What is Overseas Educational Advising?

June 18, 2009

Overseas Advisers counsel prospective international students about university study in the United States. As professionals employed within varying organizational staructures throughout the world, members of OSEAS provide accurate, complete, and unbiased information on the full range of educational opportunities in the United States in accordance with the "Principles of Ethical Practice in Overseas Educational Advising."

The Profession of Overseas Educational Advising

Since the mid-1970s, overseas educational advising has been developing as a profession, stimulated by the growth of international educational exchange between the United States and other countries and by the creation in 1986 of the Overseas Educational Advisers Professional Educator Group (OSEAS) within NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Overseas educational advisers work with students, scholars, and trainees interested in opportunities for education, research, and training in the United States. Overseas educational advisers who are members of NAFSA abide by both the "NAFSA Code of Ethics" and the "Principles of Ethical Practice in Overseas Educational Advising ."

Educational advisers are a primary source of comprehensive, unbiased, and up-to-date information concerning all levels and aspects of the U.S. educational system. They often provide programs and services to prepare students for living and studying in the United States and for reentering their home culture.

Advisers act as liaisons between the U.S. educational community and the educational and government institutions in the host country. They serve not only the interests of their primary clients, students, and scholars seeking assistance in attaining their personal goals, but also the interests of students' sponsors and countries as well. Advisers may be responsible for testing, placement, and monitoring of sponsored students. They may also assist self-sponsored students in obtaining placement.

By participating in professional networks, educational advisers offer their colleagues unique insights into educational and cultural situations in their home countries. Through contacts with U.S. admissions officers and international student advisers, they promote effective services for international students in the United States and serve as a source of information on host-country educational institutions.

Overseas educational advisers provide a vital link in the educational exchange process. Their professionalism is crucial to attaining the objectives of educational exchange: increasing mutual understanding among nations and fostering cooperative international development efforts.

Where Do Overseas Advisers Work?

Whether serving as full- or part-time employees, advisers are found in a wide variety of government-related and private offices, such as:

  • Public Affairs Sections of U.S. embassies
  • Fulbright Commissions and bi-national commissions for educational exchange
  • Bi-national centers
  • Private not-for-profit organizations such as the Institute of International Education (IIE) and America-Mideast Educational and Training Services, Inc. (AMIDEAST)
  • Host-country universities and libraries
  • International organizations and corporations
  • Host-country ministries and advising operations sponsored by other government agencies
  • Government or private loan funds and banks
  • Independent advising organizations
  • English language centers

Other individuals dispense educational information about the United States and perform some of the functions of educational advisers as an integral part of another occupation, including:

  • Information specialists in Department of State Public Affairs Information Resource Centers, in universities, or in secondary schools overseas;
  • Public affairs officers and Foreign Service nationals in public affairs offices at U.S. embassies;
  • United States Agency for International Development (USAID) officers and staff and Foreign Service nationals in USAID missions who arrange training for host country nationals under USAID sponsorship;
  • Government officials involved in international education; and
  • Guidance counselors, administrators, and faculty in international or U.S.-oriented high schools, colleges, and universities outside the United States.

What Are the Responsibilities of Overseas Educational Advisers?

Specific responsibilities vary with the needs of each country and the circumstances in which the adviser works. The adviser may be part of a larger staff devoted exclusively to educational exchange activities or work in a one-person office. The following areas, however, are usually considered among an educational adviser's responsibilities.

Information Services

Advisers coordinate the presentation and dissemination of information, whether by electronic means, phone, mail, or in person. They may be asked for information about any or all of the following items:

  • American values, customs and geography
  • The U.S. educational system and access to it
  • Accredited institutions of higher education of all types
  • Fields of study at all levels
  • Vocational, technical, and short-term programs
  • Distance learning courses
  • Opportunities for scholars and professionals
  • Youth exchange programs
  • Institutional and professional accreditation
  • English as a second or foreign language
  • Costs, financial aid, and currency transfers
  • Standardized tests for admissions or other purposes
  • Visa information

Electronic sources, books, catalogues, and other reference materials and resources available to students must be as current and complete as possible. New materials must be identified and ordered as needed. Should a student require some material not readily available, advisers provide assistance in locating the information.Advisers must keep abreast of developments in higher education not only in the United States and the host country, but also in other countries whose students are served by the advising center. They collect, interpret and distribute data on educational exchange activities and trends.


The adviser's ability to explain, analyze, evaluate, and interpret information helps the student to relate it to local and personal considerations.

