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5 Ways To Make an Impact on International Students

By: Sarah Doar
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International students are seen as so important to fostering a diverse student body that leading institutions like Brown University are even considering inviting them to study for free. Let that sink in.

International students play an integral role in enriching the student experience for everyone. Foreign students can also help universities expand their reach as they look to increase their enrollment numbers.

However, in order to pique the interest of international students and enable them to thrive once they’ve committed, education leaders must understand how to support them from admissions through to graduation. 

Julie Merendino, the former Assistant Director of International Admissions at American University recently shared how institutions should consider admissions, classrooms and campus events through the eyes of international students. Merendino now works for VITAC to promote usage of helpful solutions for inclusion. She provided insights on what international students typically face and how university leaders can fuel more positive interactions with them. 

Here are five key ways universities can better engage prospective  international students and set them up to thrive in their programs.

1. Consider their families

From first conversations about studying abroad to the day students receive their admissions letters, the parents and family members of international students play a key role in their child’s final decision to enroll abroad. It is essential to engage their families in the admissions process.

2 people discussing notes

Involving parents every step of the way can help to alleviate any worries or second thoughts about students studying abroad. Consider hosting informational sessions specifically designed for parents to address concerns, providing translations of financial aid and other important documents, or assigning each family to a personal admissions counselor to field questions as they come up. It can also help to expose families to former or current international students who can share their stories and experiences.

With more than 1M international or foreign-born students enrolled at US colleges and universities, making an effort to enlist effective communication tactics for non-native speakers is key. Connecting with these families and delivering support effectively can ultimately have a strong impact on whether these students enroll and make it through to the end of their programs. 

2. Avoid the ‘one size fits all’ approach

Personalizing the experience of each student is crucial to making them feel welcome. This statement rings even more true with regard to international students.

“The college experience is not one size fits all. With all sorts of different voices and perspectives on campus and in the classroom, make sure to send out personalized communications as much as possible,” said Merendino. 

Personalized communication strategies include writing emails with specific action items for international students to complete. Many institutions are offering sessions in different languages or with the aid of translation or captions as well. Although students are required to demonstrate English proficiency, providing translated resources like forms and sessions with captions as a visual aid can help them to follow along more effectively. Removing any added hurdles in the process for international students to feel welcome in unchartered territories can make a massive difference for these students.

3 people on a table with their laptop laughing

Personalizing the course enrollment process also makes international students feel like they have a hand in crafting their education, without having to turn to another advisor. Instead of just offering a random list of classes for selection, present them in a way that shows students what is most useful for their degree. This is also a fun way for students to get to know the options available to them. 

Saddleback College developed a software called SHERPA, or Service-Oriented Higher Education Recommendation Personalization Assistant. SHERPA works similar to the recommendation services on Netflix and Amazon. Instead of just telling a student that a class is full, the program will suggest classes that are open. Student preferences, schedules and courses are stored to create profiles that are responsive to student needs. 

Look for ways to continue to personalize the experiences and ways you’re communicating with  international students. They’ll notice the lengths you’re going to take their individual needs, native languages and challenges into account. 

3. Offer helpful learning tools

Once international students are enrolled, there are many options you can consider to engage them more effectively in their courses and student life experiences. Solutions like live captions help students to comprehend the information being shared in real-time with an additional visual aid to reference on-screen.

Many institutions, including the University of North Florida and Brigham Young University-Idaho are offering tools like AST’s live captioning during lectures and campus events. 

“The main goal should be to make the process more inclusive and accessible for students,” said Merendino. “It’s very helpful to have live captioning to provide extra support to those who speak English as a second language.”

huge library with very high ceilings

Providing captioning and also transcription services to serve as notes for recorded lectures or videos shown within courses also gives international students the opportunity to engage more effectively. When international students are presented with information both audibly and visually with captions or translations, there’s a higher likelihood that they will retain the information. 

Additionally, searchable transcripts, like those provided by AST, allow students to input keywords to easily reference a piece of the lecture they want to revisit, rather than have to comb through the entire transcript to find the one part they wanted to reference.

Keeping inclusivity top of mind when it comes to the learning experiences you’re delivering to international students will promote more successful learning experiences for them.

4. Use diverse methods of communication

Using different platforms and mediums to share information can help to bridge communication issues that international students and their families face. Not all students or parents benefit from or use the same methods of communication.

For example, WhatsApp is more frequently used abroad than iMessage. Plus, prospective students may be active on social and video-first channels, while their parents may be better reached via email campaigns. 

“We send targeted emails and webinars to our parents, as well as newsletters that go to school counselors,” said Merendino.

By using diverse methods to share information and having a sense of the platforms being used in each region you’re working with, you have a greater chance that your messages will reach students and their families.

auditorium with people

For example, more than 98% of college-aged students use social media. Social channels can therefore be perfect to attract international students who you want to reach in specific areas. Launching geo-targeted campaigns that speak directly to  prospective students based in Spain can and should look different than those targeted at students based in the Netherlands. Social platforms are designed to help you communicate effectively with localized messaging. Plus, with a partner like AST, you can upload translations and add captions to any of the video content directly within the platform you’re using for these campaigns – whether it’s YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or anything else.

For international students who are already enrolled, look to post updates about deadlines and events in multiple forums until you have a sense of where they’re looking the most based on data and clickthrough rates. Posting within their LMS or student portals, emails and newsletters and via your social handles gives them multiple methods to learn about important information and be exposed to all aspects of campus life outside of their classes alone.

5. Provide peer support

Pair your international students with a fellow international student as a buddy. It reminds them that while they may be in a foreign place, they are not alone. American University has seen great success in setting up this peer system to help students feel more connected and part of the community. 

“A core part of our current international student body volunteered to be part of our recruitment process. They reached out to students for one-on-one contact and sometimes led small virtual groups,” said Merendino.

Students can be matched with a buddy either before or after the application process to provide guidance about admissions, academic advice or just a friendly face to turn to when they have questions. It can also be helpful to pair them with a local student to help them acclimate more and receive more guidance from someone who fully knows the ropes and understands the culture.

people with focus on a person with mobile phone and notebook on lap

Setting your international students up for success

Offering effective communication and personalized experiences designed for international student needs is a surefire way to make them feel connected and included.

To keep prospective and current international students engaged and supported, look for small edits you can make. Improving your courses, events and open houses can be done with  small easy fixes, like adding captions, you can make that will have a big impact. Offering students and their families an additional visual aid, a person they can contact directly and multiple modes of communication can support them tremendously throughout the process.

AST offers solutions like captions, transcripts and translation which are designed for the needs of education to support international students and their families, as well as individuals with disabilities and the entire population at large. Reach out to us today to learn more about the variety of solutions we can offer to make your campus and courses more inclusive for  international students and everyone else.