Higher Education: Improving Your International Student Numbers From the Office in 5 Steps


Selecting a university is a life changing decision for all prospective students. Today, thanks to the Internet, prospective students have thousands of universities to choose from out of many different destinations. Universities are now competing with each other over who can get the best message across to prospective international students around the world in order to recruit them.

Luckily for me, I work for a university that is heavily involved in International student recruitment and from my experiences I can say that there are still many universities out there that are not giving enough importance to international student recruitment. To give an example my director attended the NAFSA (National Association of Foreign Student Advisers) conference in the USA (2015) and was shocked to see that a student recruitment system far less superior than ours  was being introduced to universities.

Prospective international students are having a hard time easily accessing:

  • Admission Criteria
  • Scholarship Opportunities (if any)
  • Application Procedure

Without giving any names, many prospective students are finding it difficult to access the information above in a clear and efficient manner of many universities around the world including in many EU countries. Perhaps the demand for these universities are high anyway, which pushes international student recruitment reforms to the back of the pile when it comes to their policies; however there are many reasons why this should not be ignored.

International Students bring:

  • Increased International Outlook
  • Enriched Campus Culture
  • International Marketing (Organic)
  • New Ideas
  • Increased Awareness of Other Cultures
  • Increased Profits
  • Long Term Benefits for Future Recruitment

So I’ve put together 5 important steps to improve your international student numbers from your office.

1) Easy Access to Online Information

This may sound easy to do, but it requires a lot of thought and planning. How will you get your message across to the prospective students as quick as possible before they get bored, give up and move on to the next university? Your information should be accessible within 2 or 3 clicks. Some universities like to keep a corner of their home page dedicated to International students, so that as soon as the page opens, prospective students will see and click straight away to access to the information they are looking for. Some universities like to keep this information under a tab called international students, which is invisible unless you hover your mouse over it. Some universities like to keep the information under one general tab called undergraduate students, which then leads to the page you are looking for a few clicks later. As I mentioned above, the aim should be to help prospective international students get to this information as soon as they can. Therefore, if you cannot reach this information within 2-3 clicks, then a need of reform is suggested on your web page.

2) Display the Information Clearly

Once students get to the 1st page of admission criteria, it is important to keep other information related to scholarships, tuition, living costs, visa and accommodation visible as tabs on the side of the page. I would advise to add a frequently asked questions tab too, with the objective to cut down incoming email traffic. Additionally, many universities that are already heavily involved with international student recruitment have separated pages for admission criteria according to each country.  This can be optional as it might be a good idea to have admission criteria plus visa instructions all in one page for a specific country. Some universities prefer to display a long single table listing all accepted examinations and another table for visa instructions. If you do not have the resource and time to have a tailor made page for each country, then listing all criteria on a single page in a single table will do.

3) Application Procedure Reforms

The application procedure has to be as simple as it possibly can. A prospective student should be able to complete his/her application within 15 – 20 minutes providing they have their documents ready. A long and tough application period will put many students off. You may think that this will ensure that only the really serious applicants will apply. Not quite if you ask me. Put an application fee between 50-100 USD, I think this may be a more effective filter. In my view, there is no need for motivation and reference letters. I know that many universities use this to try and differentiate applicants from one another, but do they also know that half the time these letters are not even mostly written by the students themselves? There are departments in many high schools around the world which heavily assist in writing these letters. There is huge competition among high schools over who will send the most students abroad to top universities, especially  the Ivy League Colleges in the US. Universities spend so much precious time reading these reference and motivation letters for nothing. Today, in a world where the Internet is now so dominant, I would suggest universities to have short 10 minute interviews with serious prospective students instead, with a couple of clear cut questions.

Additionally, there are some very good online application platforms available for universities to purchase. With the assistance of web developers who have previous experience in this field, a fresh looking, user friendly and tailor made application platform could be created for your university at a reasonable cost. This platform would not only be a platform for application, but also would provide automated statistics essential for your international marketing strategies for the next intake. Feel free to contact me for recommendations.

4) Follow Up Your Applications

In every intake it is very likely that you will have a leakage of applicants. These are applicants which have applied but then have not proceeded with their applications due to a number of reasons. One could be because the student is still unsure if they are making the right decision or not. Another reason could be that they do not check their email inbox as frequently as they should do. It is up to their teachers and mentors in high school to encourage their students (including their families) to have email accounts in secondary school. In many underdeveloped and even developing countries, I have observed that it is common to come across families which do not approve of their children getting so familiar with the Internet at an early age, as they believe this will distract them from their studies. Thus, when the time comes to apply for university, the prospective student does not yet develop the habit of frequently checking his/her email account.

In order to prevent leakage of applicants, the first step would be to contact all idle applications via email first. If they have provided a second email address in their application then ‘cc’ the secondary email too. If you do not receive any reply, then it is important to call the applicant via telephone. I have found that many of the prospective students that fall into this category need a little push in order for them to proceed with their application. The objective is to build a good rapport between the applicant and yourself. Give them the confidence they are looking for to go ahead and take this life changing step. It will make them feel better about their choice and also respect you for taking the time to call them. They will feel that you care, which can prove to be a real game changer. If that still doesn’t work, the application will fail. However, the good impression that you left may work for your benefit in the future if you are recommended to another prospective student.

5) Social Media Marketing

I’m sure you have heard this before, but I still feel the need to stress the importance of Social Media Marketing. Not just for Facebook, but for Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Successful marketing in all five social media channels will definitely have a positive impact on your international student numbers. There are many professional marketing companies out there offering services to do this for you. DON’T DO IT! Sorry for those offended, but ridiculously expensive amounts are being charged for so little. With just a few clicks and 10 minutes of your time, you can organize a successful social media campaign yourself at a third of the cost. If you haven’t had any training on social media marketing before, there are hundreds of free tutorials of how to do this on the web and even on the social media channels themselves. Use social media marketing as a strategy that will pull prospective students to your website and increase applications in the long run as well as increasing the brand awareness of the university.

Finally, if you are working for a university that is looking to increase its international student ratio on campus, increase its international outlook, increase its brand awareness and consequently increase its profits, then these 5 steps will help you do so without leaving the office.

Good Luck!



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