What do international students expect and want from North American universities?

international students

North America remains a highly attractive region for international students.  

However, recent data from HESA, OpenDoors, Erudura and Office for Immigration suggests that the global competition for international students has slowed enrolments in the US – with nearly five percent fewer international students enrolling following the pandemic.   

Studies have also shown that university enquiry teams are not currently meeting students’ expectations when it comes to responding to enquiries or communicating the results of applications.  

According to the QS International Student Survey 2023, almost two thirds of students interested in North America expect a complete and personalised response to an enquiry within three days. The number of students who expect a response to their application within one week has risen from 49% in 2021 to 55% in 2023. 

Additionally, about a quarter of North American students expect daily contact from a university once they’ve received an offer and half expect weekly contact.   

How can universities use these insights to improve their student recruitment marketing strategy? 

Meet students where they are: What does it mean? 

Any student recruitment strategy should focus on putting the messages students need on the platforms they’re using – that’s how you meet students where they are. Using various channels – email, social media, phone calls – you can personalise the content presented on a platform according to your audience’s interests and motivations.  

Student ambassadors have proven to be a very effective tool in student recruitment strategies. So much so, an astounding 83% of Gen Z and Millennials trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and Gen Z considers videos to be more valuable than any other generation. 

Using the data from the QS International Student Survey 2023, institutions can begin to understand the preferred social media channels of prospective international students to develop a targeted student recruitment strategy that focuses on engaging with students on platforms they are most active on – ultimately increasing their chances of attracting and enrolling more students.  

What sources of information do prospective international students find most useful when researching a university? 

Heading to university is a big decision, so students will use information channels to source the details. Being active across many channels may also enable you to target different audiences. It is important that you have up-to-date information wherever your students are looking for it, and, if they can contact you directly, you must respond in a timely and helpful manner.   

According to 74.2% of prospective international students from the US and Canada, official university websites remain the best way to gather information about an institution, even in a social media driven world.  

A further 35% of prospective US students and 39% of prospective Canadian students are interested in contacting a university by telephone to obtain more information.    

What social media channels do prospective international students like to engage with? 

YouTube and Instagram were the most popular platforms for prospective international students when interacting or engaging with North American institutions. This comes as no surprise given their video and photo-based nature – they’re ideal platforms for showcasing a school’s culture and environment. 

LinkedIn was ranked the next most preferred platform for students – but with a slightly higher interest among those pursuing university in Canada. Given Canada’s very competitive job market universities should expect career-motivated students to become increasingly common and consider fully utilising LinkedIn as a student recruitment platform. 

LinkedIn’s prevalence among students should motivate universities to offer more tailored career services to help students maximise their LinkedIn profiles. This should include resources for students to create a professional profile, access job listings and develop relationships with potential employers.  

Universities may consider engaging with prospective students with employability-based content on LinkedIn and a focus on student life and culture on Instagram, for instance. 

TikTok is a powerful marketing tool that is gaining momentum among prospective students seeking to engage with institutions online – Interestingly, 15% of female respondents are using TikTok to research institutions in Canada, compared to just six percent of men. This same gender difference also exists among US respondents but is less pronounced with 19% female and 13% male. 

A previous article by QS Commercial Lead, Kesh Patel, discussed the challenge of maintaining student engagement: “One thing that I often see institutions overlook is retargeting. Institutions often spend considerable budgets on email campaigns and display advertising but often overlook reinforcing the message through retargeting activity on social media.”   

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