How to Help International Students Succeed through Online Orientation

  • August 22, 2016
How To Support International Student Success

The US is home to the largest population of international students, with enrollment increasing by 8.8% from 2014 to 2015. However, among the international student population, 70% are concentrated in only 200 higher education intuitions. Because of this, more and more universities in the US have increased their focus on recruiting international students while hoping to maintain retention rates.

Research has shown that international students frequently encounter challenges when it comes to social and academic integration. Entering college can be hard enough for first-year students, but adding in new cultural and social norms and procedures can be especially difficult to overcome. These challenges can hinder international students’ educational experience, causing retention rates to decline.

A recent NAFSA report found that the top reasons international student transfers are financial challenges, academic difficulties, and the need for a “better-fit” institution. According to the study, these challenges should all be addressed in the enrollment cycle, where institutions can be transparent and supportive about crucial information that will help international students succeed. By developing an online orientation specific to international students, institutions can proactively address any challenges students may face while receiving an education in the United States.

Below, we outline the top challenges that international students face and how you can provide resources in your orientation to combat overcome these hurdles.

How to Help International Students Overcome Barriers

  1. Academic Expectations

When international students come to the U.S. to study, academic expectations can be much different than their home country. New academic “norms” might include:

  • General Education Courses: Students that come to study business or engineering expect to take courses only in those specific areas. For some, the idea of “general education” courses is not familiar to them. Including an introduction to general education courses and why they are important to your overall education can help students understand this new concept.
  • Research and Citing Sources: The practice of citing sources in research papers is not a standard procedure in every country. International students may have trouble citing their sources properly, which can cause issues with accidental plagiarism. Providing students with a guide on how to cite sources, or even a worksheet like Kean University’s Citing Resources Worksheet can be extremely useful and allow students to prepare before their courses.
  • Language: Typically, many international students are fluent in English, but it may still be their second language. Provide additional language resources like the US Higher Education Glossary or free grammar courses on open-source sites like Coursera.
  1. Social Relationships

A students’ social environment is crucial to their success in a college environment. In a study by Elizabath Gareis, a communications studies scholar, 40% of international students reported having no close American friends. Institutions are recognizing this issue and trying to assist students with programs like Student Linx, Griffith University’s student-run program that holds networking events like BBQs and games catered towards international students.

To help foster relationships for your international students, you can:

  • Include a page of “networking resources” where students can join various Facebook groups, events and discover ways to get involved on campus through clubs or special courses.
  • Work with the International Department and ASI to set up a “buddy program” where American students can partner up with international students, providing a one-on-one relationship.
  • Faculty relationships can be crucial to success as well. Depending on the students’ major or college, provide them with background information on their faculty and ways to connect before school starts if they have questions or concerns.
  1. American Culture

American culture may differ greatly from that of international students’ home countries.

  • Offer a “Local Area Guidebook” that informs students on local transportation options, healthy food options, local events and ways to get involved in the community
  • Provide a brief background of American culture, from celebrated holidays to typical activities that are popular in your area.
  • Provide additional learning resources where students can learn more about cultural norms, like individuality and the importance of personal space. Suggest that students bookmark sites like StudyUsa or the International Student Counsel blog to continually learn about the American culture.

When creating your international orientation content, try to reach out to multiple departments across campus, as international student awareness should be a campus-wide effort. By soliciting content across the campus, you may learn about new programs resources for international students or inspire departments to develop more resources.

Providing international students with a personalized orientation specific to their needs will not only help to improve retention rates, but it can also create a stronger diverse culture at your institution. As with any orientation, be sure to follow-up with the students to gain feedback on the orientation content and its usefulness. Open feedback questions can help to shape future content and allow you to continually increase your impact on international student success.


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