Smartphones: The New Pathway for Recruiting International Students

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As the current academic year has come to a close and high school students around the world finish their school years, it’s time for both recruiters and high school seniors to think about applications for the 2018-19 academic year.

While domestic students may drag their feet on applications, international students need to plan ahead. As you read this article, approximately 1 million new students worldwide are researching degree programs in other countries (ICEF 2014). The majority are not reading brochures or going to recruitment fairs, they’re doing their research on their smartphones.

Why Mobile Matters for International Student Recruiting

So you know mobile matters for American teens who are glued to their phones, but is mobile as critical for students abroad? In fact, it’s even more important for these students.

Global smartphone usage rates are growing, with tech-friendly South Korea coming in at the top worldwide, and Malaysia, China, Turkey and even Palestine in the top 20. Adoption rates are higher in rapidly developing countries, where students are also more likely to consider studying abroad. China, India, Brazil and Nigeria rank among the countries with the highest numbers of mobile phones in use.

In some countries, it’s easier to get online by smartphone than by desktop. In India, for example, 77% of urban users and 92% of rural users use their phones as their primary means of accessing the internet. In areas where landline or internet infrastructure has trailed behind wealthier countries, smartphones have helped bridge the gap. That’s one of the reasons why the number of smartphone users in Africa has doubled in two years.

Smartphone Adoption Among Millennials and Gen Z

While data on the number of smartphone owners outside the United States shows high adoption rates, it becomes even more critical for recruiters when you break that down by demographics. In South Korea, for example, 88% of the general population owns a smartphone – but 100% of young adults 18-34 have one.

And while rates of ownership among adults over 35 hover around 30-50% in many European nations, youth ownership rates are much higher. In Germany, 92% of young adults have a smartphone, versus only 50% among those 35 and up.

The 2017 Social Admissions Report by Chegg found that 85% of students used a mobile device to research universities. This data was supported by a 2016 survey conducted by Quacquarelli Symonds in which over 60% of students at UK universities reported using a smartphone during their decision journey.

Prioritizing mobile marketing in recruitment strategies is becoming increasingly critical for universities that recruit international students. This means not only making the university website mobile-accessible but also understanding how prospective students research and discover information using smartphones – i.e. how they find your university’s website in the first place.

Where International Students Are Looking

Most universities who are updating their websites to become more mobile-friendly won’t convert the entire site to mobile right away. It makes sense to prioritize specific landing pages and a few key pages of greatest importance for your target audience.

So which pages on your site do prospective international students navigate to? Reports from higher education data experts QS looked at what’s most important to students in crucial regions for international recruitment around the globe.

Jobs and Education Quality Come First

While American students listed ROI as their most important criterion in choosing a college, the quality of education was overwhelmingly the most important factor for students from China, India, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Students from all the surveyed regions abroad wanted to know that their credentials would make them stand out in the job marketplace, as well as post-graduation employment rates.

The student experience is an important factor for students from some regions, while other students are less concerned about this – only 6% of Chinese students, for example, rated it as a top factor in decision-making. Students from all regions rated availability of financial aid as a primary factor in their choice of college.

What can admissions professionals take from this? Ensure that, along with general program information, information on teaching, prominent academic staff and research, employment prospects and rates, and financial aid is available efficiently on your mobile site.

Why Mobile Has a Need for Speed

Study after study has shown that the longer users need to wait for your site to load, they’re substantially more likely to desert your page and look elsewhere. With people on the go and the possibility of data caps or slow wi-fi connections, that’s even more true for wi-fi, and for teens with limited attention spans.

Does your site already load slowly at home in California? Now imagine trying to load it on a patchy connection in India or China. Tech-savvy teens may have the latest devices, but prospective international students can be accessing your site via slow connections, meaning it’s critical to have a fast-loading mobile site where they can get the information they need. Check your website analytics. If your website has a higher bounce rate for mobile users than it does for desktop/laptop users, your site has a mobile problem.

See how your university compares to others in the university mobile speed rankings. Keep in mind that an average mobile speed score of 50 equates to a 10 second page load time. According to Google’s research, a page load time of 10 seconds means a 123% increase in bounce rate.

Ensure Your Site is Optimized for International Students

It’s easy to start taking the first steps to ensure you’re ready for next year’s application season. Optimizing your site for international students means making sure your site is smartphone-friendly, starting with fast-loading landing pages that provide easy access to the information prospective students need.

These pages, specifically designed for mobile devices, provide the initial engagement with prospective students. They load quickly, are easy to navigate, and provide a lot of information in a short amount of time. Setting up mobile-specific landing pages is a much better solution than simply making the main pages of your website responsive.

Incorporating video is a very effective way to capture attention and create initial engage with prospective students. Personalizing the information for student from particular regions or countries, is an even better way of creating engagement.

For the admissions and marketing teams that want to excel with this approach, you can also consider additional advanced features such as language compatibility, live chat or even chatbots to improve the user experience.

Making Your Site Discoverable

Once you are you satisfied that you have created an excellent mobile user experience, you can turn your attention to marketing. Attracting prospective students to your site can be done in many ways.

You could add an additional “mobile” link to your listings on the major college portal websites offering students using smartphones the choice of entering your mobile site. This is called referral traffic and you are simply setting up 2 different channels, one for students using Mac or PC computers and another for mobile devices users.

Targeted advertising is an excellent way for you to develop an instant connection with prospective students. Google Adwords and Facebook offer extremely powerful targeting options that enable you to reach prospective students all over the world. Both companies have made mobile a top priority and Google even rewards organizations that offer an excellent mobile experience with higher rankings in their search results.


Prospective students all over the world are increasingly using smartphones to conduct their research on university programs. Creating a mobile-first recruiting strategy should be a top priority for any university wishing to attract international students. First impressions count and an excellent mobile experience will help your university attract more international student applicants.

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