GW plans for international student surge

The University is gearing up for a major influx of foreign students over the next decade, investing in online systems and programs that will ease transitions to U.S. customs and academics.

The changes come as GW looks to double its foreign student enrollment – a key demographic for the tuition-dependent and globalizing University – over the next decade. The number of foreign graduate students jumped 25 percent this year alone, according to recent institutional data, while the number of international undergraduates rose 16 percent.

Director of the International Services Office Greg Leonard said it will put more emphasis on addressing the needs of undergraduate and graduate foreign students separately. Undergraduates typically come from wealthier backgrounds and have taken classes in English, but may have difficulty adjusting to cultural differences to connect with American classmates, he said. Graduate students need more intensive academic training.

The services will roll out this week, as 300 new international students arrive at GW. The Center for Student Engagement will offer information sessions before the spring student organization fair along with career networking events to help new foreign and transfer students move beyond cliques and learn to make the most of all of GW’s opportunities.

While the number of foreign students is climbing, GW’s international makeup still lags behind peer schools like Boston and New York universities. While about 12 percent of GW’s students come from abroad, NYU stands at about 17 percent.

Administrators set a goal in the draft of the 10-year strategic plan that by about 2022, 15 percent of undergraduates and 30 percent of graduate students will come from abroad.

“We need to offer the very best services and programs we can because we’re going to be dealing with larger numbers. The strategic plan is, quite frankly, a great motivation to double down and say, ‘How can we do the best we can,’ ” Leonard said.

The office will also invest between $10,000 and $18,000 in new software to handle complicated bureaucratic processes like visas and forms that foreign students are required to complete.

Foreign students, who typically attend Colonial Inauguration a week before the start of classes to simplify travel plans and cut costs, will be encouraged to attend sessions throughout the summer to meet more of their American counterparts. The CI typically reserved for international students will be geared toward orienting them to campus life in the U.S. and learning about support services like Student Health Service and the University Counseling Center.

Associate Dean of Students Tim Miller said the University will heighten its focus on supporting international and transfer students because they “need more help in the beginning” than the average student. He added that more events, like one to teach foreign students how to use the Metro, could be added as the office looks into more options.

“International students sometimes have a language barrier and they’re not even sure what questions to ask. It’s almost like speed dating. We want to help them know how to do that,” Miller said.

Chloé Sorvino contributed to this report.

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