April 21, 2016

Is an International Applicant the Right or “Best” Fit for your High School?


When it comes to international students coming to study in the U.S., there are a myriad of topics to think about. When it’s a student searching for the right high school, factors like location, academics, cost, reputation, and rankings are important. From the school side of the equation, factors like tuition, marketing, recruiting companies to work with and international student support matter. Throughout all of this talk is the underlying notion of best “fit” for your school.

While it is often touched upon, right or “best” fit for your high school is often not given its full due, especially by schools and students new to the international admissions process. Of course, international students are looking for the school that is the “right fit” for them with regards to location, academics, cost, reputation and rankings. But during an international student interview, you will determine if the international student you are evaluating is the right “fit” for your school.

You have a limited amount of time to determine “best fit” for your school during the international student interview, so follow these guidelines closely to determine if an international student will succeed at your school.

Determine an Applicant’s Classroom Language Ability

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During your interview with an international student, whether in-person or online, determining a working understanding of English for the classroom is essential. This is not to say that students need to be able to quote and discuss Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy. However, students do need to have a working understanding of English and be able to quickly compose sentences and answers to classroom questions. While working English is needed, perfect English is not.

Students from East Asia are more generally known for their memory and repetition ability. Adding in the occasional “out there” question will really expose the depths of their understanding, as well as their ability to manipulate the language. For example, instead of asking them to tell you about someone they admire, try asking about what fictional character they most relate to, or what object in their house most represents them and why. Have some fun with it. Throughout, allow your potential students to make mistakes and if need be, help them along.

International students will need to take on a lot of new studies, environments, relationships, not mention new words and new usage of English. The best part about all of this is that, they can. With English being the vast majority of what they will hear upon their arrival, expect a steep learning curve and for the language to pick up, especially if your school has an Academic Support/ESL course to help bring them along.


Gauge the Student’s Willingness to Learn and be Taught

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International students at your school must have a willingness to not only to learn, but to be taught. There is an important difference between learning and being taught. Learning means that students can derive new meaning from text, study, and discover new concepts when they review knowledge outside of the classroom. The ability to be taught, on the other hand, means working with classmates and teachers to facilitate the learning process. The online interview with an international applicant is a crucial event in determining if a student will be potentially difficult and often distracted in the classroom, or if they have the capacity and wisdom to properly adjust to learning in an American classroom.

You can again look to your line of questioning to help understand where your potential student’s priorities lie. Asking questions that you yourself don’t know the answers to should lead the student to ask for clarification to decipher the answer. Even if the student doesn’t initially ask further questions, add in new information to the conversation, and see if that changes the student’s outlook. A fun example might be, “what might an alien from outer space look for in a high school?” As the student answers, you can add in information about the alien’s needs or wants. Perhaps on an earthier plane, you could try, “given [insert parameter describing your school], what would you think is the most popular sport/subject/activity/color here?” The question isn’t about getting the right answer, it’s about the international student’s willingness to adjust their view given new information.

Assess the Student’s Confidence to Ask Questions and be an Active Learner

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Hopefully throughout this interview process, you will put your potential student in a place where they can or need to ask questions. The mark of a person ready to grow is the ability and willingness to admit there is something they don’t know and the strength to ask questions to move forward. The desire to take an active role in the learning process is what every school should be looking for in an international applicant.

Asking questions is not a fault but rather a door to new information. Make sure the environment you provide is one where the student feels comfortable asking questions. Though you may have varied beliefs on whether you should push the student to ask questions or to wait for the student to do so, relevant questions are a must in any conversation in the classroom.

Look for Signs of Effort to Learn about Your School

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In the Fall of 2015, just under 2,000 students submitted over 4,800 applications to partner schools in The Cambridge Network. That’s an average of about 2.5 schools per student. With so many students applying to schools in the U.S. from an international location, schools should know that their competition isn’t coming from down the street. Students apply to private high schools throughout the United States, in several different states and regions.

This means that students will thoroughly research unique programs on your campus, and think heavily about what is the right or best “fit” for a high school in the United States. This also means, that if an international student really wants to go to your school and thinks it is a great “fit” for them, they will have done their research on your school. Likewise, if an international student has not researched your school thoroughly enough, the student’s lack of interest more than likely indicates you may not be their top choice and shows that they didn’t put the effort toward knowing your school.

Instead of just asking them about your school, try asking questions like, “what do you see yourself involved in when you come here?” or “tell me a few reasons why you chose our school.” This should get them speaking about what they know about who you are. Again, don’t be afraid to correct them if they have incorrect assumptions. Setting and managing expectations of students before they arrive in the United States is crucial to them succeeding at your school in the coming academic year.


International students come from a different type of school, a different type of schooling, and a different culture with differing emphases. School administrators should not expect to find the same type of “best fit” student as they will find with American students. As your international student program grows, your understanding of the right or “best fit” international student for your school will evolve.


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