According to NAFSA, international students studying in the United States contributed $39 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2017/2018 academic year.

Over one million foreign learners study in the United States each year, but it has become increasingly harder to continue to grow that number. According to the Institute of International Education, first-time international undergraduates in the U.S. sank by 6.6% in 2017. Many colleges and universities are starting to see the applicant flow from international students slow down.

Just like with American students, more and more international students are realizing the competitive landscape of higher education and looking into institutions that make them feel supported, meet their needs, and will help them land a job after graduation.

When recruiting international students, it’s important to appeal to their specific needs and wants. But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Once an institution is able to successfully recruit an international student, it needs to ensure it has the resources and programs in place to help the student succeed.

We gathered information from industry experts and institutions that are paving the way for international student success to bring you five tips for recruiting and retaining international students at your college or university.


  1. Optimize your website for global markets.

A website is often a university’s first point of communication with prospective students and parents. A university website needs to not only entice prospective students and showcase it’s brand and culture, it also needs to convey important information about logistics.

If you are trying to recruit international students, it’s important to relate to them – and what better way to do that then through their own language. To remove any language barriers for prospective Chinese students, the University of Arkansas offers an eBrochure in Chinese on their admissions website. They also offer an option to translate admission pages with four additional language options.

Offering translated versions of the most visited pages on your website can also help strengthen your SEO in other countries. Prospective students or parents may browse online in their native language or use search terms that are important to their culture around higher education.

In addition to language, international students also want to know that they will have a support group on campus. If you have cultural clubs or specific resources for international students, it’s important to highlight that on your website.


  1. Establish a presence on local social platforms.

Just as prospective students might be searching online in their native language, they may also default to using platforms or applications that are popular in their country. For example, WeChat, a messaging and social media app that offers shopping, games, and financial services, has over 1.08 billion active users and is extremely popular in China. In South Korea, KakaoTalk is the number one messaging app and is used by 93% of smartphone owners in South Korea.

While universal platforms like Facebook and Instagram should be at the core of your social media strategy, it could be worth testing out other platforms that are popular in countries where you are looking to recruit.


  1. Provide support for common barriers for international students.

Moving away from home for the first time can be overwhelming for a new student, let alone moving to a whole new country. International students face a host of barriers when it comes to attending school in the United States. In order to ensure their success, it’s vital that colleges and universities have support and resources in place to help students overcome these potential roadblocks. Common problems that international students face range from culture shock to homesickness to financial struggles.

A study about the relationship between advising and international community college students showed that international students view academic advisors as important resources of information. However, some found that not all academic advisors are equipped with the knowledge to guide international students specifically.

Whether your institution is able to offer dedicated advisors that specialize in international processes and relations, or if you opt to provide training to your general advisors, having advisors that know how to guide international students is crucial to their success.

Academic advising isn’t the only support international students needs — things like support during the holiday breaks or english programs can also make international students feel more comfortable.

For example, Castleton University in Vermont offers housing and dining options during holidays at no extra cost because it knows that going home for break is not always an option for students, especially international ones.

At Cornell, international students have the opportunity to participate in a summer program that allows them to enhance their English skills while exploring U.S. social and cultural customs.


  1. Offer a specific orientation tailored to international students.

Multiple visits to campus can be difficult and costly for international students. Due to distance barriers, international students often have trouble attending in-person orientation. If a student is able to travel for orientation, general new student orientation programs don’t often cover specific needs and questions that international students have.

In order to provide full support to new international students, many colleges and universities provide a hybrid orientation program—part in-person and part online. This allows institutions to provide flexible orientation that can be accessed from anywhere, as well as include specialized content like information about immigration paperwork, employment options, classroom culture in the US, and coping skills. Using Launch Online Orientation, powered by Comevo, Texas A&M International University uses several modules of online orientation for their international students including one on Travel Health.


  1. Integrate peer support for your recruitment strategy.

The opinions of peers can be an extremely influential factor in the college decision making process for prospective students. Students – no matter what country they are from – want to hear from students or alumni that are similar to them. They want to know that they can feel “at home” and succeed at a college, just like their peers did.

Peers — which can include both current students or alumni — can also help to answer important procedural questions like how the admissions process works when applying from a certain country and how to obtain immigration documents. They can also answer more culturally focused questions, like how their experience was adjusting to US culture.

Connecting successful alumni with prospective students from the same country can give students an idea of how the college or institution helped in the pathway to finding a job after graduation, a topic that is often top of mind for all incoming students. Before you start reaching out to alumni from foreign countries, identify which countries you want to focus your recruitment efforts on. Then, you can begin to utilize your alumni network and LinkedIn to find alumni in regions that you are looking to recruit. If there are enough alumni in a certain area, you may want to work with your alumni association to establish a small chapter there. If there are only a few alumni, it might make sense to take an ambassador approach like UC Berkeley.