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US: college counsellors less confident advising international students

College counsellors feel less confident advising the growing number of international students at US high schools on how to apply and get accepted into university than domestic US students.

The NACAC report recommends more training for college counsellors to overcome challenges associated with advising international studentsCollege counsellors face challenges when having to contend with cultural barriers, and other logistics with international students such as financial aid and test scores. Photo: NACAC.

Last year, the US welcomed 59,392 diploma-seeking international high school students

A report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, that interviewed counsellors working at public and private secondary institutions across the country found that many are challenged by cultural barriers and becoming familiar with the nuances of international applications.

The situation is often complicated with the added need to communicate with external education consultants in students home countries, the report, Supporting International High School Students in the College Admission Process, identifies.

There has been significant growth over the past 10 years of international students attending US high schools, many of whom go with the specific goal to transition into US higher education.

“There’s been a lag in realising how that impacts the college counselling profession”

Last year, the US welcomed 59,392 diploma-seeking international high school students, with a further 22,589 students in the US on exchange.

“There’s been a lag in realising how that impacts the college counselling profession,” Lindsay Addington, associate director of international initiatives at NACAC told The PIE News.

“So I think that the formal training in education hasn’t yet caught up to realise that there really is a significant need to help college counsellors be better equipped to work with this population of students.”

Some of the biggest challenges in college counselling come with navigating foreign languages and cultures, the report identifies, with some counsellors expressing their concern that international students may not have all the information they need to make an informed decision.

“What I’ve noticed is they assume that what gets you into a college is just GPA, test scores, TOEFL, and the ACT rather than looking at the admission process from a holistic level,” noted one counsellor.

“The concept of ‘fit’ which is so engrained in our cultural understanding of the college admission process is very different from many of the cultures from which most of our international high school students are coming,” said Addington.

Of the 20 counsellors interviewed for the study, three quarters said that their international students work with third party agents. However, no school had a written policy on how college counsellors can best collaborate with agents.

Many international students who used an agent for admittance into US high schools reuse their services when they are applying to university.

“It can get a little tricky trying to negotiate the process with that extra person in the middle,” admitted one counsellor in the report, with another adding that it can be hard to build a relationship with an agent.

“It can get a little tricky trying to negotiate the process with that extra person in the middle”

More training is needed, the report recommends, so that counsellors feel as confident advising international students as their domestic counterparts.

Some counsellors don’t have the awareness and “lack understanding of the environment which these students are coming from”, said Addington.

The best examples of collaboration are when the channels of communication are opened and a transparent, supportive environment for the student is provided, she added.

“What we’ve heard from a few schools that works well is that often if the high school is able to take travel for recruitment trips or for alumni and development engagement, then the college counsellor begins to join on those trips,” she noted.

“It can help raise the profile of the college counsellor in this process – to make them a trusted source.”

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