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Building a digital marketing strategy for international admissions

interstride logo by Interstride
March 1, 2024

This blog post was authored by Alison Herget, a former international admissions leader at Villanova and Brandeis universities. 

Anyone who has worked in admissions for a long time will remember the days of boxes of manila file folders of applications, paper inquiry cards to collect student information, and manual data entry that made it impossible to track students from the prospect to applicant to enrolled stages. Glossy printed viewbooks were mailed, and virtual tours were merely collections of photos on the admissions website.

Those days are long over.

The reasons to have a robust digital presence and marketing strategy versus relying on static print materials are numerous. 

Application numbers have risen at many institutions, which could create a greater workload and more competition to attract the highest quality students. Admission staff turnover is among an all-time high, paving the way for technology to create more efficiencies and digital initiatives to take hold to reach more students. Generative artificial intelligence (AI) is changing how applicants apply and how admission offices review applications. Admission offices need to stay on top of these trends by keeping the newest technology at the forefront of everything they do, particularly when it comes to attracting and engaging international students.

Having the right tech at your disposal for managing internal processes and workflow is equally as important as having the right tech presence for attracting the best and brightest students from around the world. Most international applicants will never visit your campus in person, which makes having an informative and easy-to-navigate website, visually engaging virtual tour, and interactive social media presence even more important. Utilizing the right technology and platforms to encourage Interaction with current international students is key for helping prospective students form a lasting sense of community as early in the admission process as possible.

These are among the top factors to consider when establishing a digital presence to attract international students:

1. Multi-platform global visibility

A strong digital presence ensures that your institution is visible to a wide audience around the world. Prospective international students often initiate their search for educational opportunities online and through word-of-mouth. An engaging and easy-to-navigate website, active social media profiles, and a carefully crafted and interconnected online presence make your institution easily discoverable and accessible to students from countries outside the US. 

Websites and other platforms should be optimized for mobile devices, as students in certain markets may rely on mobile devices to access websites and other digital platforms for daily tasks. Reputation and a top-quality education are among the biggest factors that influence where international students decide to study, and a comprehensive multi-platform digital presence can support these goals. If appropriate, consider providing some digital material in multiple languages. Although students speak English, their parents may not, and they are a primary driver in their school decision-making process.

2. Virtual campus tours and multimedia content

Many students from outside the US initiate their college search online and will never get a chance to visit your campus in person. By offering engaging virtual campus tours and multimedia content (curated professionally and by current students) you can showcase what it is really like at your school and provide an immersive experience that rivals that of the opportunity to visit on campus. Consider having current international students curate “day in the life of” videos to virtually show prospective students around campus and how they spend their time.

3. Active social media presence

Prospective students want to receive authentic communication about what it’s really like to be a student at your institution. A social media presence on multiple platforms is one way to push out authentic messages that highlight the diversity of your international student body while showcasing academics and student life and fostering a sense of community. Ensure that social media platforms are well maintained and that staff or students are trained to respond appropriately and quickly to inquiries that may come through. Consider what social media platforms are most active in countries in which you would like to recruit more students and establish a presence there.

4. Online information sessions and webinars

Hosting online information sessions and webinars can provide a platform for sharing detailed information about academic programs, admission procedures, and campus life. They also offer an opportunity for prospective international students to interact directly with university representatives and current international students to receive official answers to questions. If hosting these events live, be sure to offer them in different time zones and/or make them available as recordings so that students around the world can access them at a later point.

5. Engagement platforms to foster community among prospective and admitted students

An often overlooked category of curating a digital presence is engagement platforms. Many admission offices are quick to provide engagement opportunities for admitted students, but miss the chance to engage prospective international students early in their college search process. Providing opportunities for them to engage with current students from their home country or area of academic interest through structured online chats can help them feel more connected to your school community and boost the likelihood that they will apply and enroll, if offered admission.

6. Other creative engagement strategies

Prospective students may want to engage with your university in ways beyond traditional methods. Ask current students from countries that you would like to recruit more students from how they wanted to communicate when they were in high school. Was it text message? WhatsApp? Other specialized platforms unique to other geographic regions? Prospective students are less likely to download a mobile app or sign up for a platform they are unfamiliar with. Meet them on the platforms where they already have a presence to engage them more efficiently and effectively.

In an increasingly global and interconnected world, a strong digital presence is not just an advantage but a necessity for universities seeking to attract international students. By re-examining your digital presence, you can create a welcoming online environment that resonates with prospective students from around the world.

Alison Herget is a former international admissions leader at Villanova and Brandeis universities. She has led efforts to recruit and enroll diverse undergraduate classes of students from all over the world, managed international communication strategies, and traveled to more than 50 countries.