Recruiting international students is an essential task for many colleges in the US. Attracting overseas students to institutions greatly benefits both institutions and the student body.
The country’s national and international studies ratio varies depending on the university and degree. However, the nationwide median is surprisingly high: During the 2021/22 academic year, a total of 948,519 international students were enrolled, which represents 4.7% of the total.
For the US Higher-Ed system, this is a symbiotic relationship. As we will see, both institutions and students find important advantages in attracting academic talent from outside of the country.
In this article we will explore the reasons why recruiting international students is important for US colleges and how to achieve better results when doing it.
Why recruit International Students in Higher Ed?
Let’s begin with the “Why”. We can separate the benefits into academic, cultural, and institutional categories.
Starting with the academic benefits, recruiting international students means fostering an environment of excellence. Higher-Ed students coming from other countries are (commonly) strongly committed to their studies and oftentimes bring the bar up.
US institutions are known for their superb student experience and top-class degrees, which naturally attracts the best of the best. This can help to build a challenging but more enriching environment for domestic students as well.
On the cultural side, having international students on campus helps with enjoying a more diverse landscape. Local students can learn through pluricultural perspectives which otherwise would be unavailable.
International students bring with them the very best of their cultures, making the experience more interesting for all parties. This enhances academic life, as both domestic and international students can learn more about the world, different cultures, challenges, motivations, and new perspectives in every aspect of life.
Finally, on an institutional level, recruiting international students means a greater academic reputation, especially overseas, and better income opportunities. US colleges that bring in international students and provide them with quality experiences will enjoy popularity and a strong reputation overseas. This translates into organic growth with more prospective students without the outreach and marketing efforts.
Challenges of Recruiting International Students
These benefits come with a cost. Before we propose different strategies for recruiting international students in 2023, let’s get familiar with the challenges you may be facing.
Immigration and Financial Challenges
This challenge is twofold. International students need visas to come to the United States and enroll in Higher-Ed programs. While this is a common procedure, that doesn’t mean that it is not a wearisome process with frequent disapprovals.
If the prospective student sticks to the process and provides all the information requested by the US authorities, everything should go well. The process could be stressful and the student can definitely benefit from as much guidance and support from the college throughout the visa application process.
Another part of this challenge is the financial side of attending college in the US. Life in the US is generally more expensive than in most parts of the world. International students need a good amount of savings or personally sourced funds to support themselves throughout the length of their studies. 63.6% of students living on campus use federal loans. Yet, federal loans are only available for domestic students.
The vast majority of foreign citizens are not eligible for federal student aid from the U.S. Department of Education. This means that their only possible financing option is through private (non-federal) student loans, which are significantly more costly.
Migratory and financial constraints for international students are very real. However, there are ways in which we can help.
Now, there is an additional challenge that falls on the college’s end and that is being fully certified to accept international students.
For national security reasons, not all colleges can freely accept international students at any point as desired. Instead, higher education institutions in the US must become SEVP certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
SEVP certificate, which stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Program, is granted to colleges and universities that correctly submit the application, pay the fees, and comply with federal regulations related to the enrollment of international students. One of the requisites, for example, is having a designated school official on staff who will be responsible for ensuring compliance and monitoring student’s situation, such as enrollment, attendance, and grades.
Others requirements apply for they are reasonable, making the certification possible for most higher education institutions in the country. After the SEVP certification, colleges must renew it every 2 years.
For more information, visit the DHS website for international studies.
Navigating cultural challenges in Higher-Ed is no easy feat. International students are coming into a generally unknown world for them, so the struggle is certain.
First, there is the language barrier. Depending on their origin and level of education, some international students could face communication issues when they are not fluent in English. This could be a challenge when attending classes and interacting with peers and professors.
The language barrier, alongside cultural misunderstandings, can easily lead to student isolation and impact their well-being. Homesickness is a natural feeling for most international students, being so far away and physically disconnected from home, loved ones, and support system. The potential isolation that comes from communication issues is a thing to consider.
Finally, international students can have different academic expectations. They are probably not familiar with the US educational system. Their expectations may come from online research and other people’s experiences. Maybe where they grew up, academic life is more or less demanding, making the student develop a different rhythm.
Strategies for Recruiting International Students in 2023
Now that we understand the “why” of recruiting international students and the modern challenges in doing so, let’s review some actionable strategies that your institution can implement.
