International students have become a large part of the landscape of colleges or universities. The number of international students at American colleges rose 10% in 2014-2015 and has risen 73% in the past decade. These students are an important part of campus, adding culture and diversity. But are you interacting with potential international students the right way?
As non-domestic prospects, international students first and sometimes only interaction with a school before applying is its website. So how can you make sure your .edu site is drawing international students and not turning them away?
Here is a list of seven ways you can optimize your school’s website for international students:
1) Language: Most prospective international students are not native English speakers. In the jargon-heavy world of college admissions, this poses a challenge to internationals. Even if they are familiar with college-related words, they may have learned the British rather than American English versions. Break up text so it is less intimidating and not in huge chunks. Avoid idioms, slang, and either avoid jargon or properly explain it with global English or British counterparts. Most of all, rely on pictures and videos to get across key points.
2) Consider the parents and other family members: While parents undoubtedly play some role in the college selection process for domestic students, the parents and extended family often play an even greater role in the process for international students due to cultural norms. Moreover, the parents of international students are less likely to speak English at all. Consider text or video messages in the language of the target markets, and address concerns often felt by parents such as safety, academic quality, and finances.
3) Help students visualize your campus experience: Text is only part of the story. International students want to watch videos that help them visualize life on your campus. Relying too heavily on text prevents students from truly picturing themselves as a part of your institution and what life there is like. Provide a strong Virtual Campus Experience that allows students to fully immerse themselves. Include video and virtual maps as much as possible. Make international students feel they don’t even need to visit before they apply, because they can imagine what it looks and feels like and can picture themselves there.
4) Don't assume they have the same needs and concerns as domestic students: International students’ concerns sometimes differ from their domestic counterparts. They typically focus more than American students on campus safety, academic quality, and their long-term career as it relates to your school and typically care less than domestic students about campus life and financial aid, as they expect to pay in full. And while certain things may seem ingrained in the experience of your college, e.g. football, homecoming, Greek life, international students may not be interested in such things or even know what they are. Address these concerns, ideally through a page specifically for international students (UMass at Amherst’s Grad School has a done a great job of providing useful content on their website that, while very text heavy, addresses many aspects of being an international student). Show that you recognize the unique experience and interests of international students, and mention any services offered specifically for them.
5) Don't Ignore the additional aspects of their application process: The application process for an international has steps that domestic prospects don’t have to take. International prospects must take English tests like the TOEFL to show they speak English at a sufficient level. They also must apply for a Visa in a timely manner with the appropriate paperwork to study in the US. Additionally, most foreign students do not get to visit the campus in person before they attend and, once enrolled, have to choose or find housing from abroad. Make clear both general and university-specific requirements for international students. Include photos, videos, and/or interactive maps to help them get an idea of the campus layout and feel, as well as its residence halls. Mention whether dorms close over breaks (a student from China can’t very well go home over Thanksgiving break).
6) Make sure it's mobile-friendly: International students are more likely to use mobile devices to visit your website. Domestic students are also visiting college or university websites on mobile devices at a growing rate. Make your website compatible with mobile devices. Obviously.
7) Focus on your target areas: There are many countries in the world with many different cultures within them. If you approach the international student in an overly uniform way, you fail to address the nuances of different cultures and places. Focus your energies on one specific geographical area or set of countries. Consider if your school as a whole fits in better with people from one place over another. For instance, many Catholic schools target Latin American students. Ruffalo Noel-Levitz recommends focusing on one specific target for 3 years. Tailor parts of your site for these targets. If you know you have a lot of prospective international students from Korea, include testimonials from Korean students and resources in Korean.
Bonus tip: This applies to both domestic and international prospects: Establish your school brand based on programs, services, and environment. This will help set you apart.
Don’t miss out on attracting this key demographic. Visit our website to see how StudentBridge uses videos and virtual maps in recruitment, and how we can help you attract international students.