GoAbroad Interview: RateMyStudyAbroad.com – A Commitment to Independence

Today on the GoAbroad Blog, we feature an interview with Henry van Wagenberg , one of the founders of RMSA LogoRateMyStudyAbroad.com.  RateMyStudyAbroad.com is a student created study abroad review site committed to being the best source for hiqh-quality student reviews of study abroad programs, and the leading independent website for students to write reviews and research independent feedback from their peers. Henry graduated from Davidson College with a degree in English and Economics, and studied abroad in China, Germany and aboard a tall ship with SEA Semester.

Henry, are you another whining student that had a bad study abroad experience and created a website to punish your study abroad program?


There are so many study abroad review sites out there right now, what makes RateMyStudyAbroad.com better than the others?

The biggest difference is that we don’t have ads on our site. We want our visitors to know that no study abroad program company is paying us to increase their ratings or their placement on the site.  The reviews students and parents post here are independent.  We’re the only review site to make that commitment to our users.

We’ve partnered with GoAbroad.com, which has the largest online directory of study abroad programs in the world.  That means every abroad program appears on RateMyStudyAbroad for students to review, and every RateMyStudyAbroad review appears on GoAbroad for students to read.  In other words we have the largest directory and the most traffic for each of our reviews.

We have a unique process that any user can trigger – “report a review” for us to explore whether a review is actually written by a students.

We are also friendly and communicative people.  We post all our personal contact information online, including my email address and my personal cell phone, so you can reach us.  Each week we interact with students, parents and abroad programs to answer their questions and address their concerns.  If you email or call us, we will get back to you.Henry Van Wagenburg, RMSA, sailing

Lastly, we’re the only study abroad review site that goes out and interviews students to create video reviews.  We even went in person to China to record video reviews on campus at Beijing University and Beijing Cultural and Language Institute. More coming in 2012!

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) watchdog recently banned TripAdvisor from claiming a non-biased review position.  One of the things I like about RateMyStudyAbroad.com is that you don’t accept advertising money from the same providers who are being reviewed.  Are you an idealist or will you give in and accept banner ads from the big study abroad companies?

Right now we don’t have any plans to allow the study abroad programs to advertise.  We believe it’s important to our users to know that we’re independent.  Our mission is to share as many honest, thoughtfully critical reviews as possible with students, parents and programs, and to never let an outside organization compel us to change it.

You are an obvious believer in reviews; explain how someone from another school (whom you have never met) would have a qualified opinion on the study abroad program you are about to participate in?

If you’re a student, you should rely on more than RateMyStudyAbroad reviews alone to make your decision.  Talk to your international education office.  If there’s a student from your college who went on the program you’re researching, talk to that person as well.

Our reviews are best as a supplement and an addition to your research.  There are thousands of students who went before you.  The aggregated experiences of many different students usually offers an interesting data point for you to think about a particular program.

I recently used Yelp to find the best-rated Chinese restaurant in my city. It turned out to be horrible.  If I could have seen that they had $6.95 Happy Family on the menu, I would have known before I got there.  Does RateMyStudyAbroad.com have any outside indicators of a programs quality aside from student reviews?

Outside indicators are a project that we’d like to work on in the future.  We’d like to create a more comprehensive resource that includes other types of data like retention rates (how many students leave the program early), and interviews with experts in the field.  Right now we’re still focused on reviews.

Henry van Wagenburg Illustration RMSA

Illustration of Henry, on RateMyStudyAbroad.com

Your site is full of illustrations, and it sounded like a bad idea until I saw your site.  No question here, I just wanted to point that out.

It’s true, to be great is to be misunderstood 🙂

You use letter grades to rate study abroad programs–so  if a program gets a “D” should I not even consider it?

Like all decisions, it’s smart to take a step back and think about all the information you have at hand.  If student reviewers rated a program a ‘D’ on RateMyStudyAbroad, that’s a pretty interesting data point.  On the other hand, what does your study abroad counselor advise you about that program?  What do older students at your school – who already graduated from this program – have to say about it?

As a philosopher, can you give me a meaningful quote on the value of reviews?

Aristotle coined the phrase “wisdom of crowds.”  It was one of his justifications for democracy.

What study abroad program is the best-rated program according to RateMyStudyAbroad.com?

Several hundred programs are rated A+ on RateMyStudyAbroad.  Most of the review content on our site is actually quite positive.

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