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International students end up at US high schools through various means, such as exchange programs, agency agreements, or the random student who moves to town. Exchange students typically have the support of a sponsoring organization such as Rotary International or a host family. They arrive at the start of the school year and often have their academic credentials and immigration status in order. The more challenging cases involve  individual students who appear at the door at any time during the year and those coming through an agency.

Frequently Asked Questions by Topic

Getting Started:
Oftentimes the priority with a new international student is to get him/her settled with an appropriate class schedule.


Q: What does a school do with a foreign curriculum?  What if the student’s documents are not in English? Are there any educational documents (transcripts) from the country of origin that you can trust as authentic?
A:  When working with an international student who presents an unfamiliar foreign credential, it is advisable to first contact the international admissions office at a nearby college or university. The staff may have experience with the country in question and may help you understand the curriculum and culture. If the transcript and educational documents are too difficult to translate or validate, ask if the local college or university can help. Below are some credential evaluation associations, providers, and related resources.

Q:  How does one reconcile credits or grades on a foreign transcript, align it with the school system, and place such students in appropriate classes or curriculum track?

A:  The basic courses such as mathematics and sciences are usually similar. Other courses may not be as obvious as secondary requirements may differ in the level of rigor or expectations. Inevitably this will take some guesswork in the school counseling office and some testing on the part of individual departments. Setting aside an afternoon or morning for in-house testing for placement purposes can be helpful.

Q: Does the student have appropriate English skills and, if not, how can English proficiency be assessed?

A:  Again, see if a local college has an ESL program that can provide some insights into English ability. If not, there are several English language proficiency examinations. The most well-known is TOEFL, Test of English as a Foreign Language, administered by ETS. Other examinations are offered by Cambridge ESOL, such as Young Learners English (YLE), IELTS – International English Learning Testing Systems – used for higher education entry, and CAE – Cambridge Advanced English.  Another examination that might be used is the ECCE, Examination for the Certificate of Competency in English, administered by Cambridge Michigan Language Assessments. Local universities may be able to provide guidance on the range of acceptable scores for these exams or have an ESL program on their campus whose staff might also provide advice.  It is appropriate to require a TOEFL or TOEFL Junior (depending on the student’s age) score as part of the admissions process, should the school have one.


Getting Started
If your school has decided to enroll international students, there is a good chance that administrators have decided to contract with an international student recruitment agent or agency for recruitment purposes. The good news is that agencies tend to bring students at the beginning of the school year. The bad news is that school counselors, faculty, and staff are often out of the loop before the students arrive. The following questions can help you prepare the community.

Note that working with agencies is not the only recruitment option. Sending a representative to a recruitment fair in the desired international location, partnering with a high school abroad, or utilizing print or online advertising or social media-based outreach are effective strategies.


A: Schools must register with Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to be able to enroll F or M visa students. In the public school system, the designated school official (DSO) managing the students’ SEVIS records, must be a school district official with explicit authority. For basics on Getting Started with SEVIS, visit the SEVIS Help Hub.
Q:  What should we do to prepare our campus for incoming international students?
A:  Make sure your faculty and staff are informed and adequately trained well ahead of time, not just the week prior to international students’ arrival on campus. Ensure that facilities are available for additional students and their unique needs. Consider issues like ESL instruction, host families, and academic and college advising in advance of international students’ arrivals. Create a team to help with these various elements of international student support and programming; it is a difficult job for one person.
On the student side of the equation, create a group of US students that can act as buddies and ambassadors for new international students. As your program grows, returning international students can take on similar roles and guide the newer students through assimilating to life at the school.
Q:  How should I evaluate and select an agency partner?
A:  Investigate and interview a number of agencies before finalizing contracts. Do not feel the need to jump into contracts, especially at their urging. When searching for potential agencies to work with, speak with other secondary schools about their experiences and protocol for working with agents. These perspectives from colleagues in the field tend to be better indicators of performance and working relationships than information provided by the agency.
Consider what responsibilities you want to agent to cover, and be sure to get feedback on these aspects. If, for example, the international students at your school will be living with homestay families, consider working with an agency that handles homestay placements. This can be a highly complicated and time-consuming endeavor.
Q:  What are some important points to convey to staff when training faculty and staff on how to teach and interact with incoming international students?
A:  Teachers and administrators should first be rooted in approaching international students as individuals, not as a set ethnicity or cultural group. Encourage teachers and staff to get to know students’ interests, their academic strengths, and the talents that they add to the student body. Help your school community understand that students from a similar region, such as Asia, or even the same country, like China, do not necessarily speak the same language or share the same background and experiences. Seek to avoid these stereotypes. Even if teachers or staff have traveled to the region before, it does not mean they understand the intricacies of International Students attending high school in the US.
Q:  What type of English language learning support and instruction should we supply?
A:  First, students’ English language proficiency should be thoroughly understood prior to their acceptance. Set a standard for the level of English you require students to have early on and build an English Language Learners (ELL) program on that foundation prior to students arriving.  English as a Second Language (ESL) curriculum is a program of techniques, methodology and curriculum that teaches ELL students English language as well as cultural orientation. These programs may require specialized teachers. For example, one should not assume that Special Education teachers can also teach ESL. Require testing of this level as part of student’s application process and consider retesting students once they arrive on campus as well.
Looking ahead, it is important to discuss with your administration what criteria international students must meet to achieve a diploma from the school. Discuss whether ELL/ESL courses would fulfill world language requirements and appropriate completion standards for standard non-ESL classes.
If you are working with an agent, ensure that they understand your school’s English proficiency requirements, the support services that will be available to students, and the impact on graduation requirements and time to diploma.

The US Government has an elaborate system for processing and monitoring visa status, called SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. The key document from SEVIS is the I-20 Form, the Certificate of Eligibility. International students must have a signed I-20 in order to interview for a visa. Agencies often process I-20s but schools may need to become part of the tracking procedures. When this is the case, high schools must be certified to access SEVIS and have an approved PDSO (Principal/Designated School Official) to do so. Additional staff can be added as DSO’s (Designated School Officials). The Department of Homeland Security can access the information on a student’s I-20 form to verify that they are an enrolled student in the program of study listed on their documents.


Q: Who will/should serve as the SEVIS specialist (i.e., PDSO/DSO)?
A: This should be someone either in the School District, or in the school. In the school, it can be an Admissions person or a School Counselor or another school staff member.
Q: What are the responsibilities of a SEVIS specialist?
A: Your school’s SEVIS specialist should issue and maintain all I-20 documents for students entering and leaving your school, update all status changes (i.e. names and
grades), and maintain the school’s certification process with SEVIS. It can be advisable for the school to collect and keep passports and I-20’s, as lost documents can be very difficult to replace in the US. Should the school do this, these documents must be kept in a fire-proof, locked file cabinet.

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