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Strategies for International Recruitment: Traveling Off the Beaten Path

By Kristi Marchesani, Assistant Director of International Admissions at the University of Northern Iowa

​As competition for international students continues to intensify, schools must take a careful look at the strategies they are using and the markets they are targeting.  While some schools are satisfied, and successful, at forging ahead in the most popular markets, other schools need to consider being more strategic by exploring emerging countries. A strategy that combines recruitment travel and armchair recruiting techniques and focuses on carefully selected unexplored regions can position a school well and result in added diversity to your campus and a worthwhile return on investment. 

Institutions that decide to venture “off the beaten path” have the potential to establish themselves in regions that are not already oversaturated by recruiters from the US and other countries. Although this approach to recruitment requires some additional efforts, a few years before return on investment is seen, and an extra sense of adventure, it can be very rewarding both professionally and personally.  

Here are some factors to think about when deciding if your school should consider this approach in your future recruitment strategies:

Examine the strengths of your institution and find markets to match 
Although some countries may appear in Open Doors as top feeders, be sure to consider the demographics of the students they are sending. For example, India may seem like an attractive option, but if you don’t have engineering and are looking for full-pay undergraduates, you may end up with a limited population of prospective students. 

Embrace the idea of becoming a big fish in a small pond 
With only a limited number of schools in the US being able to claim worldwide name recognition, unexplored markets give any school willing to visit and commit time and resources the potential of becoming a known commodity.

Potential for relationship building is great in emerging markets 
As some of the “off the beaten path” countries receive limited visitors, EducationUSA and local school counselors are eager to assist with travel planning and are able to grant visitors valuable access to interested students.  Use these contacts to advise on your itinerary and navigate travel safety concerns.  

You have the opportunity to make yourself a valuable resource  
Once you have invested in an unexplored country and made connections, you will be among the first to be asked to participate in armchair recruitment activities that come up (webinars, e-advising, etc.).  

Consider the economic advantages to recruiting in new markets  
Many of these countries can be visited with limited funds.  Adding a stop in Mongolia or Myanmar onto your trip to China will not add a significant amount to your trip budget.   
  
Students in unexplored markets often need a lot of attention 
Many times, students in these markets are less sophisticated when it comes to studying abroad. If you are a school that is able to provide personalized support for applicants, students and their families will be particularly attracted to your school and will jump at the opportunity to take advantage of your guidance. 

Use current students, faculty and alumni from these countries to communicate your message 
Students from these countries respond very positively to the testimony and contact from their fellow compatriots as it provides them valuable insight into what is possible and motivation to take on the daunting admission process. This strategy can have a major impact.  

Consider second- and third-tier cities 
If your administration insists you visit the big two (China and India), think about hitting up the second- and third-tier cities. Second- and third-tier city designations are typically determined by the size of their population and their economic status and are often considered emerging markets. These cities still give access to an ample number of students, are not as saturated, and may connect you with students willing to venture to less-known schools and regions in the US. 

Realize there are students with the ability to pay in unexplored markets  
In every country, there are families with the ability to pay for a US education, as well as some substantial government and private scholarship programs. You can position yourself well with these students by being one of a handful of schools willing to reach out personally to assist.  

Consider the benefits of establishing your school in an emerging market before it becomes “hot”
Although it is hard to tell the future, having your foot in the door early on, in an emerging market, can reap great benefits for your school when that economy eventually reaches its potential or educational opportunities arise. Schools that invested in Saudi Arabia or Brazil prior to their scholarship programs, for example, can vouch for this.    

At the University of Northern Iowa, we are continually assessing the best potential markets so we can position our school in a way that will highlight our advantages, despite the challenges of our unfamiliar brand and less-known location.  Several years ago we started to take exploratory trips to uncharted countries such as Mongolia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Brunei, and Armenia.  We were met with a high level of interest and a refreshing openness to what we had to offer.  Although not all of these ventures have paid off, we have seen some very rewarding results and continue to combine these stops with our efforts in the more traditional markets.  It was only when I returned to Bangladesh for the second time that I realized we were really onto something. The EducationUSA advisor surprised and delighted me by commenting that, “Everyone is coming in saying they are interested in attending the University of Northern Iowa.” 

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Related Resources

Counselor Toolkit

A resource for counselors who advise international students attending US high schools as well as secondary schools which are considering enrolling such students

The State of College Admission Report

Examining the transition from high school to postsecondary education through survey data collected from colleges and universities across the country.

Trusted Sources

An overview of the many advisors who can help you through the college admission process