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Recruiting Intelligence

Competing for International Students

Source: WES Research and Advisory Services (Author: R. Choudaha)

Targeted marketing leads to higher yield. Admissions offices need to direct limited resources to achieve the highest admissions yield and desired diversity from international student recruitment. Marketing to students based on specific criteria is one important technique. But limited data in the fragmented international student market makes segmentation more difficult. The World Education Services (WES) research group published an interesting research report based on a sample of 1,600 students already studying in the U.S., creating four student segments across different geographic regions based on academic preparedness and financial means (see chart 1). The segments are called Strugglers (21%), Explorers (25%), Strivers (30%) and Highfliers (24%).* The research also looks at the regional distribution of the segments. For example, strivers with higher academic preparedness and less financial means account for a higher percentage of students coming from India vs. a higher percentage of less prepared students and greater financial means coming from China. According to WES, the information-seeking behavior differs one segment to the next, having implications for appropriate marketing techniques and channels to best reach students.

Chart 2 above shows that websites and family are the most critical information channels for prospective students. Beyond those channels, the WES report states: "Social media is a recruitment channel with low barriers of engagement that is appropriate for reaching all international student segments because its popularity does not vary greatly by segment". The report's findings conclude that skillfully managed social media accounts have high potential for converting prospects. The report highlights the difference in digital behavior between markets. 80 percent of Chinese students check their local Chinese social media platforms on a daily or weekly basis and have very low participation in U.S. social media vs. Indian students, who show an 88% participation on U.S. platforms and very low affinity to local social media.

The research quantifies the use of different information channels by student segment and by country of origin. For example, students in the Explorers and Strugglers categories, i.e., with lower levels of academic preparedness, showed use agents to access university information more than other student categories.
The research points out how to develop a broader (Social Media) and more targeted and analytical approach (Segmentation) to marketing to international students. In contrast to domestic U.S. recruiting, where universities can purchase readily available lists based on GPA, SAT, AP classes, districts, etc., broad-based international recruitment must rely on communication-based segmentation approaches. Students and parents can be attracted and self-identified through thoughtful and targeted messaging. This report shows one initial segmentation approach.

Here is the link to the full report (requires a registration with WES). WES is also offering a webinar on the research on Thursday, September 6th at 2pm EST.


  Academic Preparedness Financial Resources
Strivers High Low
Strugglers Low Low
Explorers Low High
Highfliers High High
Topics: Insights