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From entry requirements to scholarships, we explain how UK universities should handle international students’ common queries, and turn applications into enrolments.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from nearly a decade of working with international school students worldwide, it’s this.
International students ask a lot of questions during the university application process!
This probably isn’t news to you if you work in an international admissions or recruitment team. After all, studying at university in another country is a big step in any young person’s life.
For many BridgeU international students, the UK remains a popular study destination. During the course of the numerous events we’ve run for our students in collaboration with UK partners, we’ve noticed a number of the same questions come up again and again.
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But even though international and domestic students might ask what appear to be very similar questions, their reasons for asking them might be very different – and may require different answers!
So, with this in mind, we’ll dig a bit deeper into international students’ most frequent questions and explain what might be motivating applicants to ask them in the first place.
For instance, questions can sometimes get lost in translation – either because students don’t quite know what to ask, or, in the case of some international students, because English might not be their first (or even second) language.
But some questions might also just speak to a deeper concern that a student has about being a UK international undergraduate.
Finally, we’ll share tips based on UK universities who have partnered with us in our previous events, and we’ll show you how to proactively anticipate these common questions so you can align your marketing and communications to students’ needs.
Questions about entry requirements
1. What are the acceptance rates for your university?
This is a common question that you’re probably used to hearing from students, no matter where they’re from! Often, we’ve found this question comes up when students ask about a competitive or high-profile course, such as medicine, nursing or business.
But often this question will disguise a host of other questions, such as “what are the acceptance rates for ‘x’ degree, or “what are your acceptance rates for IB students”?
International students often ask this question not just to evaluate their chances of acceptance, but also to get a sense of how many fellow international peers they’ll be studying alongside.
So, if you come across this question, it can really help if you’ve got up-to-date stats about international admission rates on hand, either about specific departments or for your institution as a whole”
And don’t be afraid to be honest. If acceptance rates for a particular degree programme at your university are low, then say so. If a course is competitive, being upfront about it will ensure you receive quality applications from motivated students who feel like they’re up for the challenge!
2. What are your IB entry requirements?
It’s perhaps not surprising that this is the second most common question we receive about admissions requirements to UK universities – the International Baccalaureate is, after all, the most popular curriculum for international schools that we partner with here at BridgeU
So bound up with this question are deeper questions, such as “do IB students thrive at your institution” or “how will my application be judged compared to domestic A-level students?”
On a basic level, students will just want assurances that the IB will be as accepted.
Again, be prepared to answer questions about your institution’s IB acceptance rates, including required grades at Standard Level and Higher Level.
But we’d recommend going further than this. If you’re talking to IB students, then explain why the IB prepares students to thrive academically and personally at your institution. How does the IB prepare students for studying at a higher education overseas? How likely are they to meet, and befriend, like-minded peers who will understand their upbringing?
3. What do you look for in a successful applicant?
This can be quite an open-ended question, and, once again it speaks to international students’ desire to stand out in a competitive environment.
There’s no ‘one’ right way to answer this question – we appreciate that every UK university might be the right fit for different types of students.
However, we would suggest that this question presents a golden opportunity to make sure international students have a strong grasp of how to navigate the UCAS application process.
For example, for many students, writing the UCAS Personal Statement can feel like a very unwieldy and intimidating process, especially if English isn’t their first language!
So this question is a great opportunity to remind your international applicants of the ‘dos and don’ts’ when writing a Personal Statement.
If you’re looking for a little inspiration, below are some of the great responses we’ve heard from UK universities on some of our events in the past.
Here’s what Yasmin Hossein, a university rep at University College London, told our students at a UK showcase.
“In terms of what makes an outstanding application, I guess it’s just the real sense from a student that they’ve really thought about why they like that subject, pinpointing specific things and then expanding on them in a bit more detail.
In order to prepare for that, start having conversations with your friends, with your parents and with your advisers […] get yourself in the habit of speaking about it.”Yasmin Hossein: Senior Liaison and Recruitment Officer, University College London, April 2020
And here is what Joanna Bain from The University of Brighton told our international students.
“I want to see some individuality. I want to see someone who has thought about what their profession requires. So if you’re applying for Medicine for instance, what skills should a good doctor have?
Demonstrate how you have those skills. Too often we see Personal Statements that are a list of achievements and it gives me nothing about that person as an individual. What I want to know is what that person will bring to the program, and what will make them a good architect, a good pharmacist, a good lawyer.”Joanna Bain: International Officer, University of Brighton, April 2020
Both these UK university reps gave international students insights on some of the essential ingredients of a successful UCAS Personal Statement, namely that it’s about students telling a compelling story about what motivates them academically, rather than a laundry list of achievements.
It might seem common sense to someone with experience of UK university applications, but trust us when we say that, for many international students, the requirements of the Personal Statement are often an unknown quantity.
