The 4 Biggest Challenges of International Student Recruitment



When you joined the international education marketing and recruitment field, you accepted an array of challenges. We took a look at the 4 most common problems you’ll face when trying to recruit international students and compiled our best tips on how to overcome them.


1. Generating leads and applications

Globalization impacts our daily world and strengthens the competition workplace year after year. And let’s be honest: it is very true in the international higher education industry. For over 5 million students who decide to study abroad, there are many attractive opportunities which are well beyond national borders. Attracting foreign students to your university and increasing applications are probably your biggest challenges.

  • How do I overcome this challenge?

    First, know what makes your university unique and determine your current and prospective students’ personas. Despite their diverse cultures, international students generally look for the same vital information, like descriptions of the university, benefits of the programs, any rankings / awards, admission requirements or tuition fees. Based on these personas, select the right content and the right format that students will want to read and get excited about. For example, virtual reality can offer your future international students the immersive experience of discovering and visiting your campus.     

    Once you’ve built this targeted content, it’s time to promote it through the right channels - and there's often more than one. Where do international millennial students find your university? When you think about the students’ information search journey, one thing becomes crystal clear: it’s all about online. Make sure to always be adaptive with your marketing distribution, and don’t hesitate to explore non-traditional methods like social media channels.


2. Measuring the ROI of your marketing campaigns

Return on investment is an important metric for determining the success of your international student marketing initiatives. Given the fact that study abroad is a complex decision-making process, it’s probably very challenging for you to have a perfect overview of the impact of your marketing campaigns.

  • How do I overcome this challenge?

    Start by defining the goals of your international marketing initiatives. What are your objectives: increasing enrolments, applications, targeting specific countries, or raising your university’s brand awareness?

    Then create a measurement plan: track data that will show you the exact value of your marketing efforts. These metrics can be the cost per student enrolled, volume of leads, cost per candidate or target audience reached.

    Consider for example using web analytics software like Google Analytics, and CRM solutions to track the effectiveness of your online international education marketing.


3. Securing a budget for your international student recruitment

Getting a bigger budget for your international marketing is never an easy task. You may not be the final decision-maker, your university may not be flexible in its marketing expenditures nor focused on internationalization.

  • How do I overcome this challenge?

    Here is the solution to getting a budget increase: demonstrate the ROI of your campaign.

    Describe how your international marketing goals contribute to the overall marketing strategy. Highlight the benefits of international student enrolment on your domestic market, brand awareness or external partnerships. Then use your selected metrics to present clear results of every marketing initiative. By providing a consistent picture of ROI, you won’t only ensure a higher budget, but also get approval for using specific marketing solutions.


4. Identifying the right tools for your international student recruitment

When building your marketing plan, you’ll face the challenge of balancing traditional and digital marketing. Weighing the pros and cons on this topic can be a headache.

  • How do I overcome this challenge?

    Luckily, we have the answer, and it’s all about adapting your strategy to your targeted audience.

    Digital marketing is considered the most sustainable solution to reach out and connect with international students. Many digital solutions, from online education portals to email campaigns and content marketing, are available and have shown great ROI for international student recruitment.

    However, don’t hold back on the idea of adding some traditional initiatives to your strategy. It might be worth it to create personal printed elements and send them to your students - especially later in the process. Although we don't recommend sending printed materials at the beginning of your funnel, personalized invitations to open days or scholarship opportunities can definitely help you to stand out from the crowd.


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Picture of Abby Guthrie Svanholm
Abby Guthrie Svanholm

Abby Guthrie Svanholm is the Communications Manager for She works to shape strategy and align team members to achieve product and site growth. Originally from the U.S., Abby has worked with digital marketing since 2015.