Student Voices: Limitations and Directions for Future Research

The intentional focus of this research project was to better understand the international student experience at the University of Minnesota through the students’ own voices. This approach, however, does raise considerations for interpreting the study data. While all international undergraduates were invited to take part in the survey, the research team acknowledges that the response rate was low, and may not be representative of the undergraduate international student population as a whole.

Additionally, there may have been some self-selection bias among respondents. Since this survey focused on the challenges that international students faced during their first semester at the University, those with negative experiences might have been more motivated to respond to the survey than students who had neutral or positive experiences. Future survey work in this area might include more questions regarding positive experiences in order to better understand what facilitated the transition to a new academic and social environment.

The survey used in this study was sent to international students at all stages of their academic career, and students were asked to reflect on their first-year experience. As a way to minimize possible skewed retrospection, future studies could survey students at the end of their first year on campus. In addition, students could be surveyed annually in order to capture any trends. By surveying first-year students regularly we may be able to evaluate University efforts to better the first-year international student experience.

This study is a one-time snapshot of student experiences. A longitudinal study that follows a cohort of students year to year could provide unique insight to how the needs and experiences of international students change over time as they adjust to their new academic environment and what factors affect student retention and success. This would build upon the existing literature (e.g., Hechanova-Alampay et al., 2002; Rajapaksa & Dundes, 2002, and Ramsay et al., 1999) that suggests that international students face bigger adjustment difficulties than their domestic counterparts. Perhaps such systematic surveys could be administered in connection with the University Office of Institutional Research.

This study only surveyed students. The transferability of the study findings could be further strengthened by surveying and interviewing faculty and staff members to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the issues suggested by students in this survey. Triangulating the data in this way could identify which themes and student perceptions resonate within the greater University community. Additional research might also introduce a sample of domestic first-year students as a comparison group to better understand the unique aspects of the international student experience at the University.

The survey, as designed, generated a large number of open-ended responses of more qualitative data. The themes that emerged were telling, but also raised more questions about the process of student adjustment. Thus, a final, but worthwhile, direction for future research would be taking a case-study approach to exploring the experiences of international students. Such research would provide a more complete understanding of the first-year experience of international students. Such data collection could include observations of and interviews with international students over the course of their first year in order to provide a more in-depth understanding of how different factors interact in the international student experience.

Report Content

  1. Abstract
  2. Background
  3. Methods
  4. Findings
  5. Discussion
  6. Recommendations
  7. Limitations and Directions for Future Research
  8. References


Beth Isensee
Director of Student Engagement, International Student and Scholar Services