How to Recruit International Students in the Future

How to recruit international students in the future

Few higher education deans and administrators would argue that 2019 has been a year of change both in the United States and worldwide. Economic and geopolitical disruptions have created a new world order with implications for most aspects of society, including future international student mobility and enrollment.

The stakes are high for countries and colleges and universities who recruit international students.

Consider the following:

Since 2,000, the number of overseas students has increased by 80 percent.

International students contributed $42 billion to the U.S. economy last year.

By 2025, global demand for seats in higher education is projected to be 200 million students.

The four international recruiting recommendations, outlined in this article, is an attempt to encourage international deans and recruiters to consider the following ways of recruiting international students in the future.

Four suggestions

Use data analytics and predictive modeling to determine why applicants enroll (or do not enroll) in your college or university.

Creatively use technology to offer students year-long semesters with several options for reaching degree completion.

Partner with national and international colleges and universities, even competitor schools.

Recruit entire families, not just applicants.

Use data analytics to write and implement international strategic plans

Are your school’s international recruiters able to answer the following questions:

What is the prime motivator for prospective applicants to apply to your school?

At what point in the application process is a decision made to enroll? What is the main reason for this decision?

These questions should also be asked of applicants and accepted students who did not complete the application process.

Data analytics can help your recruitment team know, in real time, what is making prospective applicants apply, and accepted students, enroll.

I am defining data analytics as databases and algorithms that can provide international strategic planners and recruiters with speedy, actionable information in order to make smart recruitment decisions and re-allocate staff time and resources.

What behavioral information can be applied to better recruit and enroll international students? Data analytics can shed light on the parts of your school’s branding proposition that are resonating with prospective international students and which are not. This information can be used to create evidence-based international strategies in real-time as opposed to waiting for end-of-the-year analysis. Data collection and a commitment to insight and discovery are key to crafting meaningful international strategic plans.

Flexibility will increasingly become the currency of higher education this year and in the years to come. Data analytics and predictive modeling are two tools that can bring flexibility into strategic international plans and create data-driven hypotheses to inform strategic decisions.

Creatively use technology to offer students year-long semesters with several options for reaching degree completion

According to the report, Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017, 30 percent or 6.3 million students worldwide, were enrolled in at least one online course in 2016.

In 2018, massive open online enrollment exceeded 100 million students. This was a 30 percent increase over the previous year

China’s online education market is projected to increase to 20 percent annually. This increase represents approximately a $24 billion online market.

Since 2006, more than 160 million Khan Academy videos have been viewed. There are between 14 and 15 million users each month.

While the jury is still out on the shelf life of MOOCs, I believe that learning platforms like Udacity, edX, Coursera and FutureLearn will change higher education delivery forever.

What does all this mean for future international recruiting? Offering your school’s on-line courses or accepting, for credit, a MOOC course, would allow international admission deans to offer international students “brick and click” options that extend beyond the “normal” school year.

International students could earn credits during intersession breaks or in the summer taking an approved technology-based course.

Partner with national and international colleges and universities, even competitor schools

Have you considered partnering with a peer national or international institution to offer international applicants the best of both institutions?

Have you reviewed the international student enrollment of schools in your area or region and compared that information with your own international statistics? What does your school do better than your competitors What majors or programs do your competitors offer that are better than what your school offers?

Have you considered joint recruitment trips, highlighting the best programs and majors of each school? What about collaborating and writing joint recruitment plans? Or offering dual degrees?

Does this sound like heresy? Sounds like interdependence to me and could be one way to creatively face a disruptive future.

Many colleges and universities are still recruiting in silos, hoping that past recruitment practices will continue to be relevant in the new, worldwide changing political, economic and educational landscapes.

Recruit entire families, not just applicants

Most colleges and universities who recruit international students have a communication outreach plan; an admission “funnel.” Traditional communication plans are management tools, not tools for understanding market behavior. Few schools, for example, have communication plans for parents from the time of application to the time of enrollment, even though multiple research reports indicate that parents often have the final say in which school their child enrolls.

Because so much information about colleges and universities can be found on-line by prospective students and parents, I am recommending a communication plan that focuses on outcomes, not features.

Suggested Communication Plan:

Pre-application stage


Send information about career counseling, job placement rates, graduation statistics


Letter from current international parent

Application stage


Send information about student services for international students, organizations, clubs, athletics

Letter from a current student


Letter from alumni parent

Accepted applicants

Name and contact information of faculty advisor

List of first semester courses


Letter from president, board chair

Deposited students

Roommate selection


Counseling services for international students

Important contact information for school administrators and services


Change permeates nearly every facet of life. The dark alchemy of disruption and unpredictability demand a new way of thinking and planning when recruiting international students. Beyond the corridors of today lie new educational delivery paradigms and new “types” of students.

The métier of flexibility, collaboration and the smart use of technology will be among the hallmarks of successful international recruiting in the future.


This entry was posted in Colleges, Foreign Students, International Education, International students, Universities by Marguerite Dennis. Bookmark the permalink.

About Marguerite Dennis

Marguerite Dennis has been recruiting internationally for over 25 years, first at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and then at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. During that time she was responsible for establishing a branch campus for Suffolk University in Dakar, Senegal and Madrid, Spain. Marguerite increased the international student population at Suffolk University by 193% from 1993 to 2011 and increased the number of study abroad programs by 135%, from 20 to 47. She monitored the recruitment programs for Suffolk University in 20 countries and hired a network of 10 international educational consultants. She signed agreements in Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Germany, Mexico, France and Argentina.

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