3 Strategies for Recruiting International Students


By: Christopher Tashjian May 09, 2017

Strategies for Recruiting International Students

The most successful international recruiting institutions in the country use the same three strategies. With fall 2016 postsecondary enrollments dropping 1.4 percent from last fall, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, institutions across the country are struggling to meet the revenue goals that support their mission. To this end, many of the country’s universities are looking to the international student market to fill the gap. And, though, international student enrollment has grown for the 10th consecutive year—exceeding 1 million international students for the first time—so too has the competition for recruiting these students.   International students represent an increasingly important academic, cultural, and revenue-enhancing opportunity for U.S.-based institutions of higher education. With the most successful international recruitment institutions capturing such a large percentage of the applicant pool, StudyAbroad.com (in conjunction with EducationDynamics) surveyed 600 schools to determine what they are doing differently from their competitors. And while there are many ways to recruit international students, our survey results indicate the most effective schools invest heavily in only three strategies. For the complete survey results, please download our free e-Book, Recruiting International Students: How to Succeed with This Expanding Market Opportunity. Read on to learn the three secrets to recruiting international students at your institution.

1. Student fairs

Recruitment Fairs International Students

An international student fair is an event at which universities and colleges gather to answer questions, display promotional material, and provide applications to prospective students. Student fairs are an excellent opportunity for universities and colleges to not only answer questions but also provide a sense of reassurance to prospective students and their parents. In addition to their schoolwork, prospective international students have concerns about attending your institution—not least of all: cultural differences. The human contact a student fair provides can help to ease these concerns by demonstrating to prospects that there is a face behind your brand—a face that can answer questions in real time. But don’t take our advice, listen to what your peers are doing. Of the most successful international student recruitment universities surveyed, 17 percent not only stated that student fairs resulted in the most enrollments, but also that they provide their highest return-on-investment. If you haven’t been tapping the student fair circuit much or at all, it’s time to revisit your approach to this valuable channel.

2. Recruiting agents

A recruiting agent assists your institution in finding and enrolling students through exhibitions, events, and marketing in the countries you are looking to target. As American institutions deal with challenges to strengthen their brand, increase campus diversity, and grow tuition dollars, some have chosen to turn to recruiting agents to help them reach their international student enrollment goals. Since 2013, the number of U.S. universities and colleges working with recruitment agents has steadily increased to 37 percent, according to Bridge Education Group. Of those surveyed for the StudyAbroad report, 10 percent specified that recruiting agents provided the largest number of international enrollments. In addition to that, 19.5 percent of institutions surveyed believed that recruiting agents provided the best return-on-investment. It may seem hard to carve out the budget for this strategy, but this data speaks to the positive impact it can have on your international enrollment goals in the long run.  

Learn the Secrets to Recruiting International Students in this Free eBook

3. Inquiry generation sites

Recruiting International Students eBook

Inquiry generation sites provide prospective international students with resources about an institution, such as available programs, student reviews, and cost of tuition. In today’s digital-first world, prospective students are no longer waiting for institutions to contact them. Instead, students—international and otherwise—are actively searching for answers to their questions. In fact, 86 percent of prospective students said digital resources played an important role in their education research process; that is double the number that said admissions counselors were important, and almost triple the importance of family and friends, according to Shannon Snow, Head of Education for Google. In addition, 49 percent of prospective students began their college search online, according to data collected in the 2016 Online College Students Report. If you’re not immediately providing answers to prospective students’ questions on your institution’s site, you can be sure that another school is. Of institutions not currently recruiting undergraduate students, 35 percent stated it’s not a priority for leadership and 18 percent indicated that there weren’t enough potential international students to be worth the effort. These responses are in direct opposition to those of the most successful recruiting institutions, which have received buy-in from leadership and possess a strong understanding of the international student growth rate in the U.S., and the potential that the market has to keep growing. And what’s more, when asked about the future use of specific recruiting approaches in the coming years, 21 percent of respondents indicated they would continue to invest in the three strategies above. As the time comes to shape your institution’s recruitment strategies and budget, it would be useful to revisit your international student recruitment plan. If you haven’t been meeting enrollment goals in recent years, the problem is not that the students aren’t there—it’s that your strategies aren’t finding the right students.