One of the college counselor’s most important jobs is to educate
students on their college options as we guide them through the search
and application process. A few years ago, a report from the Institute of International Education
confirmed what a group of Chicago-area high school counselors had begun
to notice: a growing interest among students who aspired to earn their
college degree outside the United States. Meanwhile, representatives
from universities in a number of countries were beginning to knock on
In fall 2013, the group of counselors organized a program called International College Options
(ICO). The program includes college fairs and counselor luncheons aimed
at helping students, and those advising them, explore the expanding
landscape of university admission. The ICO program has become an annual
event and has expanded to Boston, Detroit, Denver, and New York. The
most recent events in 2018, drew 40 institutions from 11 countries.
The majority of counseling participants who participated in research
about the ICO program reported seeing an increase in students’ and
families’ interest in international college options. And, as a result of
participating in the program, reported feeling more prepared to counsel
these students and families. It is promising to see programs, such as
ICO, having a positive effect on counseling students and families.
With more US students looking to earn a full bachelor’s degree
outside the United States, NACAC provides this guide to assist and
support counselors, families, and students as they navigate the
sometimes confusing search and application process.
Why do students choose to pursue a degree abroad? The reasons vary.
Some students want to take advantage of dual citizenship, or have family
abroad, while others long for an adventure. Lower tuition may attract
their interest—helped along, in some cases, by a full degree program
that can be completed in three years.
The type of student who has the potential to thrive overseas is
independent and open-minded, loves to travel, enjoys experiential
learning, appreciates diversity, and is interested in other cultures.
Not every student fits that description, of course, but if a student you
are working with demonstrates some of these characteristics, you might
mention the idea of a full degree program abroad. I also find that
students who express a desire to study abroad in college are well-suited
to this option.
It is also important for counselors to understand the application
process, deadlines, and chances of admission for a US student. While
institutions that welcome US students are eager to provide helpful
information, it can be difficult to gather and compare information from
schools’ websites in different countries. Language barriers, differing
time zones, and unfamiliar application processes are just three
challenges students will face.
Just as when we research US schools, it is important to look at
fit—that is the alignment of academic offerings, social aspects, campus
culture, cost, employment rates, and other critical factors, with a
student’s goals and expectations for their undergraduate experience. Few
families have the resources to visit multiple colleges overseas. The
high school counselors involved in ICO events consider them to be a
useful alternative. Through these activities, students, parents, and
counselors can talk individually with international college
representatives about courses, the application process, visa
requirements, and any other questions they might have. This guide is
another valuable resource for counselors. We encourage you to use it as a