International Students Dropping Out in Higher Numbers

Why are international students dropping out of U.S. colleges prior to earning their degrees?

International Students Dropping Out in Higher Numbers - NAFSA Retention Research


I recently read an article by Karin Fischer discussing the disconnect between international student expectations and what American colleges and universities are delivering. As a result, a higher percentage of undergraduates than ever before are transferring or dropping out before receiving a degree.

The National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA) recently did a study across many institutions which provided the perspectives of both college administrators and students (source of the infographic above).

Educators attributed international students dropping out to a variety of causes including financial and academic issues, English-language problems, and the desire to attend an institution that is a “better fit.”

The international students cited mostly financial reasons such as: access to jobs or internships, affordability, and availability of scholarships. Rounding out the top five was dissatisfaction with the food and the dormitories.

This got me to thinking about what a student can do to be better prepared for the experience and reduce the likelihood of international students dropping out.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned from research across the web and asking my ESL students’ opinions. I expect it would work well for American students studying overseas as well!

  1. Make sure to consider more than just ranking.
  2. Take the English language proficiency requirements seriously (or any other language requirements).
  3. Consider the academic/non-academic programs available – for example, study abroad, research, co-ops, internships, etc.
  4. What is the campus culture? Academic, sports-oriented, commuter, etc.?
  5. What resources are available to international students?
  6. What are the job placement resources like?
  7. Is there a good relationship between the school and graduates (a strong alumni association)?
  8. What food sources are available? Will you find grocery stores selling familiar items or restaurants that represent your food preferences (i.e. vegetarian, Kosher, Halaal, ethnic)?
  9. What is the cost of living? Will you be able to afford a car, entertainment, school related items?
  10. What are the weather and landscape like?

Knowing the answers to these questions can help you avoid dropping out before receiving a degree. It’s not only about attending the highest ranking school!

While it’s difficult to find answers to these questions, here are a few resources to get you started:

U.S. News College Search
College Prowler
College Confidential
College Board


Author: Beth Parker

Mother of 3 teens (one off to college this coming fall). Recently relocated to Blacksburg, VA from Shanghai, China where we spent 4 years. I am TEFL certified and currently host English Conversation Groups and privately teach English as a second language. I love travel writing and photography.

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