How the College Process Differs for International Students


Upperclassmen students at Williston are getting closer to one of the biggest and most stressful decision of their young lives: college. International students, specifically, face a crucial decision about whether to attend college in the U.S. or not and, if so, where their future will be.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, the number of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities has experienced strong overall growth since the 1950s.  Beginning with just 26,000 international students in the 1949-50 school year, the number of students neared 1.1 million in 2019-20.

However, in the last decade growth has slowed and the 2019-20 school year saw the first decline in years in the overall number of international students in the United States.

A 2018 survey explored reasons for the enrollment declines. Respondents cited a variety of factors including visa difficulties, the U.S. social and political climate, competition from other countries’ institutions, and the costs of attending U.S. colleges and universities. However, the survey was conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic, so it does not consider travel and visa difficulties that may apply nowadays.

Victoria Hop, a senior from Mexico City, told The Willistonian about her experience at Williston from a particular angle: an international student who will not attend college in the U.S.

Victoria feels really attached to her family and the place where she was raised. “I’d like to think I could picture myself going to college here in the U.S., but it is not my reality,” she  explained.

“It is very important for me to stay close to home.” Victoria added. “It always comes back to family, to a decision not only of location, but also of priorities.”

Victoria asserted the importance of this her school experience at Williston, even though it won’t be followed up with college in the States.

“Coming to the U.S. for high school was a big eye-opener to me,” Victoria said. “I stepped out of my own world and into one I didn’t know existed.”

Senior Aaron Gonzalez, from Madrid, Spain, walked us through his college process since he already committed to his dream school, Washington & Lee University.

“It has been my number one school for the whole process,” Aaron said. “I decided for a smaller school so that I have my own space for me.”

Aaron told The Willistonian he feels the options available after high school are stronger than in his home country.

“I think the college level in the U.S. is much better than in Spain,” Aaron said. “I thought it was going to be helpful for my future to come to study in the U.S.”

Aaron is enthusiastic about his chances in the U.S. “I’m the first one of the family studying abroad. I’m super happy about it.”

College Counselor Emily McDowell explained that it is common for international students to come to the United States aiming to get into one of the “‘big name schools” without always considering other options.

“Students struggle with understanding the variety of schools we offer,” McDowell said. “It is harder to find schools that aren’t as flashy but might have really strong programs.”

McDowell concluded with critical advice on the college process. “Building a list of a wide range of schools where a student can see themselves will mean great success at the end of senior year,” she said.