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Survey: International Student Candidates are Finding U.S. Schools by Smartphone

If your institution is trying to attract the attention of potential candidates from other countries, it had better have a decent mobile Web presence. Fifty-six percent of international millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) used a smartphone to search for and apply to colleges and universities in the United States while 26 percent used a tablet. Almost all — 91 percent — also used a PC during their search efforts. The same number uses the university Web site as their main source of information. Organic Web search was used by seven out of 10.

What fields most interest international Millennials? Business and management were the draw for 27 percent of students, engineering drew 18 percent and health professions drew 13 percent. That represents a total of 58 percent of non-American students.

These individuals want to study in the United States to expand career and life opportunities (79 percent) and because there were more "quality" options here than in their home countries (78 percent).

These results came from a survey of 4,852 U.S.-bound prospective international students between the ages of 17 and 36. The survey ran from October 2013 to March 2014, and the respondents are millennial students who hope to earn a bachelor's, master's or doctorate degree. Overall, the largest numbers of survey participants were from China and India, countries that also represent the two largest bases of international students now studying in the United States.

The study was conducted by World Education Services (WES), a nonprofit international-education research company that also provides credential evaluation services to international students and universities and colleges in the United States and Canada.

The decision about where to go is primarily influenced by the "university network," reported the researchers. This is a compilation of contacts the candidate makes among faculty, admissions officers, current students and alumni. Overall, 42 percent of respondents said the network was the most influential in regards to their decision of where to apply. However, for the youngest students — those pursuing bachelor's degrees — family influence reined.

In response, WES recommended that institutions "not only...convey their value proposition to students, but also [to] those relations who could potentially influence a student's application decisions."

When pursuing the younger students from other countries, certain types of information are more important. For example, the tuition and fees are cited by 38 percent of bachelor's candidates as a top information need compared to 32 percent of master's students. The younger candidates are also least likely to consider faculty research and expertise as important, but 20 percent reported that they are interested in reading about student services, including campus safety and student life.

"The survey results certainly highlight the fact that worldwide millennial students are just as technologically savvy as their American peers. Clearly, the world of recruiting international students is changing and U.S. higher education institutions really have to adapt their recruitment strategies to reflect this reality. If they do not, they are setting themselves up for failure in this very important and competitive segment," said Rahul Choudaha, WES' chief knowledge officer and senior director of strategic development. "Our research provides a valuable opportunity for colleges and universities to improve and even enact more effective international enrollment strategies which are future ready."

WES offered these recommendations for pursuing the millennial international student:

  • Adjust digital strategies to students' technology usage. Because the mobile device is so important to such a large number of these candidates, schools need to make their sites as "mobile friendly" as possible;
  • Form strategic relationships. Since the campus community "network" is so important in decision-making with these students, schools should pursue collaboration among the various groups and develop ways for them to interact with prospective students online; and
  • Customize content to appeal to specific segments. Bachelor's students are seeking different information from master's students. Institutions need to generate relevant content that will satisfy the information needs of each unique audience.

The full research report is available free through registration on this WES Web page.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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