Blog 🏛️ University 6th September 2021

How US Universities Can Optimise Their International Student Enrolment For 2022 [In 9 Easy Steps]

Profile image of Zahra Onsori
Zahra Onsori University Content Writer
As a new application cycle begins, we share 9 key insights from one of our US university partners on how admissions teams can ensure success for their international student enrolment.

Earlier this year, we reported on a mixed forecast for international student enrolment across the United States in the 2020/21 admissions cycle. 

The bad news? We found that, overall, applications submitted to US higher ed institutions by BridgeU international school students decreased in almost every region of the world, between 2020 and 2021. 

But we also found plenty of reasons for optimism. International students’ interest in a US university education continued to grow year on year across specific countries and within selected cities. 

What’s more, the number of applications submitted per student via BridgeU increased between 2020 and 2021, suggesting that a US higher education continues to be a big draw for many international school students. 

But such a mixed forecast means that, now more than ever, there’s a lot of pressure on international admissions teams across the USA to capitalise on these growth opportunities. 

Universities and colleges across the United States face fierce competition in a world where there are projected to be 350 million post-secondary graduates by the year 2030

Or consider the market in which BridgeU specialises – international schools. 

Our colleagues over at ISC Research forecast that, by 2026, the K-12 international school market will reach 16,000 schools teaching 8.75 million students. 

If you’re reading this article and you work in the international admissions team or department at your college, you might be reading this and thinking “These future projections are great – but how do I start making a tangible difference to my team’s international enrolment goals in the here and now?” 

It’s a good question. 

Get in touch

Learn how BridgeU can help connect you with international schools in over 140 countries worldwide.

You’ve probably heard a lot of other companies, commentators and column writers tell you all about the importance of adapting your enrolment strategy to meet the demands of a post-COVID world. (If you’re a regular reader of our content, you’ll know we’ve probably made these arguments ourselves in the past!)

But what does this mean in a world when the US is facing such stiff competition from global competitors and new challenger destinations? 

How do you meet the needs of an international student community that is growing and diversifying at such a breakneck pace? 

And when we say that the time is now for US institutions to capitalise on new opportunities across the international schools market, where are universities and colleges actually supposed to begin? 

We were recently fortunate enough to be joined on a webinar with two of our experts in this field – Shellie Gazdik, our Head of Sales for International Schools and Rob Medrano, International Admissions Director at Pace University in New York

Alongside our moderator, Universities Partnerships Manager Ben Galina, they shared some valuable insights and top tips designed to help US admissions teams optimise and adapt their international student enrollment. 

We’ve broken down their wisdom into nine easy steps that you and your team can use as a new admissions cycle begins.

Step 1: Draw up an international schools strategy

In 2021, successful international enrolment means having a pre-prepared international schools strategy.

We’re passionate advocates of this approach. 


The reason is simple. By our estimates, international school students as a unique cohort will represent around 60% of the wider international student population by the middle of this decade.

And even if those projections are a little bit wide of the mark, it’s still the case that the international schools market is continuing to grow – and that growth shows no sign of going into reverse. 

An international school strategy is an approach to recruitment and marketing that treats international schools as a growing, changing and wholly unique segment of your wider recruitment ecosystem. 

An international schools strategy is also likely to deliver more long-term return on investment. Again, you might be asking why. 

To cite one example, international schools are arguably your most promising source of direct, high-intent undergraduate admissions candidates. 

As a new admissions cycle begins, we’d argue that an international schools strategy shouldn’t be your only means of reaching and recruiting potential international applicants, but it should certainly form an important component of your wider enrolment management activities. 

Step 2: Find internal champions for your strategy…and your budget!

We know that September and fall more generally, is often an important moment of reflection for college admissions teams across the United States.

It’s a time to take stock of the past twelve months and an opportunity to use all that valuable admissions data and analytics to inform your team’s strategy and budget for the coming year. 

And coming off the back of the second application cycle that’s taken place in the shadow of COVID-19, we’d argue it’s never been a better time to create champions for your international schools strategy – and its potential to yield return on investment. 

COVID-19 has also meant that money that would have been traditionally spent on recruitment travel may have been reallocated as more colleges have resorted to digital-first outreach to international schools. 

But we’d argue that an international school strategy can help US admissions teams to ensure that those travel dollars are spent wisely. 

As we’ll explain, an in-depth understanding of the international schools market will allow you to decide which regions merit an in-person visit, and in which regions virtual engagement may be more cost-effective. 

Step 3: Be mindful of changes in the international schools market

Hopefully, if you’ve followed Steps 1 and 2, you should have the beginnings of an international schools strategy and colleagues within your team who are willing to be champions of it! 

But Step 3 is making sure that, as you look forward to 2021/22, your whole team is staying abreast of the changes and adaptations that are happening across your relevant recruitment markets. 

Let’s take one example from the community of international schools we work with. You may have heard us mention the fact that 80% of students enrolled in international schools were now local nationals. 

In addition, the definition of an international school is changing all the time (hence why this needs to be baked into your wider strategy). Remember it’s now increasingly common for state schools that teach a national curriculum to open international departments or international streams.

