10 Ways to Recruit International Students


Recruiting students from around the world can be a truly challenging endeavor. With colleges nationwide looking to increase international enrollment, the pressure on college recruiters is higher than ever to succeed in a venture that is full of complications and nuances. The are barriers can be as simple as compatible technology and as complex as deeply rooted cultural differences.

Below are ten ways to recruit international students. This list is by no means exhaustive, but if you’re scrounging for new ideas, it does offer a good place to start.

Category 1: Armchair Recruiting

  1. Online materials (emails, websites, social media)
    This is the first and most obvious channel to use when recruiting international students. You’re in one country, they’re in another. Postage will cost an arm and a leg, and there is the issue of materials getting lost or taking too long to arrive. The Internet, alternatively, is instant! All they have to do is access a computer, tablet, or phone with Internet service, and all of your materials will be immediately available for consumption.

One thing to be wary about when using online materials as your main source of communication, however, is the native language barrier. Not so much for the students, whose grasp of English will be determined by a language proficiency test later on, anyway, but for their the true decision-makers: the parents. One way around this, outside of offering translations of all of your materials (which can be time-consuming and costly), is to rely heavily on pictures and graphs. As they say, a picture can be worth a thousand words!

One other consideration, when utilizing online materials for recruitment, is the social media platforms you intend to use. Be very certain that the platform you’ve chosen will work for your market! For instance, Facebook is blocked in China; you should use Renren instead. Likewise, Twitter, while available in China, is not a favorite social media site; instead, Sina Weibo is considered “the Twitter of China.”

  1. Print materials
    Print materials can be very effective way to get in front of prospective international students and parents, especially in places where Internet access is less widely available. Advertising in local publications is one way to get noticed, or you can distribute materials to local high schools. In the latter case, you’ll want to distribute these materials with an eye toward building relationships with counselors, administrators, and teachers who can be influential in guiding students in their college search process. Appeal to these people, and they’ll be your best international advocates.
  1. Webinars

In addition to being a great channel through which you can share information, webinars offer another relationship-building tool. There are live human beings on either end of the interaction, communicating in real time, so you can offer useful Q&A sessions. Another idea is to involve faculty from the target students’ culture. Doing so can not only offer a source of familiarity, but it also gives students and parents the opportunity to speak in their native language, which can be especially useful for parents.

  1. Agreements with government-sponsored programs
    In many foreign countries, governments encourage students to study abroad in the United States and often offer scholarship programs to enable them to do this. (One example is the Science Without Borders program in Brazil.) This is an advantage for you, but for a student to enroll at your institution through one of these programs, the institution must be on that program’s approved list. Get on these lists by contacting the country’s embassy or education minister.
  1. Facilitate connections with alumni and current international students

This is very similar to processes to what you probably already undertake for domestic students. However, the trick here is to give international students a sense of familiarity by connecting them with students “just like them” who can answer specific questions that are unique to studying outside of their home country.

Category 2: Recruiting across the border

  1. High school visits

Assuming you have a travel budget, this is a very effective way to get in front of students and give your recruitment efforts a personal touch. You can schedule these yourself, or in collaboration with other universities to run joint information sessions for students. The advantage to the latter method is that students attending these sessions can hypothetically get more “bang for their buck,” learning about several schools at once rather than sitting in on individual institution’s information sessions. However, make sure that the schools you choose to travel with are different enough from your own, so that your competitive advantage is clear!

  1. International college fairs

While these fairs offer students even more “bang for their buck” than joint high school visits, international college fairs can be extremely expensive and time –consuming. Therefore, when deciding if attending one is worth your while, consider the following: a) history of the fair and its sponsoring organization(s), including the number and makeup of participants; b) the timing of the fair in relation to the U.S. admissions cycle; c) the timing of the fair in relation to other events happening locally in that country (e.g., if the World Cup is being held in the same country as fair, at same time, attendance at the fair will probably be lower); and finally, d) could a local alumni attend in your place?

  1. Faculty traveling abroad

College faculty often travel abroad to attend conferences, conduct research, etc. If they will be traveling to a country that is a recruitment target, they could potentially host a meet-and-greet with prospective students. Feel out which faculty may be most receptive to this and make your request early.

  1. Students studying abroad as “Student Ambassadors”

Assuming your institution has a study abroad program, any number of students could act as “student ambassadors” and conduct recruitment efforts on your behalf. Again, approach them about doing this well in advance of their departure. Give them information that they can take with them and educate them about international recruiting efforts. The more feet you have on the ground to offer a personalized experience to prospective students, the better!

  1. Agents

The use of commission-based agents is a highly controversial method of recruiting international students, with staunch supporters and detractors. Once an entirely banned practice, the ban on incentive compensation in international recruiting was lifted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling in September 2013. Supporters cite the fact that institutions in Australia and the UK embrace the use of agents in recruitment, while critics question whether agents can really keep international students’ best interests at heart when the process rewards quantity over quality. Still, when done right, a reputable agency can be a effective recruitment partner.
Last but not least, in all of these efforts, do your best to give your efforts a personal touch. At its core, international recruiting is not much different from domestic recruiting. Whether they live in the U.S. or abroad, students cite personal connections and relationships with college admissions officers as a significant factor in their decision of which school they choose to attend.

However, the personal touch can be extra important for international students, because their decision is so much more significant. These students are choosing to travel halfway around the world in order to attend an institution, most times sight-unseen. The more information they can glean from a “real person” about the experience they’ll have at that institution, the more confident they will feel in their decision. And a confident decision to attend a university is the best sort of decision—whether it’s your university or not.