Recent research suggests that the number of international students attending U.S. colleges and universities is growing — and the College of William and Mary is no exception.
In 2013, the Institute of International Education released a report stating that the number of international students studying at United States colleges and universities increased by 7 percent, reaching an all-time high. Over the last ten years, the number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities has increased by 40 percent.
At the moment, the College is home to 664 international students. With admissions for the Spring 2015 semester, Director of International Students, Scholars and Programs Stephen Sechrist said he expects that number to rise to about 685. According to Sechrist, the number of international students at the College has doubled over the last five years.
“W&M’s relatively small size and attention to the individual student coupled with our holistic approach to liberal arts education really sets us apart from other top-ranked universities,” Sechrist said in an email. “While the Reves Center is the international ‘hub’ of the university and works to support them across campus, international students are W&M students first and foremost and so all offices on campus have a hand in educating and assisting them.”
At the same time that international student populations have increased across the country, studies show that retaining those students can be problematic for some colleges and universities.
A recent Shorelight Education report took into account the top 200 nationally ranked universities and the schools’ international student populations. According to the report, the average on-time graduation rate for international students at these universities was 70 percent, with “on-time” defined as within 150 percent of the average time it takes students to obtain a degree.
Using that time scale, the College was just one of four universities listed with a 100 percent graduation rate for its international students. Other schools with a 100 percent graduation rate include the Colorado School of Mines, the University of Pittsburgh and Stanford University.
“W&M has an incredibly talented international student population,” Sechrist said. “Admission to W&M is competitive for in-state students and even more competitive for the out-of-state (including international) population.”
Sechrist also cited the many resources — academic and otherwise — available to international students at the College, which he said can help them in a variety of ways. He listed the Writing Resources Center, Tribe Tutor Zone, Global Education Office and Academic Advising programs as resources that international students take advantage of. There are also programs through the Office of Community Engagement, Residence Life, Center for Student Diversity and Cohen Career Center that Sechrist said give students skills to succeed academically, socially and professionally. The Reves Center for International Studies collaborates with each office to assist them in working with international students. Additionally, Sechrist said this year, the Reves Center piloted the International Freshmen Advantage Program, a summer program designed to prepare international freshmen for their first year at the College.
Sang Hyun Park, an international student who spent his freshman year at the College before transferring to Cornell University, said taking advantage of the various resources proved beneficial in acclimating to life in Williamsburg.
“The Reves Center is essential to international students for the practical resources they offer, with anything from getting a social security number to making trips to groceries that sell foreign products,” Park said in an email. “Cultural organizations help international students feel at home and keep in touch with the things they miss back home.”
The Shorelight Education study did not appear to take into account the number of students who transferred to other institutions. In May, Nafsa: Association of International Educators released the findings of a study looking at colleges’ and universities’ retention of international students. Using a World Education Services survey, the researchers compiled responses from international undergraduates and college administrators. The results showed that the most common reasons institutions give for international students’ leaving before graduation are the desire to find a “better fit” institution, financial reasons and academic difficulties. However, students’ reasons for leaving a school were lack of access to jobs, affordability, lack of scholarships, dissatisfaction with the food, or with living arrangements.
David Ji ’16, an international student originally from South Korea, said he sees lack of employment as the biggest struggle international students face at the College. He added that others may struggle more with the language barrier or with fitting into American culture.
“It’s actually a bit strange going to another country and mingling with other people,” Ji said. “It might sound easy but when you actually face it, it becomes overwhelming.”
Park echoed this sentiment.
“Because my origin was so different from the vast majority of people at the College, it was hard not to feel out of place,” Park said. “It was challenging to figure out my role and place in the community. It was also hard to find people with whom I could relate … because of the relatively small presence of international students at the College.”
Ultimately, Park said this seemingly small presence of international students contributed to his decision to transfer.
While Ji said that international students’ experiences differ, he has seen several friends transfer for another reason: a desire to find a more academically rigorous school.
“[Many international students] always want more in terms of academics,” Ji said. “They want to go to a better school, get better academics; they pay attention to school prestige. When they look for that, there are a lot of colleges that are better than William and Mary in terms of rankings. If they are not satisfied with William and Mary’s academics, they choose to transfer. I know some people who went to other schools — Duke, Rice, UVa. They transferred to go to a higher-ranked school. I’ve never seen anyone who went to a lower-ranked school when they transferred.”
Ji said that above all, he would encourage new international students to seek help from others who may have had similar experiences adjusting to life at the university.
“Take advantage of your peer international students,” Ji said. “They are your resources. Talk to them as much as you can.”