Are post-pandemic shifts creating risks or opportunities for international student recruitment in the USA?

A smiling student on the University of Hartford's campus

Geo-political dynamics, burgeoning economies and lasting effects from the pandemic are testing how universities engage with international students. There are now more than eight billion people in the world, a third of whom are 20 or younger, and demand for post-graduate education is increasing. The options for increasingly selective students are growing, too. Heavy investment in China is yielding reputational results. Universities in India’s major cities sit in the QS World University Rankings top 250. American institutions waiting for pre-pandemic paradigms to return risk finding themselves in the cold. They must ask if their internationalization strategies remain fit for purpose.

So how can international student recruitment be effective today, and long-term?

With near 30 years international student expertise at Study Group, we support 50 university partners including DePaul University, James Madison University and Long Island University, and recommend the following key considerations.

Understand the opportunity

The number of Indian international students has overtaken Chinese students in the USA and UK. While lifted travel restrictions have seen renewed appetite from China, we’re currently connecting universities with students from 120 countries – a healthy indicator for growing international student cohorts through diversification. There is application demand across South Asia and the Middle East, and we are engaged on trends in Africa.

Headlines are important, but detail should inform your decisions. Use market insights to identify where students who are the right fit for your courses and experiences are located; this includes coming to grips with admissions requirements and variations. If working with a partner, ask them to provide sample credential evaluations, and establish standardized operating procedures to help navigate the complexities.

At our partner Florida Atlantic University, where we recruited 30% of the 2022/23 international student cohort directly into undergraduate and postgraduate study, our data driven insights and global network enable us to connect with students of best fit, supporting those students on the path to success.

Understand how you stack up

Students face multitudinous study abroad options. Evaluate your student offer and brand against other universities aiming to build student connections in those countries. This should inform your recruitment strategy, product recommendations, and your institution’s projected engagement with students in those countries, as well as future opportunities.

Clearly articulate your relevance and points of difference, highlight the quality of your academic programs, access to internships and job opportunities, your location benefits, reputation, and value.

Working with a partner established in the industry will give you access to a wide network of trusted education agents and expert marketeers. Ask prospective partners to detail their ways of working with agents, establish their reputation in key countries and seek examples of effective, tailored communications and marketing. By working closely with our partner the University of Hartford, our focus on recruiting students of best fit has delivered a near threefold increase in confirmations this past year.

Develop your admissions capacity and capability for seamless enrollments

Having engaged the international students that will thrive at your university, you are on a journey with them. Admission is a critical moment in their experience, but handling application peaks, fluctuating student study preferences, and the frequency of changes across international recruitment can put strain on otherwise capable in-house teams.

International students are making a step change in their life. It’s exciting, but the unknowns can cause anxiety. Supporting your admissions team to deliver fast decisions and responses on applications will provide your prospective students with clarity and assurance, discouraging them to consider alternative options.

Systematic completion checks, pre-assessment of applications and robust academic credentials evaluations can reduce backlogs, drive efficiencies and speed up the process for your future students. The experience can be further enhanced by offering alternative, appropriate routes for students if they don’t qualify for their first-choice program.

With effective process and knowledge upskill, your admissions function will soon become a valuable point of connection for students with your university.

Of course, this requires capacity. As Provost Katherine Black at University of Hartford says, “Universities rightly want and need to spend resources and energies on delivering quality education, learning experiences, and support for their students. The rapidity of change in the international student recruitment landscape and increasing emphasis that universities are placing on their internationalization strategies makes strategic partnership an attractive option.”

It’s through partnership that Florida Atlantic University enhanced admissions capabilities. With seamless integration of our technologies and operations, we enabled the university to grow their international student community on campus by 23% in fall 2022 and 42% in spring 2023 compared to the previous years.

International recruitment is dynamic and fast-paced but with careful planning and focus you will connect with talented international students. They will contribute to the richness and diversity of your institution and you will nurture graduates with the skills and perspectives required of tomorrow’s leaders.

This article originally appeared on Gateway Voices. Visit their website here.

To discover how our experience and expertise can help your international strategy achieve its full potential, please reach out.