree of skepticism, for universities are essentially businesses seeking to increase application numbers for financial security purposes, or to gain higher rankings from popular media publications like US News and World Report.
We often advise students to tap into as many networks as possible in order to find recent graduates from their current schools who are currently studying in the USA. These students generally do not have a particular agenda and are usually happy to speak to prospective students about their university and student life (the success of the SPH/Experiences Education fair each July proves testimony to this fact). However, for some, finding such students may be difficult, or some students may be too busy or shy to approach them. For those who fit such descriptions (or for anyone, really), they may find social media as a valuable tool for getting their information needs.
Most people are aware of popular forms of social media like YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. There are, in fact resources available within these portals that provide useful information on universities. U.S. schools are increasingly wise to this form of media, however, and have created YouTube video clips, Facebook Pages and Twitter feeds from faculty and administrators for marketing purposes, ultimately in order to access and win over prospective students. Moreover, much like the content found within universities’ websites and brochures, such content is often deceptively rosy in nature, and may provide little insight as to what the school environment and culture are truly like.
For those who desire such behind‐the‐scene views, they should source sites created by independent contributors that feature views from students who are either currently going to or have graduated from schools of interest.
The following sites provide potentially valuable information (Note: Study In America maintains a neutral stance regarding these sites. We leave such judgments to the viewer):
Although much of the information provided is valuable and truthful, some information may be of questionable value: students may have transitory and oft‐shifting opinions and axes to grind/personal vendettas against their schools (or rival schools, especially those that rejected them for admission).
Also, a great many of the contributors are American, and they will offer views and opinions that may not reflect the international and cultural diversity that the universities possess, and which may appeal to your needs.