More than one million international students enrolled in US colleges and universities in the 2015–2016 academic year—a 7.1% increase from the prior year, according to the Institute for International Education’s 2016 Open Doors Report. With this steady growth of international students coming to the United States, colleges and universities are constantly working to better serve and support them.
Moving to university can be difficult, and as an international student, you will have the extra challenge of making this transition far from the usual comforts of home. However, identifying campus support services as early as possible in your admission journey can help you thrive in your new environment. And every college and university in the United States that accepts international students provides a variety of resources to help you do just that.
Here are some of the most important campus resources international students can take advantage of while studying in the United States.
International students office and advisors
Before you even arrive on your US campus, you will likely be in contact with the international students office. This is a great place to connect with staff and students who know what you are going through. And this office will be your first and likely one of your best resources throughout your undergraduate experience.
Whether you have visa and immigration questions or just need help getting around campus, the members of the international student office will be fully equipped to help you. “For any visa regulations that affect your stay in the United States, difficulty in class, financial crisis, change in address or phone number, issues adjusting to the campus…you should connect with the international student advisor,” says Remi Harada, International Student Advisor at Mills College in Oakland, California. “It’s easier if you get to know the staff early on so you know who to go to when something comes up.”
Reaching your international student advisor as well as your academic advisor will not only benefit you, but it will also strengthen your advisor’s ability to understand your needs as an international student.
Peers and student life groups on campus
I always tell international students and domestic students alike: get involved! Whether it is a research assistantship, internship, campus club, organization, or on-campus job, connecting with peers, faculty, and staff at university is important. The more involved you are on campus, the more likely you are to create peer support networks.
One of the easiest ways to do this is by joining an extracurricular club or organization in any of the topics that interest you. Colleges have entire staff dedicated to fostering and maintaining clubs based on your hobbies, academic programs, culture, religion, sports, and more. At many colleges, including Mills, students can even create their own clubs or organizations. The international students office will likely facilitate an international students club, but international students are encouraged to look for groups that appeal to their broader interests as well.
Professors and academic advisors
All US university students, domestic and international, are typically assigned at least one academic advisor. This may be a professor in your department or a designated staff member from an academic advising office. But in any case, this individual is there to keep you on track to graduate on time and offer advice regarding your studies.
You can also meet with your professors if they are not your academic advisors. Take advantage of this opportunity to connect one-on-one with them; you can meet after class or during their office hours to discuss your course work and expectations they may have for you. As Mills student Mizuho Ueyama says, “Faculty are so nice and so supportive…this is the most helpful to me as an international student.”
International students should also familiarize themselves with the other academic support services available on campus. In addition to having professors available for office hours, most colleges and universities will have academic tutors available for complimentary one-on-one and group support. You may also have access to language tutoring resources as an international student. Check your school’s website to see what’s available.
Transitioning from learning English in a single classroom setting to reading, writing, listening, and speaking English full time can be difficult even for the most proficient English language learner. For international students, standards in American academic writing can be hard to learn, so many colleges and universities offer academic support resources specifically for English language learners.
Writing in English will be the primary way you communicate what you know in your classes, so it is important to get writing help if you need it. Campus writing centers provide a range of support, and they may include one-on-one or group services. These resources are included in your tuition and free for you to access when needed.
“Students can usually bring writing from any stage of the process for help,” says Mills College Multilingual Support Specialist Britt Starr. “This can include understanding the writing prompt and what is expected, brainstorming ideas, paragraphing, improving the student’s thesis statement, properly citing external sources, revising, organizing and structuring the paper, and more.”
Writing centers are often run with a combination of student and professional staff support and can offer you the opportunity to be more proactive in your university experience. Take time when you arrive on campus to inquire at the writing center about support for international, “multilingual,” or “linguistically diverse” students.
Health and counseling centers
Living away from home can be exciting but unnerving, particularly the first time. It is a great idea to connect with on-campus offices for physical and emotional health during your orientation so you have resources ready if needed. Most colleges and universities also provide free mental health counseling to students to help you adjust to college life. In the United States, university students are heartily encouraged to take advantage of this mental health support whenever needed.
One of the most frequently asked questions I hear from international and domestic students is related to postgraduate outcomes—specifically job and internship opportunities. Your university’s career services center can help guide you through applying for internships, building your résumé, and getting ready for job interviews.
International students on F-1 student visas can still seek out unpaid internships without having to initiate any additional paperwork or changes to their student status. Connecting with the career services department on your campus will give you access to these resources and help you better understand what internship and job options are available to you as an international student.
When you are researching colleges and universities in the United States, you will find many different types of schools. The US is unique in offering institutions ranging from small, private liberal arts colleges to large public universities to women’s colleges to technical and two-year colleges. Each of these institutions will likely offer resources specific to international students to ease the transition and acculturation process. More importantly, accessing these key resources will be critical to your successful university experience.
Getting involved throughout different campus departments and networks can give you a greater sense of belonging, particularly if you are far from home. By creating a community for yourself, you simultaneously create a space where you look forward to spending your next four years.