Understanding the Current International Student


By: Christopher Tashjian Dec 06, 2016

Now host to over 1 million students from all over the world, the U.S. has grown its international student enrollment for ten consecutive years, according to the Institute of International Education. In addition, institutions that have increased their international student enrollments report higher academic quality, a more diverse population, increased brand awareness, and greater revenues via full tuition payments. In a previous post, 5 Tips for Increasing International Enrollments, I explored some of the many strategies for recruiting international students from our Recruiting International Students eBook. While these are strategies you can implement now, I recommend that before you design your strategy, you spend some time understanding the current international student. This post aims to answer the following four questions, so that you can develop an effective strategy for recruiting the best international students for your institution. 1.    Where are international students coming from? 2.    Where are international students studying? 3.    What are international students studying? 4.    Why do international students choose the United States? The data presented below was gathered from the 2016 Open Doors ® Report conducted by the Institute of International Education.  

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Where are international students coming from?

China (31.5 percent), India (15.9 percent), Saudi Arabia (5.9 percent), and South Korea (5.8 percent) account for 59.1 percent of total international enrollments in the United States. It’s important to note, however, that many other countries actually saw a faster growth rate than those listed above. For example: Nepal, Vietnam and Nigeria all experienced double-digit year-over-year growth from 2015, demonstrating an opportunity for marketing and enrollment professionals to recruit students from regions of the globe that many of their peers may not be considering.  

Where are international students studying?

What are international students studying

Not surprisingly, top-tier schools and “big name” colleges and universities reap the benefits of their brand when it comes to their ability to recruit international students. However, smaller and mid-sized institutions shouldn’t be forgotten, with over 225 colleges and universities hosting more than 1,000 international students each, according to research conducted by StudyAbroad.com. Demonstrating that if you’re a smaller or mid-sized institution, you can still compete with the “big guys,” especially if you define your market niche and target prospects who are interested in your programs.  

What are international students studying?

Business Management and Engineering are the most sought after programs for international students, totaling 39.9 percent of all international student enrollments. Math and Computer Science (13.5 percent), Social Sciences (7.7 percent), Physical/Life Sciences (7.2 percent) and Fine/Applied Arts (5.7 percent) round out the top six fields of study. Even though less than 5 percent of international students are studying English, Agriculture or Legal Studies/Law Enforcement, it’s important to note this because trends can quickly change. Also, keep in mind that the total number of international students studying at the graduate level (383,935) is nearly the same as the number of those studying at the undergraduate level (427,313), which means you must remain mindful of the nuances which exist in graduate student marketing.  

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Why do international students choose the United States?

International students choose the United States due to the caliber of education, accessibility, and the wide range of programs and degrees available. A degree from an institution in the U.S. embodies the pinnacle of higher education and prospective international students believe it will ultimately increase the likelihood of a better life for themselves and their families. Additionally, many international students have limited access to furthering their education in their home country, either due to societal convention or insufficient institutional resources and they rely on our education system to fill this gap. Lastly, the vast selection of degrees and programs offered by U.S. colleges and universities ensures that a prospective student will be able to find something which matches their needs and interests.

Concerns: tuition, visas, and cost-of-living

Recruiting International Students eBook

Though, the U.S. remains on the top of the higher education pyramid, some concerns do exist for a prospective international student who wants to study here, including: tuition, visas, and cost-of-living. As a marketing and enrollment professional, your international recruitment messaging and strategies must focus on how your institution differs from the competition. Consider offering discounted tuition, visa assistance programs, or highlighting that your college is located in a community with a lower cost-of-living. By devoting some time to understanding the current international student, as well as your school’s unique strengths, your institution can become the destination of choice for students from all over the world. And what’s more, increasing your international student enrollment will not only provide those outside the U.S. with an opportunity to obtain a world-class education, but it will also diversify your student body and give your domestic students the opportunity to gain a new perspective.