Build Relationships with Foreign Organizations and Institutions
Developing long-lasting, bilateral relationships with foreign organizations and academic institutions can be one of the most beneficial bets in recruiting international students.
US colleges that successfully enroll foreign students every year often have strong connections with organizations and institutions overseas, like education nonprofits, public agencies, academics, and even large colleges.
International colleges can collaborate on cultural initiatives, which are not only highly enriching for the participants but also positive for the institutional reputation and attracting attention.
Leverage Available Technologies to Increase Your Reach
Staying connected with potential students overseas is easier than ever. Colleges need to be aware of the possibilities that available technologies provide to conveniently communicate with prospective international students.
Starting with the basics, your institution must use digital tools to maintain an open communication channel with prospective students, either national or international.
Admissions and enrollment tools, like the ones offered by Edular, allow you to connect with the student on an individual basis and support her during the entire journey. This means providing highly-customized, automated support with the live option of manually intervening if necessary.
The goal is to effectively provide relevant services to prospective students. This kind of support is not feasible without digital automation tools that deliver the right resources to the student, without delay or human intervention.
International students and their particular situations have special needs and may require additional attention. Therefore, the availability and instant access to the institution’s support and resources are invaluable.
Launch a Smart Marketing Campaign
Your college’s marketing strategy will need some tweaks to work with international students.
Good marketing needs to be at the core of your international recruiting efforts. You must communicate the rich opportunities that the institution offers to international students. This must be done in an appealing way, distributed on the mediums where the prospective international students actually are.
Here’s how to do it: research and understand your prospective international student to discover what is her favorite way to digest information online. Yes, you need to have a good idea of what kind of websites she visits to learn about her future career… but also what is her favorite social network for entertainment.
A good marketing strategy involves being in the right place. The message is fundamental but if you are communicating in the wrong space, you will miss the target.
This is the theory of it. Understanding where your prospective international students are is the first part. Then you need to craft an appealing message that clearly communicates the benefits of choosing your institution, from education quality to campus life and accommodation situation. Illustrating this with testimonials is a superb idea that will always deliver results.
Attend International Education Fairs
Attending international education fairs is a solid strategy for recruiting foreign students, especially now that the world is re-opening after Covid-19.
Make sure you understand your prospective international students first and their circumstances based on their country of origin. The Department of State’s requirements for visa issuance greatly varies from country to country, which affects student eligibility as well.
Also, take into consideration the programs offered by your institution: Some programs are more attractive to students from different countries.
This is to know which kind of events they could attend. Then, research the industry to identify the best fair options for your situation.
Some popular international education fairs are the NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo, the EAIE Conference & Exhibition, the EAIE Forum’s specific events on international education, the IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad, and the EAIE Spring Forum.
Make the Move Easier
Becoming an international student and moving to the US can be a frightening, intimidating experience. The vast majority of undergraduate students are below legal age and moving to the US to start their Higher Education journey represents the first time living away from their parents. If we add the financial and cultural factors, we end up having a massive, disruptive life-changing experience for the student.
Yes, it is for the better. The international student enters an exciting world of opportunity and growth. At the same time, this experience involves important challenges that can benefit from the institution’s support.
Institutions can do plenty to make this process easier and more enjoyable. A big part of the challenge is the degree of uncertainty that the student faces. Fortunately, colleges can help with this by providing high-quality informational resources and relevant advice.
Helping the prospective international student by providing him with up-to-date information on visa applications, financial aid possibilities, accommodation opportunities, life on campus, social activities, academic expectations, and more can go a long way. Reducing uncertainty through relevant, high-quality informative resources is an effort that most institutions can afford.
Prospective students normally do their own research online. This is definitely the preferred method today but it does not come without risk. The Internet is full of incorrect, misleading, outdated, or straight-up ill-intended information. So, who is better than your institution in providing the answers and information? Are you equipped with the right platform to communicate your answers and information?
The Bottom Line
The number of international students entering the US Higher-Ed system is on the rise. Almost every year on record shows a positive change from the previous year. A considerable 15-point decrease was experienced in 2020/21 due to Covid-19 but shortly after, the numbers are going up: 2021/22 registered a 3.8% increase and expectations of the short-term future are solid.
Your institution can become a part of it. If compatible with the nature of your programs, recruiting international students can be a fantastic avenue for growth.