In the report, WES recommends that institutions be aware of how international master’s students choose where to study, which varies depending on the region they’re from, and “align their outreach strategies with the appropriate target market”.
The report found that almost half (48%) of the 2,388 students surveyed selected career prospects as their most important institutional factor when applying.
“At one level it assumes that all international students are the same”
This category took into account the quality of career preparation services, the reputation of the school or programme with potential employers, and earning potential following graduation.
In addition, 30% selected school reputation as their biggest influencer with 15% selecting cost and the remaining 7% choosing location.
The survey was based on online responses from students who were applying for foreign credential evaluation at WES.
“This report is fourth in the series of research to help higher education institutions make informed enrolment strategies by better understanding student needs and behaviour,” Rahul Choudaha, chief knowledge officer and senior director of strategic development at WES, told The PIE News.
“One of the biggest limitations in the institutional strategy is that at one level it assumes that all international students are the same or at the other extreme it stereotypes different student populations based on hunches and anecdotal experiences.”
The report also highlights regional nuances in the rankings of influencers.
Although career prospects was the top overall reason for applying to a US college or university for international master’s students, 47% of Chinese students ranked school reputation as the most important, and 42% selected career prospects.
Meanwhile, 58% of Indian students ranked career prospects as the highest, while just under a quarter (24%) selected school reputation.
While career prospects were also the highest for Latin American, European and Sub-Saharan African students, 30% of those from Sub-Saharan Africa ranked cost as the most important factor.
In addition, 76% of Chinese students elected private not-for-profit institutions as their “reach schools”–institutions they might not be qualified for, but there is still a possibility of acceptance–, compared with 30% of Indian students. These institutions were also marked as “reach schools” by 77% of Latin American students and 57% of European students.
Indian students preferred public institutions, according to the report, with 69% considering them “reach schools”.
These institutions were the least popular with Chinese and Latin American students, with just under a quarter (23%) from both cohorts considering them.
With career prospecting being the most important factor for all nationalities, its not surprising that the reputation of the school or programme with potential employers was ranked as either “important” or “very important” by the most students – 89%.
Among Latin American students, 61% considered reputation with employers “very important” compared with just 29% of Middle Eastern students.
“It encourages higher education institutions to understand students beyond aggregate numbers”
Big regional differences can also be seen when looking at cost, with 59% of Sub-Saharan African students considering the availability of financial aid and scholarships awarded by institutions as very important. This is compared with just 17% of Chinese students and 27% of Middle Eastern students.
Furthermore, annual tuition and fees are considered a “very important” aspect to consider by 60% of Sub-Saharan African students, in contrast to 29% of Chinese students and 26% of Middle Eastern students.
The report recommends, “Institutions need to be aware of how these differences manifest themselves and to align their outreach strategies with the appropriate target market.”
It also recommends institutions should determine their value proposition and move to “informed strategies in order to achieve the best response”.
Choudaha added that the research provides hard evidence on how international students differ when it comes to making the decision of where to study.
“The report encourages higher education institutions to understand students beyond aggregate numbers and recognise the diversity of their needs and expectations.”