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KYN 2024: What Matters Most to Prospective International Students

What matters most to prospective international students 2


Students as consumers and the consumer insights that matter.  

Getting to the mindset of international and domestic students is central to what we do. Last week we unveiled a new study on career pathways for international students seeking US work experience. If you haven’t had a chance to review the report, it’s worth your time. The report provides fresh insights into what a US degree actually produces for international students, offering a new way to quantify the value of your degree for all of those ROI-minded student prospects (and their families).  

This week we shift our focus to other factors that influence international student decisions to study abroad, including how the US presidential election factors into their choices. We did this research back in 2016 (the Trump/Clinton match up). Now we have new student data to compare and, YES! it is fascinating. 

In partnership with global study choice platform Studyportals, we distributed a 13-question survey via email to Studyportals account holders and placed banner ads visible to their website visitors. All told, 2,492 respondents from 106 countries across the globe participated. A significant percentage of responses came from students in African nations.  

There were some real surprises. Spoiler Alert: 2024 is NOT 2016. 

Our next opportunities to meet! 

GMAC Annual Conference, New Orleans, June 19 – 21, 2024. Ben will be presenting TODAY on how global elections are influencing student mobility. More than just the US presidential election has the power to upend what students will choose to do next.  

EducationUSA, Washington, D.C., July 30-August 1. Ben and Virginia Commonwealth University SIO Jill Blondin will share insights on Navigating Budget Challenges in International Recruitment: Practical Strategies for Every Phase.  

Be in touch! We’ll buy the coffee. 

Today, we share the Know Your Neighborhood (KYN) 2024 Survey Summary Report with you – our first post-pandemic addition to the KYN series. Previous KYN full reports are available to Intead Plus members. The 2019 report on emerging markets (Africa and Latin America) still has legs. The others have some still valid nuggets on cultural differences even though they are now 5 to 7 years old. Helpful stuff considering that 50,000+ international students completed our surveys. 

In our latest KYN report, we unlock current insights into the preferences and motivations of prospective international students, including the impact of political fatigue, observations on a possible rise in cynicism, and more. We share observations that suggest these feelings have opened some students to studying in previously avoided countries. And, of course, we get into the influence of families on prospective student decision-making. 

If you’ve been following along these past few weeks, you already know there has been a shift in priorities among international education seekers since our last KYN study done in the midst of and after the wild and surprising 2016 election year. Other than perhaps Karl Rove, no one really thought Mr. Trump would win in 2016. 

At the time, very few (14%) international student respondents said they would be more likely to study in the US should Donald Trump win the election. This go ‘round that number jumps to 30% who say more likely 

Asked another way, in 2016 the majority (54%) said they would be less likely to study in the US should Mr. Trump win. That number dropped considerably in 2024 to 28%. What’s more, 42% this year say it won’t make a difference who wins. It’s just not as important to today’s cohort.  

We connected with so many of you over these stats at NAFSA a few weeks ago (what a week that was!). But, if we didn’t get that chance to chat in person, not to worry. Today’s summary report will give you what you need to know about the current international student mindset. It offers the core quantitative facts from our research as well as our recommendations on how your team may want to react to this news.   

Do, however, stay tuned as our data analysts are still wading through the quite telling qualitative responses. We are getting more insights organized for publication later this summer. (Hey, if you are reading this based on a share from a colleague, be sure to subscribe to our blog!) 

Read on to download our KYN 2024 Survey Summary Report and for 4 key takeaways from the study… 

Download KYN 2024 Summary Report      

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The profile of our respondents matched the profile of many of the most engaged international education-seekers.  Recall, all respondents are proactively seeking information from Studyportals. Most (58%) were from Africa, though responses came in from around the world. Of the 2,492 international education seeker respondents, 72% are interested in graduate, post-graduate, or doctoral programs, 21% are interested in undergraduate programs, 3% are interested in high school programs, and 3% are interested in certificates. 

Here are 4 key takeaways based on what they had to say: 

  1. STEM is top-sought concentration. As far as disciplines go, most (53%) are looking for STEM studies, 27% would like to pursue Arts & Humanities programs, and 20% are for Business & Finance. Surprising? Not really. We’ve known this for quite some time. It’s where the jobs are – especially for international students who have their eyes on OPT. Standard OPT visas are good for one year, but STEM OPT gives F1 students an additional 24 months to work in their desired field.  A win on so many levels. This is an area of market research where we are diving deep. Our just published research with NAFSA is creating a stir and we are nowhere near done with that. Add to that our research with F1 Hire published last week and our field is getting a view into student career path options and opportunities like never before. This stuff is recruitment marketing gold! 
  1. Career advancement is top motivator. See bullet above. Or any of our latest research. The “what’s next” beyond the degree is absolutely a priority for these students. In our latest KYN study, career advancement emerged as the top motivator, both for individuals responding (84%) and for the way they perceive their family’s motivation for them to study abroad (>99%). Falling in line just behind career advancement is the opportunity to bring skills back home (74%). We’ve known this for some time as well. Our current research validates the need to talk to both students and their families about outcomes. Our recent and ongoing research on the topic is where you start as you seek to build and diversify your enrollment numbers.  
  1. Discrimination concerns are less a factor. Socio-politically, concerns about religious/racial discrimination, personal safety, and political instability had no influence on the desire to study abroad for 44% of respondents. South American and Central American survey takers responded even more vigorously, with roughly 75% citing no influence. While challenges of acceptance may exist (in fact have sadly been on full display on US campuses of late), this cohort is determined to pursue their goals regardless. Hey, the world is a crazy, scary place. Many students seeking to study abroad have a passion and a fearlessness. That doesn’t mean they don’t need your full support to apply, arrive, integrate, and glide right into that career. 
  1. The US presidential election reveals regional differences. We were surprised to see that 42% of respondents across the board said it doesn’t make a difference who wins the 2024 US presidential election. The 2016 cohort felt quite differently with the majority stating they would be less likely to study in the US should Mr. Trump win. But these are different days. It may be that the US political circus is simply politics as usual to these young people. Afterall, we’ve all been watching the clown show for the better part of eight years now. This is all this cohort of students (now 18+ years old) have ever known. Another important point: it could be they are more pragmatic in their focus. These students are extremely focused on the personal return on investment and less on who is in the White House. 

Yet, there are other surprising stats when you look more closely. You’ll want to download the full report and dive into the details – all beautifully presented thanks to Intead’s analysts, data interpreters, writers, and designers. True to form, this team rocks! 

Our report sheds important light on the evolving international student mindset that will help support your team as they develop plans for your fall 2025 intake. And, should you need help with those plans, be in touch: info@intead.com. 

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