Recruiting and Admitting International Students: Key Considerations

Unless you are already enrolling high numbers of international students, it's likely that stepping up recruiting efforts will require significant work in revisiting your admissions communications and processes. Many processes that are "tried and true" in the US may throw unintended obstacles in the way of international applicants, and simply translating your current communications and documents may leave international prospects and parents at a loss to find the information they need most.

To gather some expert advice, we reached out to Bob Johnson, president of Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC; Marjorie Smith, associate dean and director of international student admission at the University of Denver; and Kevin Spensley, director of international marketing, recruitment, and enrollment at Saint Michael's College.

Your Website and the International Student

Web marketing guru Bob Johnson notes that your website is the first introduction many international students will have to 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. Johnson offers these tips to get your website "recruitment-ready for visits from potential international students":

  • Offer a landing page for international students and ensure 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 and admissions criteria)
  • Invite your current international students to blog about their experiences, and feature these student blogs on the landing page
  • Identify student leaders who are willing to serve as resources to interested students from their home countries, and offer a "Contact a Current Student" feature on your website
  • Offer links to pages with region-specific information (such as scholarship, grant, and sponsorship opportunities; photos and profiles for students from that region; and visa and English language requirements)

In short, offer the most critical information readily and provide international students with easy ways to connect with other students from their own country.


For specific examples of how other institutions in the US, UK, and Australia have provided websites designed for international applicants, read our article "Five Website Tips for International Student Recruitment."

The Overseas Visit

Particularly if you are new to recruiting in a given region and are planning to send your own recruiters overseas, do your due diligence in learning as much as you can about the region and opportunities for recruiting there:

  • Make sure you're choosing the right event -- research the fair organizer or the tour organizer, read reports from previous years, seek references, and ensure that the event is attracting the right profile of students for your institution. What other institutions are attending the event? Are they your peers?
  • Evaluate publications in the target country that you can advertise in, considering their distribution and reach into your target market
  • Research holiday times, local cultural events and traditions, appropriate methods of address, social conventions concerning gifts, etc.

Sending recruiters overseas is a significant investment, and you need to go in as informed as possible.


In our article "Recruiting Chinese Students," Tom Melcher, chairman of Zinch China, offers practical advice for how institutions new to recruiting in the Chinese market can define their specific competitive advantage and focus dollars and effort on initiatives that are likely to work, while not wasting time on efforts that likely will not work.

Auditing Your Pre-Arrival Communications

"Don't proceed with the mindset that if you travel to meet applicants, the rest will just happen. Most of the work is after you get back (follow-up and pre-arrival communications) or before you ever go (in terms of having your own shop in order)."
Marjorie Smith, University of Denver

"You have to start thinking through your processes for pre-arrival communications," adds Kevin Spensley. "Otherwise, you'll lose a lot of students just because the application and enrollment documents got lost in the process."

For example:

  • How do you ask students to connect with your institution? (If you use an 800 number, this may not work overseas)
  • Do you ask students to send payment in an envelope with an SASE (again, an SASE is not going to work in all cases outside the US)

You need to ensure that your shop is able to adapt its requirements for documentation to the needs to international students, and that your shop is prepared to read international student applications faster and provide quick turnaround on inquiries to accommodate the timeline required by the visa process.

If you can, form a group of volunteers from among your current international students, faculty, and alumni to audit your website and your pre-arrival communications to:

  • Note cultural differences
  • Note terminology that may confuse international students and parents
  • Identify steps in the process that could be improved

Also in this Issue

A Whole-Campus Approach: A Letter from Amit Mrig, President, Academic Impressions

Does Your Curriculum Serve International Students?

Recruiting and Admitting International Students: Key Considerations

The Transition In: Setting International Students Up for Academic Success

The Transition Out: Moving International Students into the Donor Pipeline