4. What are your English language requirements?
This is another example of a question where international students might be concerned about whether their international curriculum makes them a good fit for your university.
International students will often have basic queries about whether you accept IELTS vs TOEFL or whether your university recognises any of the newer language exams, like Duolingo. You might also find students asking about whether their SL or HL English is sufficient to grant them entry onto a degree programme.
If you’re able to provide this information to students as early in the application process as possible, it will rid them of a fairly basic concern.
Whether it’s an extra slide in your presentation, or just a small one page resource that you hand out at an in-person visit, it’s important to give a really thorough breakdown of your degree programmes’ language requirements.
Watch: Lancaster University answers international students’ questions at one of our showcases
Careers & employment questions
5. Do you have any work experience placements/placement years, and are they paid?
For many students, the graduate prospects of a degree is increasingly important, especially when a degree comes with a hefty price tag.
For those students who apply for degrees with placement years or years in industry, we often see UK universities receive questions about whether placement years are paid, and the long-term graduate career prospects that these placements offer.
We’d suggest being prepared to talk about how placement years fit into the university’s wider degree offering.
Are there any courses which are renowned for their placement options? Perhaps more crucially, are there any degrees that don’t offer a placement year?
And if there’s no placement year baked into the degree course, what other work experience opportunities are there on campus?
We’d also suggest being prepared to discuss what type of career support exists on campus for international students. We’ve often found that international applicants to UK universities will have unique concerns about employability. A few examples include:
- They might want to know more about the logistics of staying in the UK after graduation – what work experience/soft skills will UK employers be looking for?
- Students might also have questions about what job opportunities will be available to them if they return to their country of origin after graduation.
Even better, make sure that information about your on-campus career support is included in your presentations from the beginning!
6. What are the graduate prospects for students at your university?
We probably don’t have to spell out for you why this question is so common amongst our students. As we discussed in our earlier section on financial aid, the price tag associated with an overseas education is foremost on students’ minds!
We’d suggest answering this question by crafting a compelling narrative about the general careers support that you offer international students (see the earlier question about work experience and placements).
We’re willing to bet you’ll have stats to hand about your graduate employment rates.
So it’s worth combining stats like this with any qualitative insights about how your faculties and academic programmes support and improve students’ graduate outcomes, as Taylor does from the University of Exeter.
“We host two big careers fairs every year at the university for students to attend. We have a Careers Zone where you can book appointments and get employability support. Our Business school also has its own careers team and there’s a real focus on employability there.”Taylor Wearne: Regional Manager (UK, Europe & Sub-Saharan Africa) at the University of Exeter
7. Does your university have any connections with local employers?
This second question related to post-graduate employability also comes up a lot when BridgeU international students meet our UK universities.
As we’ve discussed in our previous resources, it’s important not to underestimate the extent to which international students who come to the UK are looking for a place to call home.
This means that your potential applicants are understandably curious to know what job opportunities there are in a local area after their studies are completed… and what kind of visa opportunities they will, or won’t, have access to.
This is a chance to tell applicants (if you haven’t already) about the local economy in your area. Don’t forget to point to other notable towns and cities that are within easy reach of your campus.
Here’s how our university partners at Lancaster University chose to answer the question.
“It depends very much on the field you’re looking at. The Careers Service will help and support students as much as possible to promote any local job opportunities that may come up.
We are a smaller city but it’s not far from a number of bigger cities in the North-West, so it’s only an hour from Manchester and Liverpool, about half an hour to Preston.
So there’s a wider area you’d be looking at for jobs post-graduation.”Kirsten Mingins: Regional Manager, Americas, Africa and Europe Lancaster University, June 2020
8. Can you tell me more about study abroad options at your university?
It’s probably not a surprise to hear that international students are sometimes really captivated by the prospect of studying in more than one country during their years as an undergraduate.
Obviously honesty is the best policy here. It’s possible that not all of your degree programmes will offer study abroad – but we’d always recommend giving students a quick showcase of those that do.
How does the study abroad process work? How long can students spend at another university/in another country? What other international destinations do you partner with?
If you’re talking to students who are earlier in the application process, we’d also recommend letting students know if they will need to apply during the UCAS process, or if they can settle on their study abroad options after they have enrolled.
Questions about campus life as an international student
9. Could you tell me a bit more about the accommodation on campus?
This is an especially popular question if you find yourself talking to students who are closer to the application/enrolment stage.
Obviously, international students want to paint a clear picture of where they’re going to live.
Closely bound up with this question are others such as:
- How will my accommodation be allocated?
- Will I be living in halls of residence with other international students?
- How are halls of residence spread across the campus?
Again, it’s important to remember that this question is often rooted in an international student’s need for belonging. It’s important to answer this question in such a way that you’re really painting a picture of what campus life will be like.
Give examples of how the different types of accommodation compare. Talk about their history, their character. Is there a particular hall of residence that is popular with international students in particular? If so, why?
