Blog 🏛️ University 13th October 2023

3 Application Trends That Should Shape US Universities’ International Enrolment Strategy in 2024

Miami university case study
Profile image of James Leach
James Leach

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

When it comes to tracking, measuring and understanding international students’ US application trends, we know it can be tempting to go back to the same watering holes and sources of information to guide your strategy. 

What’s going on in India and China? Has international student mobility continued to rebound in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

These are valid questions – but focusing on these larger narratives can mean you miss the smaller, more interesting data stories that will really make the difference in helping you meet your enrolment goals. 

Here are just a few examples of what we mean 

Looking at undergraduate recruitment as a distinct channel in 2024

Our international schools network has taught us one thing: that too much international student application analysis blends undergraduate and postgraduate trends, and doesn’t always look at the distinct growth trends that are currently taking place in the undergraduate recruitment market. 

Not only does BridgeU’s data insights reveal that international undergraduate interest in the USA has continued to grow in key regions, but international students represent a much more stable source of long-term tuition fee revenue. 

How academically prepared are your applicants? 

Too little data analysis focuses on the fact that, for some international students, the US admissions system is harder to navigate than it is for others. 

Instead of conversations about where applications are increasing and decreasing globally, it’s also important to seek out data that can inform how and why international students make the decisions that they do. 

Building relationships to help inform your international enrolment strategy in 2024

The most under-rated factor in designing a more data-centric recruitment strategy? The power of your institution’s existing relationships. 

International school counsellors across BridgeU’s network are a perfect example of this.

Every single of one of the 1,100 school that use our platform act as mini-data hubs, with counsellors using our Analytics tool to report on the favoured destinations for students considering studying in another country? 

BridgeU counsellors are also a great example of how building long-term relationships in key markets can make it easier to forecast how international students’ application trends are going to change in the long-term. 

Our most recent report on BridgeU international school students’ US application preferences revealed a number of interesting trends that can and should shape how you design your international student enrolment strategy in 2024. 

In this article, we’ll explore three key insights and analyse how these insights can help you rethink your wider recruitment and enrolment efforts. 

We spoke to international school counsellors and our team of Customer Success Managers, who work with our international schools all around the world, to find out. 


The USA is the most popular destination in many regions of the world

This first insight refers to how many international school students are adding the USA to their shortlist of best-fit universities in the BridgeU platform. 

Our analysis of US international applicants over the past five admissions cycles suggests that the USA remains the most popular destination country for international school students in almost every region of the world, with Asia and Africa being the most notable examples. 

We also found that the USA’s popularity with international students across Europe has grown by 11% in the past five application cycles. This comes at a time when the UK’s exit from the European Union has led to a slight decline in the popularity of that country. 

Why this matters

This insight is a perfect example of why more US institutions should pay close attention to international students’ interest in other destination countries. 

Too many US institutions base their international student enrolment strategies on interest in the USA specifically. 

But our analysis highlights why it’s never been more important to take a holistic overview of how the USA is competing against other countries in selected regions. 

How you’re competing with institutions in other countries can help you to understand 

  • If there are any perceptions about your destination country, be it safety concerns or the standard of living, that could be deterring international students from applying to your institution. 
  • How international students navigate different countries’ admissions systems in different ways. 
  • Whether there are earlier application deadlines in key competitor countries could lead to prospective undergraduates enrolling in a UK or Canadian institution first. 

To learn more about how investing in international schools can help you build a smarter, more targeted undergraduate enrolment strategy, download our latest ebook. 

International school students’ conversion rates differ by region

Our analysis has found that, while interest in the USA is high among international students at the research and consideration stage, the conversion rate to application submission in some regions is relatively low. 

Let’s take Europe as an example. 

While the USA has increased in popularity among BridgeU students in this region, the conversion rate from consideration to application in Europe is considerably lower when compared with the same conversion rate for students from other regions.

Why this matters

While our analysis of BridgeU’s students’ university preferences reveals that many students express an interest in the USA, this insight serves as a timely reminder that US institutions still have much work to do in convincing international students to make the USA their home for undergraduate study. 

In conversations we have with counsellors across our network, it’s become apparent that a range of factors can affect whether students choose a US higher education, or elect to study in a different country. 

We’ve explored some of these factors in previous blog posts, but they can include any of the following

The ease of navigating the admissions process

Simon Finnegan, former counsellor at the British International School of Ho Chi Minh City told us that, in some cases, the existence of waitlisting in the US admissions process can act as a deterrent for some international applicants. 

The result? International school students might opt for another country simply because they are likely to receive a decision more quickly. 

Cultural context

The academic and cultural context of an international student is crucial. Our international schools community serves as a constant reminder of the diversity of the international student population. 

A students’ familiarity with the concept of studying in the USA may differ depending on the secondary school curriculum they study, or whether they are the first member of their family to study at university in another country. 

Geopolitical factors

BridgeU guidance counsellors constantly remind us that geopolitical relations between the USA and different source countries will shape students’ perspective of a US international higher education. 

For example, it’s sadly the case that concerns about campus safety became more prevalent amongst international students in parts of Asia and the Middle East during the presidency of Donald Trump (and may return if he is returned to power in 2024). 

International students submit a high volume of US applications

Over the last five years, international school students applying to the U.S. submit an average of 7.33 applications.

Across the past five application cycles, the average count of submitted applications from students in Asia has remained high, with the average BridgeU student in Asia submitting around 8 applications. 

Students studying at BridgeU international schools in Africa and the Americas also submitted a relatively high number of U.S. applications. European students brought down the BridgeU average, submitting roughly 6.6 applications on average across the five year dataset. 

Why it matters

Again, it’s important to highlight the regional variations here. 

With that in mind, US universities can be optimistic about the fact that, when international students do choose to apply to the USA, they are seemingly very ambitious in terms of the number of applications they submit. 

This goes to show the importance of US universities continuing to invest in a dedicated international school recruitment strategy. 

The next steps

To learn more about how investing in international schools can help you to diversify and localise your undergraduate enrolment, download our latest white paper.