"International student" is a legal classification, denoting persons who are not United States citizens or who have not been granted the status of a permanent resident by the U.S. Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services. At Cornell, international students receive support services from the Office of Intercultural Life, and questions concerning international students should be referred to the Director of Intercultural Life.  Academic questions can also be referred to the Coordinator of Academic Support and Advising


  • It is important when advising international students to gain an understanding of their command of spoken and written English. A student’s English proficiency is measured by their score on an English test, which you will find in the student’s folder. Cornell requires the following minimum scores on one of the following tests for admission: TOEFL, 79 (online) or 550 (paper); IELTS, 6.0; GAOKAO, 98; ACT, 22; SAT 1030. Courses with heavy reading loads may be difficult for some students, depending on their English proficiency.  

  • Those students whose English skills are weak might be well advised during their first semester to take courses which do not require a great deal of reading or writing (e.g.,  studio art, mathematics, or applied theatre). The important thing is that they have a positive experience and some degree of success as they adjust to Cornell and gradually improve their English.

  • People tend to read more slowly in a second language no matter how proficient they are. If the student must stop frequently to look up words in the dictionary, homework assignments may take double or triple the normal time and turn into an exhausting and frustrating ordeal for the international student. Advisors should be especially careful not to recommend courses that may be beyond the student's present capabilities.


  • Students whose TOEFL scores indicate ‘needing to improve’ their English skills will be required to take a FYS course designed to provide additional English language support.  Students participate in a writing assessment during International Student Orientation and advisors receive notification of the advisee's placement before registration.

  • International students whose native language is not English are automatically exempt from the B.A. Foreign Language requirement. In some cases international students may want to carefully consider the options available in the writing course to find a good fit with course content (for example how much cultural knowledge is assumed) or professor’s teaching style.

  • If you have an international student who was admitted as a transfer student, please read Advising Transfer Students, especially if the advisee was admitted with senior standing and is planning to graduate at the end of the academic year.

  • Some international students may only plan to study at Cornell for a semester or two.  If you have a student in that situation, the Coordinator of Academic Support and Advising will notify you or the student will inform you.  Because of the limited duration of their stay and the necessity, in some cases, of English support classes, their course selections should be guided more by their individual interests and needs than long-range planning to satisfy Cornell requirements.  Advisors may not have transfer evaluations for non-degree students, but you may confer with the Registrar or the student if you have questions about the student's academic preparation for a specific course they are interested in.

    • Remind your advisee to keep all course syllabi and any required letters of support from professors needed to transfer credits to their home university. Before leaving Cornell, international students should take a current catalog (or have access to the online Web site) and a copy of their Cornell transcript.

  • If you have an international student who is having academic difficulty, evaluate if the issue is inadequate English language skills. If this is the case, consult the Director of Intercultural Life, the professional staff in the Writing Studio, and/or the Office of Academic Support and Advising.


  • In order to remain "in status" (i.e., not violate the conditions under which they were admitted on an F-1 visa), students must be enrolled a minimum of 3 credits per semester.  If your advisee needs to take a reduced program, you should discuss the situation with the Office of Intercultural Life before taking any action that might jeopardize the student's status under the law. Similarly, if you have an advisee who appears to be in violation of the law, perhaps because the student is not attending classes or has left campus, you should notify the Office of Intercultural Life immediately.

  • Some international students are limited in their choice of majors due to government contracts.  Check with your advisee or contact the Admissions Office for more information.

  • If your international advisee is planning to leave the United States for any reason during an internship, off-campus course, block break, school recess, vacation term, etc., and plans to return, the student must verify with the Director of Intercultural Life that the I-20 form and its required signatures are up-to-date and correct. Without the I-20 form, the student will be denied re-entry into the U.S. This document is needed regardless of the student's destination (e.g., whether the student goes home or visits friends in another country for a few days).


  • Unlike most U.S. students, many international students cannot afford to go home for college holidays or even summer vacations. A few will not see their families during the four years they attend college. Prolonged separation from loved ones or a familiar environment causes normal feelings of homesickness. The student may also have to deal with anxiety for the health of a family member or the safety and well-being of relatives who might be in jeopardy because of unstable political or economic conditions in her or his country. Depression and worry can affect a student's performance and success in school.

  • Cultural shock is often experienced by persons who spend a prolonged period of time outside their native culture. Although the exact timetable varies among individuals, the typical pattern of adjustment to a new cultural environment is:

    • Initial euphoria and excitement.

    • Disillusionment, disappointment, or outright rejection of the new culture. This stage may be characterized by depression, fatigue, withdrawal, etc.

    • A gradual adjustment to, acceptance of, and even enthusiasm for the new culture.

    • Students who experience severe symptoms of culture shock should be referred to the Office of Intercultural Life or the Director of Counseling Services.

  • Some international students may have difficulty adjusting to life in a small, rural Midwestern community where no one (or only a few other international students) speaks their native language, cooks their native foods, or observes their cultural traditions. Loneliness and isolation may become acute during the winter break when other students are making plans to go home to their families, and the international student may have no place to go. Advisors need to be keenly sensitive to the feelings of their international advisees and to do whatever they can to make them feel less isolated.

  • Avoid stereotyping international students. The advisor must treat each student as a unique individual, as the advisor would treat any of her or his other advisees. There are, nevertheless, some problems that advisors of international students may encounter occasionally and for which time, patience, and education are the only remedies. If you need advice, consult the Director of Intercultural Life or the Coordinator of Academic Support and Advising.

  • Some international students come from cultures where asking questions of, or disagreeing with, superiors is considered impolite. Advisors must not take anything for granted and must encourage the student to express her or his opinions.


  • Some students come from schools where learning is by rote. Writing a paper may have involved only collecting and arranging appropriate passages from an approved list of texts. Such students may never have been taught to document their sources, use quotation marks, or write footnotes. If an advisee is charged with plagiarism, do not assume that the student intended to cheat.  Recommend that they meet with professional staff in the Writing Studio to discuss appropriate citation practices and summarizing skills.

  • Some international students (like many U.S. students) do not understand what a liberal arts college is. They have come here expecting to take only subjects relevant to their major, which is usually a practical subject that will lead to immediate employment after graduation. Such students may resist taking courses that, on the surface, have no relation to their career goals. On occasion an advisor may have to justify the College's requirements to a parent who sees no "value" in certain courses (e.g., "Why should my child who is majoring in chemistry have to take fine arts?").