As universities around the world continue to adjust to new global realities, we predict that the ways in which schools are expected to support the well-being of international students will continue to gain prominence in student choice. In this article, we’ll address the top concerns from prospective international students, and discuss how the pandemic is affecting their decisions when thinking about taking their studies overseas.
Data for these trends are taken from over 10,000 prospective students from 181 countries. To view specific respondent data for each topic and customize insights based on country and region, take a look at our Student Insights 2021-2022 Dashboard.
- More than a third of prospective students are worried about racial discrimination when thinking about studying abroad (37.5%).
- There has been a 14% increase in the percentage of students who say that a university’s mental health support services are very important since 2020.
- Student attitudes about university services versus classes vary greatly. Though prospective students overwhelmingly prefer in-person counseling services, 43.1% say that programs with blended learning (both online and in-person classes) are better than completely in-person programs.
General Student Concerns
Jumping into a completely new social academic environment isn’t easy. If adjustment is difficult for domestic students, you can imagine that international students take on an even wider set of challenges in their experience abroad. Looking at student concerns more generally reveals considerable worries in the planning and organizing stages of studying overseas.
The vast majority (84.1%) of students are concerned about financing their studies and life expenses abroad. Finding accommodation and sorting out visa requirements also fall in the top three, demonstrating a need for explicit budgeting and migration information early on in the student journey.
Even with the emphasis on needing information based on geographical location seen here, the country as a first priority has actually been dropping, with double the percentage of prospective students this year looking at the school as a first consideration when making decisions since 2019. This means that though more school-specific worries are further down the list, they are still significant.
While grade conversion is tied to academics, other top concerns such as class difficulty, making friends, and culture shock may be eased by expanding prospective student knowledge of relevant resources and services created to support international students during their overseas experience.
The Importance of Mental Health
This year’s International Student Survey found that compared to last year, there’s been a 14% increase in the percentage of students who say that a university’s mental health support services are very important. It’s clear that mental health services are only becoming more essential for international students around the world.
What kind of health services are students looking for? In this year’s survey, we asked students who answered that mental health support services are very important or somewhat important to them (93.9% of the total) to choose which services are the most important to them.
It seems that programs or schools with more workshops and group classes are preferred the most by prospective students in this group. In-person counseling is much more chosen than phone or email help - indicating that in-person support services are favored by students looking to make study abroad decisions.
The high preference for collective activities such as group classes and workshops is reflected in several other survey questions asked this year. For example, when asked about learning atmosphere preferences, only 8.2% of students said that they prefer a competitive atmosphere in a classroom, while 25.9% answered that cooperative learning is best. About 65.9% of students this year want to see a balanced learning atmosphere between cooperation and competition with classmates when looking at study abroad programs.
With 35% of prospective students choosing that self-paced programs are one of the most important support services (as seen in the graph above), an additional question from this year’s survey may surprise you. When asked what type of class mode these students prefer, though more than half chose in-person classes, 43.1% said that they prefer a combination of online and in-person classes.
Student Concerns about Safety
Do students have concerns about safety when thinking about studying abroad? About 85.4% of prospective international students say yes. To understand these students more deeply, we asked them what they are most concerned about.
Providing a welcoming environment for international students is more important than ever. More than a third of survey respondents say that they are most concerned about racial discrimination when thinking about studying abroad. In the continent of Asia, over 22% of students say that they are worried about Asian hate at universities abroad.
Many students who answered ‘Other’ wrote that they are concerned with all of the aspects included and could not decide on a singular answer. Additional concerns in the 'Other' category include religious and LGBTQIA+ discrimination, physical health due to the pandemic, and xenophobia.
What concerns are evergreen to international students and which ones are tied to the current stage of the pandemic? This year, we asked prospective students about their newer concerns to find out what has emerged as a result of COVID-19.
Almost half of the students responded that they are worried about being able to enter their destination country. The second-highest proportion of students are apprehensive about limited cultural opportunities due to restrictions or lockdowns since the start of the pandemic. Otherwise, elements related to well-being such as stress and lack of motivation are some of the main concerns of prospective international students when thinking about studying abroad.
What do students feel are common challenges for students from their country when it comes to well-being? Each response indicates the student's nationality and age.
- “During the pandemic... everything is disoriented. Mental health is something that is often less debated when it comes to preparing for schools and scholarships abroad. I have experienced it first hand and I can attest to it. Mental health is the biggest challenge for students during the decision-making process.”
- Indian; 22-25
- “When studying in a foreign country, there is a mental burden of its own due to various expectations and demands, both from oneself and from other parties. Whether it's traveling at their own expense or a scholarship, both are equally difficult.”
- Indonesian; 18-21
- “Fear of racial discrimination and dealing with harmful misconceptions/stereotypes”
- American; Under 18
- “Some common challenges include means of funding, fear of failure, fear of mental stress, fear of being involved or a victim of social crimes, and being unable to fit in. The covid-19 pandemic is also one of the greatest challenges concerning international study.”
- Ni-Vanuatu; 18-21
The most interesting trends around international student concerns are how deeply the pandemic has shaped student awareness, concern, and in-turn, expectations for universities. At present, the events of 2020 appear to hold a stronger sway in students’ minds rather than diminishing as life slowly resets to a new normal. Concerns about racial discrimination and expectations around mental health support are not diminishing but increasing.
Universities looking to meet students where they are can look to prominent policies on racial discrimination, robust mental health services programs, and more broadly, a clear communication strategy for how these issues are embedded in the culture of the school.