10. What percentage of your undergraduate intake is international?
This is another important question that often speaks to an international student’s desire to see themselves represented at a university – after all, all students fundamentally want to feel like they belong at their chosen institution.
It’s now fairly commonplace for universities to list statistics about the percentage of international students enrolled at their institution on their website, or in their marketing material.
While this is certainly helpful and necessary, we’d always suggest going further.
For instance, make sure that your presentations and events don’t just give hard stats about international students, but also share anecdotes and examples of international undergraduates who are part of your campus community.
Of course, the best showcase of your international student community is to have existing international undergraduates answer questions during online fairs or virtual visits. There’s nothing more affirming for international students than being able to see that there are people like them thriving on campus.
11. Can you tell me a bit more about international student societies/extracurricular activities?
Again, this speaks to international students’ need to feel part of a wider international student community.
It’s worth mentioning that you don’t have to only focus on international student societies when answering this question – don’t take it too literally!
We’d recommend that the key to answering this question is showing international students that they are represented on your campus.
So it’s important to showcase how your student societies reflect your campus’s social, cultural and religious diversity.
Don’t be afraid to adapt your response to your audience. For example, let’s say you’re giving a presentation to an international school in Vietnam. Does your university have any dedicated societies or social events for Vietnamese students?
Watch: Exeter University fields questions from BridgeU international students at a UK university showcase
12. Could you tell me more about student welfare provision on campus?
As we mentioned in a previous section, it’s important to remember that international students will be looking for a sense of belonging, and will be looking at your university campus as a place to call home.
That’s why it’s not uncommon for students to ask what welfare provision you will offer while they’re studying with you. Many universities we work with will often refer students to their international student support office in the first instance ( this is, of course, vital information).
But we’d recommend going further, and signposting your international student applicants to other services and support. Examples include:
- How to register with a GP and access local NHS services
- Access to mental health support
- Guidance on how to set up a bank account and mobile phone contract
- What orientation will international students receive when they arrive on campus (e.g. do you offer airport pickup when they arrive in country?)
- What to buy/pack when furnishing your dorm room.
- A guide to budgeting for daily expenses when they’re in their destination city.
“So just to give you a sense of what happens when students first arrive, we collect all our international students from the airport and then we hand them over to our Student Experience team.
We’ll take students around the city centre, get them to set up a local bank account, and get them registered with a doctor.
As students become more immersed in university life, the Student Experience team is then on hand to help with any other issues that students might face.
Typically it can be things like visa complications or maybe a financial challenge and they’re well-versed with these kinds of issues.”Dan Stephenson: Associate Director of International Recruitment, Relations and Study Abroad.
These, of course, aren’t all of the questions that we receive from international students- there are many more that we encounter in the events that we run with our international students and UK university partners.
But these questions demonstrate why it’s so important to take a proactive, forward looking approach to allaying students’ concerns about the UK university application process.
So, we’ll leave you with our three top tips for ensuring that you’re aligning your university’s communications, outreach and marketing with international students’ key concerns.
Tip 1: Try to spot the common themes in students’ questions
As you’ve probably noticed from this resource, it’s possible to group certain questions under certain themes, be they entry requirements, international student representation on campus or financial aid concerns.
If you spot common themes amongst the questions being fielded by your admissions/recruitment team or your institution, make sure you document them.
Do these questions point to a wider gap in your comms to international students? Is there anything about your entry requirements, scholarship guidance or international students’ orientation resources that are unclear or opaque to students.
And are you proactively offering this information to all interested students in the key markets that you’re looking at targeting? Are there any markets where there are notable information gaps in your application process?
Tip 2: Read between the lines
As we’ve explored, sometimes an international students’ question sometimes masks a host of other unspoken concerns.
Let’s briefly revisit our earlier question about IB entry requirements. If you, or your team receive this question from international students as part of an event, we’d always recommend going further than simply giving a literal answer to the literal question you were asked.
So, instead of simply saying “yes, we accept the IB”, go further. Give that deeper explanation of how your university is a good fit for IB students, and share insights on how the IB prepares international students for life at a UK university.
Tip 3: Adapt to fit your audience
Remember – there’s no guarantee that these 13 questions are the most common questions for every international student the world over.
These questions might take on different manifestations depending on the region of the world you happen to be operating in.
So here’s our final tip. Listen closely to your market intelligence. Find out what the most common questions are in your target market and adapt accordingly.
For instance, to come back to our IB example one more time, there’s every chance that students in a US curriculum school will ask the same question about Advanced Placement (AP) grades.
Remember that a UK education will mean very different things to different students, so it’s important to not take a one-size-fits-all approach to fielding students’ during the application process.
To read more on the questions that students ask UK universities, and how to solve them, download our resource below.
Get in touch
Learn how BridgeU can help you align your enrolment strategy with your international student audience.