Five Website Tips for International
Student Recruitment

Even as the demand in international markets for a US education continues to rise, more institutions are responding to budget pressures in part by stepping up recruitment of international students, who typically bring significantly more tuition revenue than domestic students. According to the Institute of International Education, in 2008-09, more than 26,000 Chinese students were enrolled in college in the United States, up from 8,000 students eight years earlier. The New York Times has playfully dubbed this "the China Boom." US colleges continue to see rising enrollments from India and other nations, as well, with India's top education officials seeking partnerships with US institutions for help in boosting college attainment rates.

Even enrollment of international graduate students is rising after a recent lull, according to an annual report by the Council of Graduate Schools.

However, if you are not an Ivy League school with a well-established reputation in your target countries, how can you ramp up your international recruiting efforts swiftly?

Web marketing guru Bob Johnson, president of Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC, notes that your website is the first introduction many international students will have of your institution; if you have designed your site with only US students in mind, you will miss many of your best opportunities to interest students from other nations. In an interview with Academic Impressions this week and drawing on examples of effective website design from universities throughout the First World, Johnson offered these five tips to get your website "recruitment-ready for visits from potential international students."

A Home Page Especially for Potential Students

First, Johnson suggests that students usually come to a website with a specific task in mind; there is specific information they seek. Your website's ability to facilitate swift completion of that information-gathering "task" is directly related to whether visitors to the site have a positive experience. This suggests the need to establish a home page for a specific audience, pared down to its essentials.

"At many websites for international students, site navigation for new students suffers because the home page is designed not only for new students, but also for current international students as well as the faculty and staff who work with these students. The result is sometimes a confusing mix of headings and links that obscure the content most important for potential students."
Bob Johnson, Bob Johnson Consulting LLC

Johnson notes that Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK addressed this issue effectively by designing a home page especially for future international students and by ensuring that the most critical, "can't miss" elements are easy to spot upon a quick scan of the page, including:

  • A search feature for available undergraduate and graduate programs
  • Upcoming international recruitment visits
  • Admissions criteria
  • Photos introducing blogs written by six international students

Information in Several Languages

Accurate translation of your Web content into another language may be an investment, but Johnson advocates it, noting that offering critical information about your university and the admissions process in the languages of target countries will help students share information with family and friends who may not have strong English skills.

Johnson points to the University of Sydney in Australia as a key example; this institution's page for prospective international students includes:

  • Links to pages in 11 languages that include key information about the university, such as academic programs available, costs, and sports and fitness activities
  • The ability for visitors to download a four-page PDF brochure about the university in any of 11 languages

Connect Visitors with Currently Enrolled International Students

Johnson also highlights a unique "Contact a Current Student" feature for international students visiting American University's Web site.

The page at AU includes:

  • A list of 13 students from 12 countries, listing both the country and the student's major
  • A profile of each student with information about their experience at AU
  • A number to call with questions about the university

"This is an effective way to showcase the countries represented at the university. Identify current international students at your own institution who are willing to share their experiences and answer questions."
Bob Johnson, Bob Johnson Consulting LLC

Offer Region-Specific Information

Johnson suggests that prospective international students will often want to see information specific to students from their region of the world.

For example, the University of Melbourne in Australia has prepared content for its website specific to nine world regions. For each region, the website lists:

  • Scholarship, grant, and sponsorship opportunities
  • Photos and profiles for students from that region
  • Visa and English language requirements

Engaging through Social Media

"Social media has spread throughout most of the world. While different sites are more popular in different countries, adding at least Facebook to a marketing communications mix makes good sense given its rapid growth both inside and outside the United States."
Bob Johnson, Bob Johnson Consulting LLC

Johnson recommends visiting Marquette University's Facebook page for "Marquette International Students" to see examples of how a Facebook page can be used to connect both current and visiting international students with the campus experience.

For example, Marquette's page includes:

  • A regular listing of events on campus for international students, as well as general campus events
  • Contest announcements for an upcoming photo contest for international students
  • Links to the Marquette website and to YouTube videos

Finally, for an example of active discussion threads on Facebook for international students, Johnson directs attention to Macquarie University's Facebook page. Macquarie's page also offers a lot of insight into what questions international students are asking about the university and campus life.