Use Your Location -- Any Location! -- to Recruit International Students

Changing the way you talk about your institution’s location for international audiences can have a big impact on recruitment.

August 4, 2016

Aside from creating offshore campuses or online offerings, one thing you can’t change about your university is its location. There’s no doubt that it’s easier for programs in well-known and attractive destinations to recruit international students, but changing the way you talk about your location for international audiences can also have a real impact on your recruitment results.

International Prospects Aren’t All the Same

One of the most common mistakes we see in higher ed marketing materials are universities trying to be everything to everybody. We all know this doesn’t work, but it’s very difficult to feel like you’re turning away potential audiences.

Here’s the deal. If you’re in a rural location, talking about your “amazing nightlife” and “fantastic cultural offerings” probably won’t work as well as talking about the things that might attract students who want to be in a rural area: small town feeling, easy to get around, lower costs, access to nature, etc.

If you start from the assumption that there are international students who would be thrilled to study with you (there are already, right??), why not simply focus on being clear about what your location offers – and doesn’t. Someone who loves to hike isn’t probably going to think that Central Park is quite hilly enough, no matter how you spin it – but the focus in this, as with everything, is finding those right fit students.

Tell Your Story Even Better

Since international prospects don’t have the same context that local or even domestic prospects might have, make sure to paint a clear and compelling image of campus life and the town (and even the neighboring area).

Use images, videos, and online campus tours to help them get a sense of what life would be like at your institution – keeping in mind that they are trying to make the mental leap to life as a student in an entirely different country. Adding facts like the population size and driving or train distances to nearby destinations is helpful, but if they are choosing between two similarly ranked institutions with similar costs, lifestyle really will come into the decision.

If you’re worried that you won’t know what they don’t know, simply ask current international students what surprised and delighted them to discover on your campus – and what kinds of things they think their friends back home would want to know about the location.

Safety First

The world seems to be a pretty scary place right now, but we’ve heard recently that international students and their parents are also increasingly worried about safety on US campuses. Even if you know that your town or campus are safe places, don’t assume that your international prospects know this. If you’ve got great crime statistics, share them. If you don’t, talk about what the campus is doing to help.

It’s the Employability, Stupid

As we all know, employability is one of the primary concerns of domestic and international prospects. Many international students plan to stay for Optional Practical Training (or longer) in the US following their studies. If your location offers particularly good access to well-known international companies and/or specific industries, that is absolutely something to highlight — and if the smaller — and medium-sized enterprises near you that may not be as familiar overseas love to hire your international students, that’s a great story to tell as well!

Here again, unless the company is an extremely well-known global brand, you shouldn’t assume that international audiences will know the name — or what kinds of positions might be open to them for internships or following graduation.

Location, Location, Location

Luckily, location is only one of many factors that go into the decision-making process for international students — and not nearly as important as things like cost or rankings. Still, we see many missed opportunities for institutions to more fully exploit their location to their benefit — and the reason often seems to be because they don’t make the leap from what domestic students know and what international students don’t. If you are one of the few who can make that leap, it’ll show in your results.

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.


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