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Recruiting Intelligence

How International Students Choose Where to Study

Sample: International students, USA vs Global
Question: Which of the following factors helped you to choose your institution? (%helped)
Wave: ISB Fall 2011

Source: i-graduate (www.i-graduate.org/northamerica) for the Fall 2011 International Student Barometer (ISB)

Do Your Recruitment Allocations Map to the Most Valuable Influencing Activities?

Read the table clockwise from the top. The red line indicates the percent of international students being influenced by friends (47%), parents (38%), and your website (23%), among other factors as they choose where to study in the US. These i-graduate survey results distinguish between the U.S. and other international study destinations (e.g. UK, Australia, Canada). The decision influencers are similar in their order, but they differ in the degree between U.S. and other study destinations. As we all know, it's a combination of factors. We believe university admissions and marketing staff need to prioritize which factors are most powerful and where to allocate institutional resources. Friends, parents and websites matter the most for U.S. and non-U.S. students. While rankings are quite a bit more important for the U.S. decision vs. other countries. With more higher education institutions located in the U.S. than any other country in the world, it makes sense that rankings would help those overseas narrow the overwhelming field quickly and easily. If you had more than 4,000 options when making a purchase decision, you'd be looking for some kind of "independent" filter as well.

We find several noteworthy oberservations in this research and other reports we've found on what influences the international student selection process. Peer groups and word of mouth are consistently powerful. From our experience, targeted e-mail marketing campaigns, landing pages, and social media have increased the degree, range, and success of "electronic word of mouth". It's all about the "share" button.

The power of this influence comes from the influence and authenticity of the referrer, the "friends," more than the channel or communication type (e.g. SKYPE, QQ, Social Media in general) that is used to convey the information. And yet, universities seem to spend less energy on involving current students in these social media communication efforts. In our minds, that is a significant disconnect.

Parents are also consistently powerful influencers, but we have not seen research showing how and where parents obtain their information. We can assume websites play a critical role for parents as they do for students. Interestingly, even more for non-U.S. universities than in the U.S. If universities want to win parents as influencers, they must ramp up their native language web-based content to make their attributes accessible to non-English speakers. This effort is a relatively small investment with seemingly significant payoff. Some schools want their applicants to demonstrate their English comprehension by keeping their international marketing materials (print and web-based) in English. We think this is a mistake. Let the ESL testing and your application process confirm the language skills of your international applicants. Don't use your website (and print) content, one of your most powerful marketing tools, as a limit to accessing your recruitment message. Win as many influencers as possible by creating native language materials.

As in other research, agents appear to have a smaller impact on the decision making that we would suppose. The explanation could be pronounced differences between countries in respect to the use of agents and counselors and so the averages result shows lower importance overall. We believe this may be a biased feedback on how students perceive the influencers or we, in the recruitment field, overestimate the importance of agents.

As we enter the less frequently mentioned influential factors, we assume that the statistical difference between the factors may not be as relevant any more. It is noteworthy that staff at colleges fairs, staff presentations, Education USA and virtual fairs all seem to measure negligible impact in the student's responses. And yet, some of these activities draw a significant percent of recruitment budgets.

Conclusion: We review this type of research carefully (see also "Competing for International Students") and conduct our own surveys and focus groups since we want to find the most effective ways to improve international student recruitment. We see an opportunity for many U.S. institutions to gain powerful influencers. We believe the wise allocation of resources favors enhanced printed and digital content with local language versions as well as use of targeted email marketing, landing pages and social media channels in local markets.

Topics: Insights