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International student office services

Katie Schenk - October 07, 2019

International student office services

International education has become a norm. No, it’s not for everyone. But, the numbers of international students, particularly at the graduate level, continue to rise.

In the United States, just about every university has some form of an international student office. Officially, it’s often called the “Office of International Student and Scholar Services” or ISSO. Informally, you’ll hear “the international office.”

As an international grad student, you’ll likely turn to international student office within days or weeks of admission. They’re exceptionally useful organisations when trying to figure out what you need to do before arriving on campus. (And, so you make it to the university in the first place.)

Outside of the United States, you may or may not find a dedicated international student office – or it may fall under a different structure. At INSEAD, for example, the sheer numbers of international students makes it impractical to have a separate office – they provide services generally. There’s a similar structure at IESE in Spain

These institutions assume that the majority of their students will require some sort of international student assistance. Whether you tap into these services or not is up to you. 

Services provided by international student offices

Each international student office has its own mandate. What the university requires from the Harvard International Office is not necessarily what’s expected from the University Of Pennsylvania’s International Student and Scholar Services. That said, the services they provide are largely the same.

For the most part, the international student offices are responsible for liaising with the government for visas and immigration services. These are the folks that guide you through the visa application process and ensure you make it to campus. They’ll provide the affidavits needed and provide you with the information needed to remain on the right side of immigration law.

Specifically, this is the office responsible for issuing your I-20 form, which is required to secure your F-1 study visa to the United States

In addition, you'll usually liaise with this office to apply for the OPT extension of your F-1 visa. If work experience in the US is key for your career, you'll need to reach out to them as you near the end of your studies, keeping in mind that there are strict application times. 

If there are changes to visa regulations while you’re on campus, you can expect someone from the international office to reach out to you with details.

When it’s possible for international students to secure employment (on or off-campus), this the office that will assist with the relevant work permits and tax registration numbers (such as a social security number in the United States).

Beyond paperwork and legal issues, the international student offices usually offer social and cultural services for international students. At Yale, you can expect the Office of International Students & Scholars to provide a calendar of events, including English language resources and support for international spouses.

At Cornell University, the International Students and Scholars Office hosts a regular international coffee hour, providing a chance to socialise and share experiences. And, these universities are hardly the exception; many offer tips and services you almost can’t live without (such as where and how to open a local bank account). 

What not to expect from international student offices

There are some services you shouldn’t expect from the international student offices, though. You can’t expect them to get you out of a jam if you’ve overstayed your visa (that’s on you). 

Unless the university or department clearly states they will handle it, you should not expect the office to apply for your visa or other official documentation. They’re there to facilitate – not do it for you.

And, while many offer proofreading services for non-native speakers, they’re not your personal translation or interpretation providers.

They may point you towards the best off-campus housing areas, but they’re not the housing office. If you need help finding accommodation, most universities have a dedicated department for this.

Still, if you have a question about how to do something or which university department to contact, this is a terrific place to start. After all, you’ll be in touch with this department frequently, as will the ever-growing number of international students in the same position as you. 


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Post updated for accuracy and freshness on October 7, 2019. Originally published on December 30, 2016.


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