International school to university transition: How can we best support students?
International school to university transition: How can we best support students?

By Johanna Fishbein, Director of University & College Counseling, The American School in Switzerland & Robbie Jefferiss, High School Counselor, International School of Amsterdam



As many of us know, in university admission and guidance, our role in supporting students applying to university extends well beyond our job descriptions. We are students’ cheerleaders, coaches, editors, marketing specialists, counselors, and so much more as we help students find and be admitted to a university that is right for them. It’s what makes our jobs so exciting and fulfilling.

Less consideration is given to another key part of the role because, in many ways, it’s also our responsibility to provide students with the skills they need to be successful once they arrive at university!

Yes, we made sure they had a great application essay and solid grades when they applied, but when they arrive at university, will they have the skills to navigate the unruly behaviour of a roommate or the confidence to say ‘no’ to trying a substance they may have never seen? Will our students know how to boil water to make macaroni and cheese from a box? Will they be able to keep a budget to ensure they can pay their rent on time?

Supporting students’ transition to university is one of our roles, and building these hard and soft skills is something we can do for our students throughout high school. 


Male students arriving at university


We are not alone in our schools with our goal to support students and their transition to university. Our schools all want successful, happy alums (who hopefully give back in the future), and many allies in the school can help provide this transition support to our students. However, the ever-present arguments of ‘there is no time’ or ‘there is no space/ resources’ will often put obstacles in place to delivering the transition support we believe our students need.



Parents are important allies in the transition support process; they can be valuable partners in delivering the transition support and reinforcing messages that students are being given in school. In addition, parents will need some help from schools as they prepare themselves to support their children on their journey to university. Partnering with your school’s Parents’ Association or some influential parents in the community can be a great strategy to provide some programming to parents and provide parents with the support they need in a structured manner. 

Whatever transition support programming we put in place at our schools, it can always be better, and that is why communication with our alums is key. Ideally, reaching out to them a year or so after graduation will provide schools with valuable information about college counseling support, transition support, and much more. Alums will also have great ideas about improvements and changes to programming; they are always eager to share their ideas. Alums are also often the most valuable tool we have in speaking with students and parents; try to find ways to get them in front of your community to share their own transition experiences and lessons learned. An Alumni Fair or an Alumni Lunch can hugely benefit the entire school community. 


A solution you can try

Supporting students is the ultimate goal of every educator and parent, and CIS has worked hard to develop tools and resources we can use to meet this goal.

So many of us in the College Counseling space do wonderful things for our students and parents, but there are not always the spaces or resources to share our best practices.

That is the hope of CIS and sharing these lessons* today—‘Ready-made’ lesson plans can be delivered with minimal effort and maximum influence (we hope).

If you can find the time and the space to deliver this programming, teachers/ administrators/ counselors/ etc., are often more than happy to help if they know they do not need to come up with lessons. 

We want this only to be the beginning of the resource sharing; hopefully, we can build a resource library together that ensures our students’ transition out of high school is supported while helping us counselors deliver this programming in creative ways, not always reinventing the wheel.

We hope you will be inspired to share. We’re excited about CIS’s work in this space, supporting our students and their transition to university or elsewhere after graduation. 


Related content:

New research in progress:

At CIS, we are conducting more research in this area and working with an advisory group of members and transitions experts to develop a resource that will help schools to assess and strengthen their transitions programmes. The research findings and resources will be available for members in the coming months.

Available insights:

Our cross-cultural transitions insights, published in 2022, help our members consider how transitions programming can best meet the needs of international secondary school students moving to higher education. The insights draw on data provided to us by 94 international students. Recommendations for secondary schools include introducing transitions care at an earlier stage, facilitating small group discussions with students about their transition and strengthening connections with alumni. Recommendations for universities include a review of orientation and induction processes, expanding university practices to be more inclusive of diversity, and greater logistical and practical support. Students from both sides of the transition experience said that they would have liked more support related to social, emotional, intercultural and life skill development. Start with the highlights, then our members can log into the CIS Community portal to go deeper into the insights and explore the student responses and recommendations in full:

 CIS Community portal for schools > KnowledgeBase > University Guidance & Student transition > Resources > Cross cultural transitions insights

CIS Community portal for universities > Services > Student recruitment > Resources >Cross cultural transitions insights



*Please note that this Google Doc is not a CIS document, so any data you share is not controlled/protected by CIS.

International school to university transition: How can we best support students?