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How small schools are attracting big numbers of international applicants

It’s easy to understand the appeal of an overseas education for foreign students. Young high school grads from emerging countries can experience both culture and curriculum in ways that aren’t attainable in their local colleges and universities. After all, many North American and European schools are globally recognized for their stellar reputations and high post-graduation employment rates.

Universities appeal to these foreign attendees for many reasons including their unique location, industry-specific reputation, post-graduate employment opportunities and other factors.
Universities appeal to these foreign attendees for many reasons including their unique location, industry-specific reputation, post-graduate employment opportunities and other factors.

Each year, thousands of high school students across the globe meticulously fill out a stack of applications to gain admission to their top choice school. For some, this means a nearby campus, but for a number of overseas youngsters, the preferred destination is a plane ride away to a country they may have never visited. Universities appeal to these foreign attendees for many reasons including their unique location, industry-specific reputation, post-graduate employment opportunities and other factors.

Some scholars choose to apply only at the largest, most established universities while others look elsewhere. Increasingly, smaller schools are becoming popular amongst foreign applicants.

The Increasing Popularity of Small Schools

Both established and newer schools offer numerous benefits for their attendees. In fact, nearly all institutions with an international popular are continuously striving to improve the experience for these students. More modest-sized schools might seem less intimidating to recent high school graduates. According to a 2018 survey of students, the top small university in the world is a California campus with around 2,000 students. Though tiny compared some of the state’s other institutions, nearly 30% of their population is comprised of international attendees. Another Canadian institution with less than 3,000 students saw its enrollment increase by close to 50% in a single year thanks to a large influx of international recruits. 

How do these schools manage to compete for international attendees against institutions with a larger variety of undergraduate programs, an enormous faculty and a sprawling campus?

Cultivating a Positive Reputation

The reputation of a school – whether it be prestigious, valued or welcoming – can be a key tool for attracting applicants. A variety of publications regularly rank the academic world in order to crown the top contenders. One such list recently named the best destinations for international students in America. While numerous well-known and larger institutions were selected, a few others cracked the top 10, including one school with less than 1,000 attendees. Another’s population hovered around 3,000 but managed to represent 80 countries.

Making a Good First Impression

While managing their move, having a simplified payment process for tuition and fees can make things much easier for the student. Utilizing an online platform like WU® GlobalPay for Students allows foreign attendees or parents to transact online in their local currency and is available in 10 languages, to make the process as stress-free as possible. Not only does this service secure funds, but it also speeds up the sometimes-lengthy timeframe for overseas payments and allows the payer to track their status online. A positive first impression can help an institution stay competitive in the global market.

Once they arrive, organizing a second orientation for international students is a warm gesture. Though faculty-specific or school-wide events are typically available, celebrating incoming attendees from across the globe can allow these individuals to meet others who are also far from home and showcase any available resources.

Post-grad Immigration Policies

All schools within a  country benefit from increased government efforts to boost international enrollment as a whole. In 2014 the Canadian government set an ambitious target for attracting new foreign students and managed to reach their 2022 goal in about 3 years. Smaller universities and colleges were big winners of this initiative as many of their international populations quickly exploded. A huge factor for the influx was the beneficial immigration policy, which allows for post-grad work and eventual residency.

Word-of-Mouth Among Students

Some use their smaller size to their advantage by promoting it as a good place for students who might find a larger institution daunting. This is likely to resonate with a number of foreign applicants, as many will be away from home for the first time without their full support system. One 2019 survey celebrated a small Iowa college with around 650 students as a top choice. While the school is a lesser-known institution in the state, the tuition is incredibly affordable and they boast a 100% first-year retention rate – an impressive feat. Such impressions are vital, as positive word-of-mouth among students is a key influencer in their decision on whether or not to select a school.

Post-Graduation Employment Rates

Employability is a major priority for international students as they consider their options. A number of smaller schools rank high for post-grad job opportunities including one Texas University with only a few thousand attendees – about one third of which are non-residents.

STEM Programs

Many international students travel overseas to pursue a degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These growing industries are increasingly in-demand and competition for popular STEM schools can be stiff. A recent ranking of top US schools in this category featured multiple small colleges and universities – including number 3, which boasts just 886 students.

Regardless of their history or campus size, smaller schools are having a big impact on international students and increasing numbers of foreign attendees could steadily grow their population and change their future.