It can be confusing when students who were previously interested in your university suddenly drop-off, but understanding the reasons behind this can put your university in a stronger position for future recruitment.
Studee student advisors talk to international students everyday, and understand what it is that can put students off so suddenly. Obviously there are many factors that go into choosing the perfect university, but these are the common reasons we hear for students reassessing their initial decision.
1. Slow admissions response times
The anxiety that comes from applying to universities means that students need to be kept in the loop of what is happening at all times. They have no awareness of how busy an admissions team is, or any hold ups at the university, making it difficult for them to have patience about hearing an outcome on their application.
Students often complain to Studee advisors about universities that were very slow, weren’t giving them a timeframe around hearing about their application, or simply weren’t replying to any questions or queries.
Studee tested student response times and found that we get a better response rate from prospective students if we contact them within 10 hours of them submitting an enquiry. We saw that response rate fall significantly after 12 hours.
Prospective students view the admissions process as a sign of things to come; if they have a frustrating experience trying to apply and get enrolled at a university, then they worry that when they are studying there they won’t be supported in good time for any issues or queries they have.
Improvements you can make when responding to students
Have a live chat on site which allows you to reply instantaneously during hours you can. Set it up to collect student information if the chat tool is not live so you can capture interest and contact them at a later time. This is something that Studee uses, for our student enquiries, as well as on behalf of some of our partners’ sites.
In addition, try and be as realistic as possible when providing timeframes that a student will next hear from you. Let them know of any delays and not to be concerned if they aren’t contacted by you. Also, always let them know when you have received a document, or anything else towards their application.
2. Can’t find student reviews for a university
Part of a student’s research into a university will involve trying to form an understanding of what it is actually like to go there. They want to know the bad as well as the good. If a prospective student can’t find any opinion from other international students like them, then their experience feels more uncertain of what to expect.
This is especially important during Covid-19 measures such as blended learning, as students are grasping to get an idea of what it will be like, and if it’s right for them.
Providing international student reviews
Universities should be regularly collating and publishing reviews from their students. Provide a wide selection of reviews for different subjects, nationalities and study levels in an easy to find area of your website. Ensure they are realistic and authentic - not just promotional or highly praising. This may sound counterintuitive, but knowing the sorts of things that other students aren’t happy with allows a prospective student to understand if it is a dealbreaker, or something they can live with.
3. Poor user experience on a university website
A website’s design shouldn’t just be aesthetically pleasing, it needs to have an easy to use layout and navigation. If prospective students are looking for specific pieces of information on your website and can’t find them, this is frustrating and concerning. Students tell us that if they find navigating a university’s site difficult, then they believe that the admissions process will be equally as painful.
Find out what’s not quite right with your website
Do an audit of your international pages, and check for inconsistencies in the content, any out of date information, and any information that is held elsewhere. Ensure that the structure of pages makes logical sense and would be intuitive to someone who didn’t work at your institution.
Check website analytics to look for high bounce rates on important pages that require users to perform an action. It might not be obvious as to what they’re meant to do next, or there might be errors on the page with how it’s displayed.
Run user testing on your international pages, with the scenario that a user is looking to study for a specific course at a certain level. See where in the journey they can’t find information easily, have questions around what they are meant to do, or simply do something you weren’t expecting. If a pattern develops across your participants then it hints at areas where you can improve.
It’s also important to ensure that everyone can use your website, regardless of any disabilities. Review your site regularly to ensure it is as accessible as it can be.
4. Tuition fees
It’s no surprise that money plays a large part in where international students decide to study. Lack of affordable tuition fees and scholarships is the main reason an interested student may have to find a different university to yours.
The majority of students globally who travel abroad for their higher education have between $10-15,000 a year to spend on tuition. Students will often change their mind at the last minute for a college with lower tuition fees, or one with a scholarship they are eligible for.
Be more flexible for international students
Universities with high application fees often put students off, especially if there are comparable universities that charge less per application, have refundable fees or none at all.
International students we talk to always have a favorable view of institutions that are flexible with matters concerning finance and payments. Something as simple as waiving an application fee for a student you believe to be a good fit, could be the moment a student decides to study with you. It gives a supportive impression of your university that international students are always looking for.
Having extras included in their fees such as placement years and work experience can be the additions that international students need to make their fees seem more palatable. When other universities are able to offer such things, it makes it difficult for those that don’t to convince them to study with them.
5. Your country’s international reputation
Recently, the US has lost favor with certain international students, largely due to the country being perceived as unwelcoming. Visa difficulties and racism are making students consider other countries such as Canada and the UK who can be perceived as having a more favorable visa system.
Outline your support to international students
A country’s reputation is obviously not something that a university has control over, but there are things that can be done to show that you have your student’s best interests at heart, and are there for them when needed. Some of the topics that concern international students such as safety, racism, homophobia and immigration issues would ideally need dedicated support teams at a university.
It’s also important to display your values in your marketing and communications to students. Make them aware of what you as an institution support and stand for, even if the country you’re in isn’t widely reflective of the values.
Working with external bodies, organizations and advocates to improve how well you support different groups of students can help solidify or improve how you are viewed. For example if you’re in the US and want to better support LGBTQ+ students, you can use the Campus Pride ranking as a framework to improve how you support them.
Be open, honest and show empathy in your messaging to prospective international students. They should not only know about your campus and programs, but also how you will welcome them and keep them safe.