When working with self-sponsored students and scholars, the adviser helps, encourages, and guides them through the processes of:

  • Arriving at a decision regarding the suitability of U.S. study at a particular time
  • Weighing career options and pathways, when appropriate
  • Conducting thorough research to find institutions and programs that meet their objectives
  • Applying and registering for appropriate standardized tests
  • Applying for admission and locating sources of financial assistance
  • Arriving at a final decision

When serving as liaison between sponsored students and a sponsoring or program agency, the adviser may:

  • Identify and facilitate the candidates' applications
  • Interpret the policies and procedures of the sponsoring program for candidates
  • Aid in placement or negotiate agreements with participating institutions
  • Arrange for English language testing and training

Group advising sessions or video presentations introduce basic information about life, study, research, and training in the United States. Individual advising helps students and scholars to address particular concerns and to define the questions they will need to answer to make informed decisions about their education.

Advisers also provide pre-departure orientation programs to smooth the transition to living and studying in the United States and, in some cases, offer reentry programs to facilitate the student's personal and professional transition upon return to the home country.


The adviser distributes test registration information and informs the local educational community about test dates, procedures, and costs. The adviser may also serve as the test-center supervisor for U.S. examinations given outside the United States. Moreover, new developments in computer-based testing require that advisers be aware of and knowledgeable about the changes in testing formats.

Liaison and Public Relations

In representing the interests of those they serve, educational advisers must maintain a broad variety of contacts. These may include:

  • Fellow educational advisers in the community, the country, the region, and the world
  • U.S. embassy personnel, particularly public affairs officers, consular officers, and information specialists
  • Local representatives of other U.S. government agencies, private organizations, and companies
  • International organizations
  • Host-country educational officials and university faculty and professional organizations for in-country licensing
  • Officers of banks and loan funds
  • Guidance counselors in local high schools and universities
  • Local English language schools
  • Local youth organizations
  • Local business community, media, and national airlines; U.S. professional, educational, and international exchange associations
  • U.S. testing agencies
  • U.S.-based colleagues in colleges and universities

Frequently, conducting outreach programs for one or more of these audiences on a local or regional basis is an important duty. Such programs may involve public presentations, newspaper or magazine articles, and lectures.

Office Management

Whether working alone or supervising other staff members, educational advisers must be effective managers of time, space, human resources, and information. In larger offices, they may be responsible for training and supervising a staff of advisers, clerical personnel, and sometimes groups of volunteers. Such managers supervise workflow and provide program direction.

Even for a part-time person working alone, an important office management function is the collection and maintenance of statistics about the advising center. These statistics are used in planning, directing, and evaluating the operation.As funds for staffing decrease, many offices depend increasingly on volunteers, U.S. students studying abroad, alumni of U.S. colleges and universities, etc. in addition to or in place of paid staff. Thus, advisers now need to bear the responsibility of recruiting, training, supervising, and encouraging volunteers.Moreover, reduction of funds requires that advisers be aware of and use techniques to reduce overhead costs and to recover costs involved in advising. Creativity in raising funds for an advising office is required of many advisers.As technological developments affect advising throughout the world, advisers should have access to and be able to use new technologies, such as CD-ROM databases and the Internet (primarily e-mail and the World Wide Web).

Developing Resources

The adviser manages and develops written, visual, human, and technological resources. Recently, this has involved exploration of new methods and information delivery techniques, such as Web site design and content development for advising centers and video production. Frequently, it entails preparation of printed handouts, information packets, audio- or videotapes, and visual displays to introduce U.S. education in a form and language appropriate to local audiences.


Advisers may be called upon to train other advisers or related personnel in the office, country, or region. They may be asked to conduct training workshops, share materials developed in their offices, or publish and distribute newsletters on advising issues. In addition, advisers are often asked to conduct training programs on a variety of topics, which may encompass cross-cultural workshops, workshops on U.S. education, orientation and reentry programs, and workshops on academic skills needed in the United States (such as preparing to be an effective graduate teaching assistant).

Suggested Background and Skills for Educational Advisers

In 1994, the then U. S. Information Agency (USIA) Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (now consolidated into the U.S. Department of State) and NAFSA began developing a formal training sequence of modules designed to prepare individuals for the profession of overseas educational advising. The result is NAFSA's new Foundations Workshop for Overseas Educational Advisers. It is designed for newcomers to the profession of overseas advising and is based on "NAFSA's Statement of Professional Competencies for International Educators."

Many academic disciplines serve as a background for educational advising. Examples include counseling, international affairs, comparative education, educational administration, social sciences, management, area studies, and social work. Information science, library science, and data processing are also useful.International experience is a valuable asset. Advisers need to be familiar with the culture, environment, and educational system of the United States, the host country, and other countries whose students are served. Fluency in English and in the language(s) of the host country, as well as good communication skills (writing, listening, public speaking, and negotiating) are essential. Strong organizational and research skills, cultural sensitivity, and the ability to work with people-individually and in groups-are crucial. Typing and computer literacy are also necessary in most situations.Experienced educational advisers rank patience, persistence, tact, resourcefulness, and creativity as the most valuable professional traits of an adviser.

How to Contact Overseas Advisers