In a world of fast-paced activity and seemengly never ending responsibilities, it isn't always easy to find the time to listen. It's important to take a break from charting progress, developing novel programs and tools, and talking through brochures, websites, social media and face-to-face. Listening is critical. With that in mind we recently conducted a focus group with international students, many of whom are college freshmen, to take the time to listen to what was important to them in the recruitment process. We learned four key takeaway messages which are outlined below.
Rankings are important.
While rankings continue to be viewed with more importance by some students than others, pretty much everyone in the focus group relied on rankings for guiding the search and decision making processes. US News and World Report holds real value to the students and parents, particularly in China, but there were other ranking systems that the students mentioned. A Canadian international student seemed least influenced by rankings and vocalized her skepticism of what she referred to as a contrived number to judge universities. Her voice was in the minority-- students continue to be interested in statistics.
This doesn't mean that if your institution doesn't rank highly on the main US News and World Report ranking you will have no chance of recruiting international students. There are countless other rankings reported regularly that you can use to highlight your institution. Furthermore there are many ways to positively spin lesser known rankings in your favor.
Universities should develop a special page for international students.
All of the students mentioned that university websites are cumbersome and overwhelming. A dedicated page for international students with pertinent information would be most helpful for students as they move through the funnel from prospects to enrolling students. We need to make the information easily accessible to our prospective international students. They shouldn't need to spend hours navigating through cumbersome websites, searching for information.
Universities need to better highlight unique facilities and features.
The students mentioned that many of the most impressive features of the universities they researched weren’t learned from the website or from the university directly. They were exposed to exciting aspects of campuses in a more roundabout way (i.e. College Confidential, other message boards, social media). The students want to learn about unique qualities of various universities, what distinguishes one institution from another, campus traditions, etc. International students want to learn about opportunities to get involved, the area surrounding campus, and special student perks (i.e. bus passes, free public transportation, free/discounted tickets to cultural venues). This content should be available on the university website, not strictly from third party sites.
Universities need to monitor their presence on College Confidential and similar sites.
"Listening” to the conversations among prospective and current students as they pertain to your institution are critical. Maintaining a positive presence on College Confidential is important. This means assigning someone on staff to peridodically check what is being written about your institution and then, if necessary, turning the conversation into a positive one.