On the heels of President Obama’s recent announcement to extend OPT (Optional Practical Training); we are seeing the number of international students rise. While the fastest growing populations are from China and India, countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Brazil now offer government sponsored scholarships specifically for US study. Increased global interest in a US based education opens new opportunities for international recruitment from a pool of applicants whose values, habits and cultures often conflict.

Effectively marketing to a more complex applicant pool requires an approach that can address the diverse set of needs. A Melior study in 2013 of 500 international students from Southeast Asia, China, India and Africa shows schools that are successfully attracting international students are paying attention to complex touch points and multifaceted messaging. The study identified three areas that are critical to effective recruitment and long-term success for international alumni.

  1. Remove Educational Barriers

Educational support is needed beyond traditional subject matter. International students often face a language barrier as they prepare for standardized tests like TOEFL, SAT, GRE, and GMAT. Many foreign students look to a credential evaluation service to understand the equivalent value of their native education.

  1. Consider The Entire Family

Family units are often much larger and more intimately connected than we typically see in the US. The family unit is more than just parents; it includes extended family like siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and more. They all play major roles in the decision-making process, especially in first generation college students. While the student may champion a certain university, it is often the larger family who is paying for the education and making the ultimate decision.

  1. Build Relationships With Foreign Academic Communities

Forge relationships with primary and secondary administrators, college fair promoters and educational support providers.


Findings suggest that knowing the market you are going into and directing efforts to consider the country, extended family and student needs is critical as you retool your offerings and messaging. Take the long view of cultivating your brand as one that helps students throughout a longer life-cycle.

Get Specific With Your Messaging

Understand the cultural values as well as the needs of the student and their extended family. One client who provides a single gender undergraduate education for women proved very attractive for parents from Muslim countries. They want their daughters to get an excellent education but not in a multi-gender environment. 

Process Made Easy

Attract more students by creating materials and checklists that help students get through confusing application processes. Direct applicants to reputable credential evaluation services. Make paperwork easy by providing instructions in various languages. Provide critical steps in applying for a student visa. One client helped applicants by simplifying the testing and application process into 6 easy steps.

Provide Advisory Support

Some families are sending their children to US high schools for easier access to US colleges and universities. As many families are starting to think about a US education earlier and earlier, provide advisors during pre-teen years. Understand some applicants have never been away from home in countries where travel is not as common as it is in Europe and the US. Focusing on family support with non-academic issues will help the student be more successful when they arrive.

Find The Best International Fit For Your College Or University

Foreign students represent a desirable market for many institutions. They are valued for the unique perspectives they bring to the classroom and the ability to pay the full cost of their education. Which target market is the best fit for your institution and how can you support them over time? Chinese nationals are the largest growing international student population relative to all others, with India a close second. Do you understand why your institution might be the right fit for them? Should you place your emphasis on developing programs internally or focus more on building relationships with their home country academic communities?

The Melior Group has successfully supported institutions that want to retool their selection criteria, programming, strategic marketing communications and advisory offerings to improve recruitment and sustain long-term student success. When you understand the complex needs of your top target applicants and align them with existing programs/services you can satisfy those needs according to country culture, family concerns and individual student needs. You will find more qualified applications and greater longer-term success for international alumnae.

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