Preparing international students for academic success

As enrollment of international students begins to rebound, U.S. colleges and universities are working to support their academic success, especially during the first year of college, when students are most likely to experience culture shock and homesickness, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. To boost international students’ first-year retention and meet their specific needs, these institutional wraparound services include special courses, online orientations, working groups, and mentorship programs that give students the tools they need to participate fully in the college experience.

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Like first-generation college students, international students often face a steep learning curve to navigate the unspoken rules underpinning U.S. liberal-arts education, Steven Schaffling, assistant dean of student success at Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, tells The Chronicle. At the College, Syracuse’s largest school, one in five students are from overseas. To help ease their transition to a U.S. college, Schaffling created noncredit predeparture orientation sessions, peer mentorship opportunities, and other programming to demystify American campus life, increase first-year persistence, and give international students the confidence they need to reach their full potential.

Building trust

Reaching out to the parents of international students is an essential part of ensuring students feel supported, says Ling Gao LeBeau, Syracuse’s associate director of international-student success and a former international student from China who works in partnership with Schaffling.

In addition to leading training sessions for educators and advisors so they can better understand international students’ cultural and academic backgrounds, LeBeau regularly checks in with international students and their parents through newsletters and online Q&A sessions so they feel more at home at the university. “You have to build trust,” she tells The Chronicle. “If they don’t know you, they don’t trust you.” 

Thanks in part to this outreach, Syracuse’s College of Arts and Sciences posted strong international student retention rates last year—their second-highest on record. A recently published paper by Ravi Ammigan, associate provost for international affairs at the University of Delaware (UD), and Matthew Drexler, UD’s director of study abroad, further reinforces the impact of wraparound services for international students, linking their positive experiences with support services to their academic success. “It is critical that international students have access to services that support their learning experience from arrival to graduation,” write Ammigan and Drexler. 

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