International prospects have to choose between countries, on top of selecting the best-fit institution. Ultimately, though, no one is sending that deposit check if they haven’t found the right program – and considerations about international recruitment is rarely done at the program level.
Balance Jargon and Clarity
One of the few places where “jargon” can actually come in pretty handy is on marketing collateral for graduate programs. Faculty and students in a particular field will tend to use words and phrases that are SEO-friendly and that make a prospect immediately feel at home in a particular discipline. The caveat here, when addressing an international audience, is to make sure that the language used is A) understandable for audiences that have learned both British and American English (erring on the side of American, if necessary) and B) not so dense that it will scare away students who may still have to learn some discipline-specific terms in English.
Look for Discipline-Specific Funding
Huge numbers of international graduate students in the US come with full or partial funding from their home country, a fact that has not escaped the attention of US institutions. Many programs sponsored by international governments, foundations, and companies may grow or shrink for a particular field, which makes it critical to keep ears open at the program level as well as the institutional one. If you have a great program in, say, water management and hear about a new scholarship program dedicated to training a country’s water experts, you can talk to your international recruitment team, reach out to the relevant organization directly, or create content on your website that specifically talks to the needs of these future scholarship holders.
Use Any Advantage Your Country or Location Offers
Certain countries and even cities or regions are often known for excellence in a particular field. Germany and engineering is one of the most obvious pairings and that country has done an incredible job at drawing international students in the STEM fields with their higher education offerings – but also their world-leading companies and historical achievements in the field. It may help to ask your current international students not only why they chose to come to your program but also why they came to the US. Their answers may relate to the way the education system works in your field (more participatory, teamwork-oriented, etc.) or the overall reputation for the discipline (in academia and, often, beyond) in the US. If you are in the lucky position of having some location-based advantages, it will greatly help you craft marketing messages that are much more powerful and specific for international prospects.
Show Them the Money (in Multiple Currencies)
International students in many fields are at least as career-driven as their parents – and the career outcomes for a particular program is really where the rubber hits the road. Next level international recruitment would include information about how/if international students completing this particular program do internships or optional practical training in the US. It would also show hard evidence that international students from this particular program get great jobs at home (at least your key recruitment markets) and in the US following graduation. Even if you’re well-known domestically, it’s important to show that international employers also value the degree.
Double Check Everything with Multiple Audiences
The challenge with international recruitment is that the audiences are so diverse in terms of their linguistic backgrounds and even their own educational contexts. For example, in all of Europe, students now do a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a PhD. They may not have any idea that US institutions recruit undergraduate students directly into PhD programs – and that’s so obvious to most US institutions that they’d never think to explain it. This is just one example of something that can cause confusion – and asking international undergrads (your own or, even better, at fairs) to answer a few questions about your program based on the information on the brochure or website is the surest way to test if they really understand it. Assuming at least some of your assumptions are probably wrong is the safest approach!
Megan Brenn-White has nearly two decades of experience in international education and content development, most of which has been helping higher education institutions communicate more effectively online with international audiences. She founded The Brenn-White Group in 2010.