Understanding and Responding to the Career Counseling Needs of International College Students on U.S. Campuses

By Crockett, Stephanie A.; Hays, Danica G. | Journal of College Counseling, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Understanding and Responding to the Career Counseling Needs of International College Students on U.S. Campuses


Crockett, Stephanie A., Hays, Danica G., Journal of College Counseling


The authors believe that international students, increasingly visible on U.S. campuses, tend to confront unique career development challenges and often experience heightened vocational difficulty. In this article, the authors present 3 themes regarding international students' career needs derived from the current literature: career placement needs, individual factors mediating international student career needs and barriers, and help-seeking behaviors. Implications for college counseling professionals and suggested future research directions are discussed.

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Over the past 3 decades, U.S. higher educational institutions have experienced a notable growth in enrollment numbers of international students. In fact, U.S. colleges and universities have experienced a 3% increase in international student enrollment for the 2006-2007 academic year I Institute of International Education [IIE], 2007). Although this growth in international student enrollment appears to reflect international learners' motivation to enhance their vocational opportunities and achieve personal career aspirations that are more readily available in the United States (F. T. L. Leong & Chou, 2002; Pedersen, 1991; Wadsworth, Hecht, & Jung, 2008), on-campus student counseling and other services addressing student career needs remain primarily designed for effectiveness with domestic learners (Davis, 1999; Mari, 2000). As a result, college counseling professionals face several challenges in responding effectively to the vocational needs of international students (Shen & Herr, 2004). In response, the authors provide an overview of international student characteristics and dynamics associated with their pursuit of a U.S. degree, identify limitations of the current investigative literature and suggests future research directions, and present practical implications for college counselors when working with international students.

International Student Profile

The number of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities totaled 582,984 in 2007 (IIE, 2007). These students are located in more than 2,500 U.S. institutions of higher education and represent more than 186 nationalities (Brinson & Kottler, 1995). India is the leading country sending students, accounting for 14% of all international students enrolled in U.S. higher education, followed by China, South Korea, and Japan (IIE, 2007). The top fields of study for international students in the United States include business and management--18% of total, engineering--15%, physical and life sciences--9%, social sciences 8%, and mathematics and computer sciences--8% (IIE, 2007). Most seek a bachelor's degree, representing 2.7% of all undergraduate enrollments (Koh, 2001) and 11% of all graduate enrollments (Davis, 1999). The U.S. Department of Education (Knapp et al., 2005) estimates that international students account for approximately 3% of all conferred bachelor's degrees, 12% of master's degrees, and 25% of doctoral degrees. The majority of foreign scholars are self-financed; approximately 61.5% pay for their education with personal and family funds (IIE, 2007),

Despite their desire to study in the United States, the pursuit of a U.S. degree and improved vocational opportunities can present many challenges for international students. Many find their familiar ways of functioning are disrupted when exposed to U.S. norms and behaviors that contrast with their culture. Earlier on, F. T. Leong and Sedlacek (1986) reported that the transition to U.S. culture may create additional stressors for international students, causing them to experience more adjustment problems than domestic students experience. More specifically, across 3 decades, previous authors (Pedersen, 1991; Sodowsky & Lai, 1997; Yi, Lin, & Kishimoto, 2003) have reported that the primary adjustment concerns of this population include language barriers, academic difficulties, discrimination, inadequate financial resources, social adjustment difficulties, homesickness, and vocational worries. …

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