Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership


Students from all over the world come to the United States each year in pursuit of higher education. Representing over 200 countries, students come to learn English, improve their skills or learn new ones, gain educational experience, and/or earn a degree. To achieve their goals, these students must make successful transitions to their new educational and social environment.

The purpose of this inductive qualitative study was to discover what international students perceived as being important to them for making a successful transition to a university in the United States. This study was limited to international students who were unfamiliar with the U.S. higher educational system and were attending an U.S. university for the first time. Twenty-five eligible students were invited to participate and seven self- selected to be in the study. These students were asked to keep a written journal in English throughout their first term. They were asked to write at least three times a week. Each student was observed in a minimum of two classes. The observations provided a basis for the interviews. Each student participated in between two and four interviews throughout the semester. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Journals, observation notes and interview transcriptions were coded and analyzed for emerging themes.

During their transition to the U.S. university system, international students perceived a change in their level of dependency. Students coming from independent situations felt more dependent and childlike during their initial transition to the U.S. university and students from dependent situations felt more independent during this transition. International students were more likely to seek advice from other students than from university personnel or services. International students wanted to feel connected to others on-campus, including other international students, and with American students. They experienced differences, anticipated or not, in the educational system including differences in teaching, use of language, approachability of faculty, and the concept of general education.

The study concludes with a discussion of findings, implications and recommendations for universities and for further research.