As acceptance letters roll in, college applicants may be tempted to focus on the light at the end of the ivory tunnel, but whittling a short list of schools down can be dizzying. Prospective students must consider location, cost, academic reputation, campus culture, and countless other factors.
And, according to admissions consultants and students, there's another part of the college experience that may not even be on applicants' radars: schools' partnerships with cultural and research institutions and for-profit companies.
In addition to their own course offerings and facilities, many colleges and universities cooperate with other cultural or research institutions or foreign schools via study abroad exchange programs. These partnerships are often buried on schools' websites, so applicants may not even be aware that they exist, says Anna Ivey, founder of Ivey Consulting, an admissions coaching firm in Boston.
"Sometimes you really have to dig around to even find a link somewhere where you can find more information. Sometimes [schools] seem to go to great lengths to hide some of their really wonderful opportunities," says Ivey, a former admissions dean at University of Chicago Law School.
School partnerships—while not always front and center on school websites—particularly benefit students in practical fields, such as architecture, and they tend to be more relevant later on in the application process, according to Ivey. "That can very much be a selling point once a student is already interested, poking around, [and] learning more about the school. Those things can absolutely go in the plus column for an applicant," she says.
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As schools strive to be resourceful in a tight economy, domestic and international partnerships are one way colleges are getting creative about sharing resources, says Pamela Eddy, associate professor of higher education at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
"Partnerships provide a means to leverage resources and to create mutually beneficial opportunities," she says. "Students are the ultimate winners."
Another way partnerships benefit students, according to Eddy, is that professors' collaborations trickle down into their teaching.
"When faculty are involved, they are able to take cutting-edge research findings and bring it back to their home institutions and directly infuse it in the curriculum. On a basic level, when partnerships allow for the pooling of resources, all the partner institutions gain given economies of scale," she says.
Joe Robine, a master of science candidate in natural resources at University of Nebraska—Lincoln, says he's one of the students who has benefited from his school's partnerships.
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When Robine applied to Nebraska for college, he was interested in studying weather and climate but didn't know about the university's National Drought Mitigation Center, whose partners include the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He interned at the center as an undergraduate, and chose to continue at Nebraska for an M.S., in part, so he could continue to intern.
He encourages applicants to consider schools' collaborations and to ask professors and students about them. "I'd welcome applicants talking to me, because you can hear one story from the faculty members, but hearing it from a peer, like a current student, I think that gives students a better idea of what kind of work they could be doing as an undergraduate," he says.
His internship taught him to apply lessons from his classes to practical situations, says Robine, who notes an advantage to having an on-campus internship, rather than an external one: "Working with the university and this partnership, they realize that I'm a student first, and if I have class work, they understand," he says.
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But some students, such as Hugo Scheckter, are skeptical of institutional partnerships. As an applicant, Scheckter says he knew very little about George Washington University's partnerships, and even as a junior and the undergraduate-at-large senator in the GW Student Association, he's still largely unfamiliar with them.