Blog 🏛️ University 9th December 2021

How To Better Align Your Enrolment Strategy With International Students’ Decision Making 2022/23

Profile image of Zahra Onsori
Zahra Onsori University Content Writer
We explain why understanding the specific needs and aspirations of your international applicants can help you meet your enrolment goals – and ensure student success! 

The previous two admission cycles have forced many institutions to work harder to prove the value of an international education at a time when such an education may feel out of reach for some students.

Wherever you are in the world and whatever higher education institution you happen to be working in, we’re willing to bet that your immediate enrolment targets are foremost on your mind – or, at least, very much on the mind of your colleagues and team-mates!

And for international admissions departments, there’s an additional challenge. This will be the third admissions cycle that takes place in the shadow of COVID-19 and its associated uncertainties.

When we in the international higher education sector talk about the secrets to successful international student enrolment, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “meeting students where they are”. 

But, in the case of international school students, we mean this both figuratively and literally. 

Literally speaking, “meeting students where they are” means exactly that.

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Where are your prospective students coming from? What country are they based in? What school do they study at? What curriculum or secondary school qualifications are they working towards?

Then there’s “meeting students where they are” in the more figurative sense. 

How does the context of a student’s life affect their hopes, dreams and aspirations for higher education? Where is this student in their university exploration journey? When is this student in their university exploration journey? 

When it comes to your immediate enrolment goals, the international students you’re most interested in talking to are currently submitting, or are about to submit, their applications. 

But as you seek to convert potential international undergraduate applicants into actual applicants, it’s important to remember some of the unique challenges that international school students face as they shortlist and apply to their favoured institutions. 

Let’s quickly examine some of these challenges in a bit more detail. 

A more complicated decision-making process

Our work with international schools has shown us that it’s increasingly likely that students will apply to more than one country. For example, in our most recent study of international student’s UK university preferences, we found that just over 49% of students shortlisted universities in two or more countries. 

When we broke this percentage down further, 26% of students shortlisted two countries, 13% shortlisted three countries and nearly 6% shortlisted four countries. 

This means that international school students’ decision making process is, by its very nature, much more complicated. For these students, this makes selecting the task of creating a final university shortlist more complex.

Navigating unfamiliar application systems

Because international school students are applying through systems and processes that are not native to their own country, these same systems and processes can feel quite intimidating – and it’s natural that international school students will have a lot of questions as they navigate the application process. 

These questions may centre on factors like language considerations, academic requirements, and unfamiliar cultures. 

What’s more, some of these students might also have counsellors and parents who may also be unfamiliar with these systems – leaving students feeling as if they have no one to turn to. 

Studying in another country is a big life decision!

This might seem like a rather obvious point to make, but it’s a point university admissions teams can sometimes forget when they’re engaging with potential applicants. 

Relocating to a new country, and sometimes a new continent, is a huge milestone in a student’s life. And remember, you’re not just asking international school students to choose a university, you’re asking them to choose a home. 

So let’s take a look at the recruitment cycle from an international school student’s perspective. 

We’ll explore some of the key questions and concerns that we hear from our students at this time of year and we’ll share some tips on how you can optimise your enrolment management to ensure you’re answering their questions and addressing their concerns!

September & October: shortlisting & decision making

For many of the international school students we work with, the months of September and October are defined by intense decision making and application prep.

It’s common for our international school counsellors to work with their students to help them draw up a shortlist of potential institutions. In the BridgeU platform, our students are then encouraged to whittle this down to a final, actionable application shortlist. 

But it’s important to remember the three key challenges we discussed earlier, and how they can create unforeseen barriers to a student’s decision making process. 

Firstly, there’s the more complicated decision making process that international school students must contend with

Many students are likely to feel added pressure if they are being forced to choose between countries – after all, a US higher education experience is notably different from a UK one. 

This leads us on to the second factor – the complexity of the admissions process. If international school students are attempting to choose between two or more countries, it stands to reason they will also have to understand the nuances of two or more application systems. 

One timely example of this is the university application essay. 

Watch: Prospective Medicine, Veterinary and Dentistry Hear From Our UK University Partners

If you work for a UK university, then now is the time when you’re likely beginning to receive UCAS Personal Statement submissions from applicants. 

Meanwhile, if you’re reading this from an office somewhere in North America, then you’re going to be fielding questions from your prospective international students about the demands of the CommonApp, or Coalition Application (to name but a few types of application essay in the US and Canada)

But put yourself in an international school student’s shoes for a moment. These different essays are often testing for very different skills and competencies. 

For example, the UK Personal Statement is designed to gauge a student’s suitability for a particular degree course. Contrast this with a CommonApp essay, which is designed to assess and understand a student’s more personal qualities, such as character, resilience, personal politics and family heritage. 

