Due to the fact that younger generations use social media extensively, many universities are turning to Instagram and Twitter to attract new students.
However, new research by Uniquest (UQ), as reported by The Pie News, recently revealed that it’s not just social media that certain international students turn to when checking out a university; the website plays an important role, too.
The report found that among UQ’s partner universities, 91 percent of the international offer holders among partner institutions were ‘stealth applicants’ – students who apply without making any contact with the university.
New statistics show an increase from previous research, whereby 85 percent of students in the 2016/2017 academic year had applied without making any contact before application, showing the numbers are rising.
Their decision to apply seems to have been primarily based on their perusal of the university website, Uniquest found after tracing the path these stealth students took.
Jennifer Parsons, Uniquest’s Director of Marketing and Insights, told The PIE News, “We already knew from monitoring the data at offer holder stage that the university website was the most important information source for international stealth applicants.”
“What surprised us in doing a deeper analysis of the combination of research channels for those students who went on to enrol, is that for a staggering 50% of enrolled students, the university website wasn’t just the most important channel, it was the only channel used.”
The results showed that for over half of the students surveyed, the institution’s website was the only channel where they received information on the school and consequently applied.
According to the article, “The next most common mixes of information sources were the ‘university website’ coupled with ‘rankings publications’, which roughly 3% of enrolled respondents used, while 3% of respondents reported relying on their friends exclusively as their source of information.”
Surprisingly, the survey found that social media channels were not significantly represented, and were “only part of the channel mix in the path to applications for only a handful of students who went to enrol.”
Therefore, Parsons emphasised how important it is for a university to keep their website updated and looking sharp, as it may be the one and only chance universities have to engage these “stealth applicants”.
She said, “Students are relying on University websites as their one-stop-shop to learn about a university. Universities need to make sure the content on their websites is up-to-date and enables students to get the information they need to see themselves becoming a student at the university. Students aren’t going to reach out to fill in any gaps.”
Uniquest also reviewed more than 55 higher education websites across the US and pointed out some common areas that need improvement in order to attract prospective international students.
Here are some handy quick fixes they recommend.
Make a dedicated page for prospective international students that’s easy to find
Since there’s plenty of content that goes on a university website, Uniquest suggests making it clear where international students can find the information relevant to them.
They stated, “It’s worth considering how you can make room to signpost a section for prospective international students directly from the homepage. Don’t make students dig around for the prospective international student section of your website and clearly mark pages that are specific to them versus current international students.”
Make it user-friendly
It definitely pays to make a website look beautiful and eye-catching, but it must also be practical and easy to navigate.
They advised, “Make your website easier to navigate with clear directions for international students to access the information they need. The top frequently asked questions we hear from international students early on in the recruitment process relate to: Majors offered, Costs, Application/admissions requirements, and Scholarships.
“Place this information either above the fold (where the user does not have to scroll down) on your international page or provide well-marked links to this information above the fold of your main international page.”
Highlight the ‘international student experience’
Uniquest recommended that universities should show students what makes them special in terms of international student experience.
They can do so through content like “video testimonials from current international students, news from student organizations and clubs, virtual tours of both your campus and your college town or city.”
Make sure international students can understand the lingo
Universities must remember that when attracting foreign students, there might be language barriers as well as the inability to understand slang terms and ‘Americanisms’.
Uniquest stated, “Communicate clearly with your international audiences by avoiding phrasing that may not translate outside of the US. We’ve seen our fair share of blank stares at company outings when our American and British colleagues use local terms or phrases with each other that don’t make sense on the other side of the pond.
“So, even where the language spoken is the same, how it’s used matters. When you’re editing your copy, check that all your phrasing translates for a global audience.”
Make contact information stand out
Last but not least, contact information must be very accessible as there’s no point of having a great website if students can’t take further steps to make contact. They also suggested using Live Chat features.
They advise, “Place call-to-action buttons on your international landing pages that direct students to clearly listed contact details. Minimize the number of phone numbers and email addresses you’re listing so there’s no room for uncertainty about who best to reach.”
Uniquest’s research is ongoing and is set to offer more insights into the broader student journey in the near future.
Co-founder and CEO Rachel Fletcher told The PIE News, “We’re now working with our partners to help them translate these insights into developing the right messages and information for their websites to make sure Stealth students are engaged in the right way on the channel they’re relying on most pre-application.”