As Shellie discussed in our webinar, many of these newer international schools may not have the resources to power a fully fledged university and careers guidance programme (more on this in Steps 4 and 5). 

As well as an international education that is local, parents of international school students are increasingly looking for an education that is affordable. In our recent International Schools Strategy Guide, we explained how a desire for more affordable international education is driving the growth of so-called ‘mid-market’ schools, based in countries such as the UAE, Malaysia and China. 

So ask yourself: how will changes and emerging trends in your target market affect your institution directly? And how should this inform your wider international enrollment efforts? 

Step 4: Be honest about the students who will be successful at your institution

While awareness of the nuances and complexities of the international schools market is essential for your team, this market intelligence has to go hand in hand with an understanding of what student success looks like for your institution. 

But Rob Medrano, Director of International Admissions at Pace University, a BridgeU partner institution, notes that, in such a diverse marketplace, the definition of student success can rest on a number of factors, such as: 

  • Will students be able to support themselves financially while studying at your institution?
  • Does the curriculum at a given international school align with your academic offering, and will students be able to make the transition from one to the other?
  • Can you envision a potential international applicant becoming a future ambassador for your institution when they graduate? 

Of course, the combined diversity of the US university market and the international schools market means that there’s never going to be any single definition of student success. 

But before you put your international schools strategy into action, we’d definitely recommend asking yourself the question – what does international student success look like for my team and my institution?

Step 5: Adapt your approach to the needs of the international school you’re dealing with

You’re probably learning by now that adaptation is key to a truly successful international schools strategy. 

And as you begin to think about which international schools you may wish to focus on as part of your wider recruitment efforts, it’s essential that your recruitment outreach is tailored to the unique culture and context of the school in question. 

Your adaptation should take into account a number of factors. These include (but are not limited to): 

  • The curriculum that the school is teaching. 
  • The day-to-day responsibilities and challenges faced by the school counsellor (or member of staff tasking with managing university applications)
  • The nationality and demographic make-up of the students at the school.

Step 6: Be prepared to help your prospective applicants navigate the college admissions process

One of the useful insights offered by Shellie during our webinar was this one: many international school students ultimately find the US college admissions system very complex and confusing. 

Perhaps we’re stating the obvious, but an application process that’s unwieldy for domestic US students is likely to feel even more so for your international audience. 

So think about how you can make the research and application process less intimidating for your target audience. 

We’d offer this thought. Different international school students will approach their college search in different ways. And, as they navigate this process, different students will also have very different pain points. 

For instance, some students may have more familiar queries around the nitty gritty of the college application process (for example, questions over the submission of school transcripts, or financial aid considerations) 

But international school students who are less familiar with the USA as a study destination may need help with more fundamental decisions. 

Which part of the USA do they want to study in? What are their preferences around climate and culture? On a deeper level, what are they looking for in a home? 

So as well as adapting tailoring your recruitment to the unique needs of international schools students, be prepared to help your international student applicants with resources designed to simplify the college admissions process. 

Our top tip? Make sure you’re not preparing one-size-fits all content. If you’re looking for ways to engage with your prospective applicants and address their key concerns, we’d suggest asking yourself these questions. 

  • What curriculum is being taught?
  • Where are these students in their university research process?
  • Where are students’ major information gaps?
  • What’s going to help the counsellor to do their job properly?
  • How would you rate the quality of students’ Internet access? (e.g. Zoom calls aren’t always practical for some international schools in Africa, where wi-fi can be patchy, but in a country like South Korea, students will invariably have access to 5G!)

Step 7: Collaborate with the counsellor

We’ve written before about the importance of putting international school counsellors at the heart of your recruitment efforts

And when it comes to helping your potential applicants to navigate the complexities of the college admissions system, the international school counsellor can be a valuable partner for you and your admissions team. 

During his time working in international admissions at Pace, Rob Medrano notes that international counsellors can help to give universities and colleges a clearer idea of what students really want from the higher education experience – and how institutions can align their enrolment management efforts accordingly. 

For example, Rob notes that his team has liaised with international school counsellors to demonstrate the value of Pace’s careers support services. In

International undergraduates at Pace receive help with every aspect of career planning – from setting up a successful LinkedIn profile, to attending specialised careers fairs for international students studying at the university. 

Step 8: Involve parents in the process

Rob notes that, when it comes to international student enrolment, parents are often “the buying committee”. 

That’s why the international admissions team at Pace University have made it their mission to answer international school parents’ questions and address their concerns at every opportunity. 

This has taken the form of the Pace international admissions team making themselves available for both one-to-one chats and group sessions with parents of prospective applicants. The Pace admissions team have also grown accustomed to the occasional early start to help accommodate time differences with parents in other countries and regions! 

Step 9: Scale your strategy with BridgeU

As a new admissions cycle begins, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the work we’re doing with universities both across the USA and worldwide, to ensure that international admissions teams are fostering more direct and meaningful relationships with international schools, their counsellors and their students. 

If you’d like to know more, get in touch with us here.

And if you’d like more expert tips to help you optimise your international student enrolment strategy for 2022, watch our exclusive webinar series below.

Get in touch

Learn how BridgeU can help you align your enrolment strategy with your international student audience.