International Student Recruitment: How Mobile Technology Can Set Your Institution Apart

Submitted by on Thu, 04/07/16

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The world of international student recruitment is changing.

That’s largely due to the fact that technology has fundamentally altered the way prospective students search for schools.

College applicants around the globe are just as technologically savvy as their American peers, and are using mobile devices to do everything from research schools to virtually touring prospective campuses and even completing applications.

In such an environment, U.S. colleges and universities must adapt recruitment strategies to keep pace with the new reality. The alternative is to fall behind in an increasingly competitive segment.

Not only are international students an important source of economic sustainability and growth for many state and local economies, they’re also a tremendous growth market for colleges and universities.

A report published by Uversity entitled “Recruiting Overseas: 2015 International Student Trends,” provides a wealth of compelling information about international applicants, including statistics regarding the changing behavior of such students.

In particular, the report notes:

  • International enrollment has grown steadily for eight consecutive years. It has increased from 564,766 students in 2005-2006 to 886,052 students in 2013 – 2014. That’s a stunning 57% increase in total enrollment.
  • International students value a US-based education and will apply to multiple institutions to ensure that they set themselves up for successful careers.
  • 95% of international students own a smartphone.
  • Prospective students report that they would like to be able to communicate with admissions counselors, international services, and students throughout the admissions process.

Piecing these facts together creates a picture of a market ripe for mobile marketing and communication. There’s a myriad of times during the college review, application and admissions process where such communication would be critical, potentially setting your institution apart.

The Importance of a Mobile Strategy in the International Student Market
External pressures on domestic enrollment combined with a growing demand for a US-based postsecondary education are just part of the reason why institutions are recruiting and enrolling international students at higher rates.

There’s also been a rise in undergraduate enrollment among students from China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, whose governments have created scholarships to study in the United States.

More than 80% of the international students who participated in the Uversity study reported applying to at least three U.S. institutions.

Another study, this one conducted by World Education Services (WES), a nonprofit international-education research company, found that 56% percent of international Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) used a smartphone to search for and apply to U.S. colleges and universities. An additional 26% used a tablet.

In such an environment, the importance of developing an international mobile and digital strategy cannot be overstated.

A good mobile strategy includes institutions making relevant information visible and accessible to international students. This means, at minimum, designing a dedicated, mobile-friendly, international admission webpage, one that provides such things as links to scholarship and financial aid information, sample application essays and even instructions for visa applications. Beyond a mobile-responsive website, a native mobile app is an even more engaging means of communication with international students – ensuring they can immediately access only the most relevant information with one tap, without even needing to navigate through many pages on a mobile website.

With digital and mobile technology already a big part of their lives, international students are accustomed to building connections and conducting business through such avenues. A well thought out mobile strategy can be designed to correspond with the varying and unique usage patterns of students around the world.

Using Mobile Apps to Attract and Interact with International Students
Students already use mobile and digital technology in a variety of ways when investigating schools.

In the Uversity study, students ranked their admission-related mobile actions. The most popular included:

  • Visiting university websites
  • Downloading university apps
  • Viewing university social media
  • Taking a virtual campus tour
  • Submitting a college application

Mobile devices make it convenient for international students to college shop worldwide, gathering information from a college or university’s website, app and social media.

What’s more, a well-developed mobile presence can help international students overcome challenges unique to their remote location.

Take for instance the tradition of visiting college campuses, which is often a strong indicator of enrollment.

When it comes to international students, limited funding often means travel to the United States to tour schools is out of the question. The Uversity study reported that more than 50% of international students did not personally visit campuses in the United States.

This is a prime opportunity for mobile and digital technology to engage such students, providing virtual tours and illustrating college life.

Schools can also engage international students by sharing information not just about the school, but about American culture as a whole. Particularly if students have not visited in person. What should international students expect on day one? How do American customs and behaviors differ from what they know at home? These are just two examples of how mobile technology can connect with the international audience.

Preferred Methods of Communication – Including Messaging In Apps
International students prefer to communicate via email, but also rely heavily on other avenues depending on their home country, according to the Uversity study.

Time zone differences and language barriers present challenges when communicating overseas. Faced with such issues, email often provides the simplest, but maybe not the most expedient way to obtain answers to questions.

Real-time communication channels, such as live chat and messaging apps, meanwhile, offer such students an opportunity for back-and-forth conversations and the ability to seek answers to more complicated questions and concerns.

Messaging apps in fact, are highly valued abroad. Nearly two-thirds of international students in the Uversity study reported using WhatsApp to communicate. Others meanwhile, use Yik Yak, WeChat and GroupMe.

By taking advantage of native app messaging capabilities, and by integrating with existing messaging and social channels, schools have a unique opportunity to communicate with these students on their device of choice – mobile.

Moving Forward
Schools can make standalone apps, or unique versions of existing campus apps just for the international student segment, designed not only to entice students to apply and enroll, but to assist after they enroll as well, helping with the adjustment to life in the U.S.

Given their physical distance and cultural differences, international students may very well require more communication and support beginning with admissions and continuing through the first day of class, and beyond. Reaching this audience on mobile devices has become one of the most effective means of providing such support and setting your institution apart from the competition.

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