Finally, there’s the challenge of just making a new country their home. 

It’s worth remembering that whilst some international students intend to return to their home countries after studying abroad, other students have relocated frequently throughout their childhood… the three-four years they spend at your institution could well be the longest they’ve ever called somewhere home

While it’s true that international students’ experience of living in another country will vary depending on their background and upbringing, there’s always going to be at least some element of unfamiliarity with a new country, city or campus.

Strategy tips

Think about how you are going to contextualise and distil the important information that your international student applicants will need at each point in time. 

For example, let’s say you’re showcasing a course that traditionally gets a lot of international applicants, such as medicine. 

It’s not enough to simply talk about the nuts and bolts of the course itself (though this information is important too!). 

It’s also important to provide international student applicants with other relevant information that might govern their decision. Examples could include: 

  • Language learning considerations – what language competencies do international applicants need to show?
  • Are there any additional tests or exams an international student would have to take that their domestic counterparts would not? 
  • Are students aware of how many years this course will take – and do they have a strong grasp of what career and postgraduate prospects look like? 
  • Visa considerations: will your international applicants need more support with visa application and submission?

These considerations need to inform any content or resources that your marketing or recruitment team is preparing for international students – whether that’s your university’s website, YouTube channel, or any webinars or presentations that you’re giving in these weeks. 

November-January: application submission

For the international school students that use the BridgeU platform, November-January is  when most students prepare their final list of preferred institutions and begin to apply to their chosen universities. 

Of course, it might be the case that some international students have already submitted applications to meet relevant early deadlines – for example Early Decision/Early Action in the USA; Oxbridge and medicine/veterinary deadlines in the UK. 

But either way, it’s safe to say that November-January are the crucial months for you and your team when it comes to conversions. 

And it’s a crucial time for students too, with all of the challenges and questions we mentioned in the previous section continuing to weigh heavily on their minds as they try to get all those all-important application documents over the line. 

Strategy tips

At this stage, we’d argue it’s just a good idea to let international students, counsellors and parents know that you’re here to answer any questions you might have. 

If you’re still conducting international school visits, or holding virtual sessions or webinars, we’d recommend making time to offer insights and support around some of the contextual factors that could influence a student’s decision. 

This could include making room for dedicated Q&A sessions or just sharing an admission rep’s contact details as application deadlines grow closer.


Access to financial aid/financial support

Studying in another country can seem an expensive proposition to some international school students. Any drop in sessions, webinars or resources you can provide to reassure students during this time are going to be crucial. 

The same is true of their parents too!

Social activism and cultural fit

Increasingly, Gen Z international students are looking for higher ed institutions that align with their personal and social values: from environmental sustainability to social justice, to inclusive and diverse curriculums. 

Acknowledging these in your enrolment strategy/interactions with prospective applicants can help reassure students about any concerns or worries they may have about culture fit’

Career prospects and soft skills development

It’s never too late to remind students about the opportunities that your institution can offer them in preparing for the world of work. 

Our top tip?  Be as proactive and as present as your resources allow in these months. 

We’ve previously explored how international school counsellors and students will value any facetime you can give them, especially those in schools less well-versed in international applications. 

We’d recommend running office hours, ‘ask me anything’ sessions and just generally creating forums to allow your international student applicants to ask the big questions that could be stopping them from hitting ‘send’ on that all-important application to your institution! 


Having submitted their applications, international school students are now waiting to hear back from you! 

But if and when you offer students a place, we know there’s still pressure on your whole admissions team to ensure that they actually enrol. 

To convert applied students into enrolled students, there’s still plenty of proactive things your international admissions team needs to be doing to ensure that your potential undergraduates feel supported in these crucial final steps of the journey. 

COVID-19 considerations

Unfortunately, we face a third enrolment cycle where COVID-19 will still be looming large in people’s minds – including international students. 

Of course, this is especially true for international students who may have been hit particularly hard by international travel restrictions. 

Students may still have questions about what, if any, COVID-19 contingencies your institution may have and how this may affect their learning experience.

Making the transition from school to university

Remember what we said about international school students making a new country their home? 

That’s why supporting international students as they make sense of this transition can be such an important tactic to make sure they feel comfortable enrolling at your institution! 

After all, they’re about to face two big life changes at once: their first steps into young adulthood, and a relocation to a new country and culture. 

Managing student visas

Student visas are the last piece of the puzzle for international applicants – and they can often be another source of uncertainty and anxiety for some students (especially if you’re reading this from a country where visa rules have been tightened or student visas temporarily suspended).

If you’d like to learn more about how we help universities align their enrolment strategy with the specific questions and concerns of international school students, get in touch with us below. 

Get in touch

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