With college visits topping to-do lists for Indian students vacationing overseas, travel companies are introducing campus packages that couple sightseeing with seminars. Students are encouraged to visit dorms, enjoy a meal on campus and even talk to some faculty members to get a sense of the scholarly work and research at the schools
When the Ritchies began planning their annual vacation this year, they tossed aside brochures listing picturesque locales, cultural activities and famous food haunts. Instead, the Chennai family focused their efforts on Google maps, charting out the shortest route linking four colleges in the UK they wanted to visit before settling on one to send the family’s eldest son Sean. “This is the first time in years our teenagers were excited about a family trip,” says Sean’s mother Irene.
With the number of Indian students travelling overseas to study steadily rising, “college visits” top the itineraries for families holidaying abroad. Attempting to simplify the task of planning these value-added vacations for families like the Ritchies, travel and educational consultants are teaming up to launch university tour packages. In February, Thomas Cook’s Travel Learn division, in collaboration with The Red Pen Colleges Tours, US launched 12-day east and west coast packages for undergraduate students, covering schools like Stanford University and UCLA in the west and Harvard, Princeton and New York University on the other coast.
It’s not all work -travellers on the west coast package get a tour of Universal Studios and other local hotspots, while on the east coast, a day trip of New York City is thrown in.
The `University Tours’ package, launched this February , has seen a lot of interest, says Shibani Phadkar, senior vice-president, Leisure Travel (Outbound), Thomas Cook (India) Ltd. “The student community’s rising interest in assessing the right university has resulted in bookings as well as a 15% surge in queries from states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Punjab amongst others.” Families who opt for these packages are accompanied by education consultants who counsel students and parents about their choice of university, majors and career options. Advice on resume and essay writing is also given. While touring the institutions, students are encouraged to visit dorms, enjoy a meal on campus and even talk to some faculty members to get a sense of the scholarly work and research being conducted while their parents determine whether they are making a good investment.
Kimberley Wright Dixit, co-founder of The Red Pen, said these campus visits are routine for students across Europe and the US. “It’s kind of a tradition after the 11th grade,” she says, explaining, “Nothing really replaces experiencing something firsthand. It’s hard to capture the feeling and the campus atmosphere unless you are physically present.” She recalls how a student refused to sign up for a leading engineering institution which had a great reputation in India because she found the campus “hard and unfriendly” during a visit.
Foreign universities are more than willing to show off their institutions and clear any doubts. “The international students’ office arranges a campus tour to take students around all the facilities,” says Ruth Sabina, a lecturer at Taylor’s University in Malaysia who claims students from Kerala and Jammu have benefited from these tours, which are usually free. The UK’s Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) states some institutions even offer free taster courses, which vary from a few hours to a day, giving students a glimpse of what life at the university is like.
Age is no bar for these visits, says Srimathy K, director of Space Kidz India, which organizes educational trips for school children. Based on demand, they have introduced campus tours for school students too. “Schools tell us that these institution tours motivate children to score high marks to get into one of those universities,” she claims.
These trips could cost anywhere between Rs 3-6 lakh, including the cost of student plus family members. Adarsh Khandelwal, co-founder of overseas edu cational agency Collegify which has arranged campus tours along the US east coast as well in Singapore, says, “It’s quite a costly affair, because no student goes alone. But it’s hugely helpful for those who can afford it. Students get to know details like the dorm size, and even how MIT students party.” Most Indian students and parents have separate concerns, claims an education consultant. Parents worry about food, lodging, campus culture and whether there are Indian support centres. Students are more concerned about pubs nearby, and demographics like the malefemale ratio.
While these tours don’t ensure students admission, they give them a better sense of what is required to get them through the process and build confidence for the interview stage, a consultant says. For the Ritchies, though, there was an added plus.
A wistful Irene says, “For Jeri and me, it was a good chance to spend quality family time before we had to say goodbye to Sean.”
Trip on universal and university