IIE Tips to Welcome International Students

April 7, 2017
Blog by Mark Lazar, Chief of Client Engagement, Private Sector & Academic Institutions

Photo: Fulbright FLTAs at a conference in Washington, D.C.

April is here, and admissions letters are out! Now that students around the world have shared their initial joys and sorrows with friends, family and Facebook followers, the real decision-making begins. While students anxiously weigh their options, colleges and universities are working aggressively to turn their offers of admissions into enrollment commitments.

This can be an agonizing period for both students and schools, and getting to “yes” may be even harder this year for students deciding between U.S. higher education and other options. Will the United States be truly open to international students? Will I be welcomed and safe? Will I be able to get a visa?

To help campus leaders and admissions officers navigate these uncertain times, IIE’s team of experts put together a list of eleven actions to take this month to encourage international students to make the United States – and your college – their first choice. This list is by no means comprehensive. Our hope is that it will get the conversation started and others can add in best practices from their campuses and experience.

1. Connect with EducationUSA centers. EducationUSA advisers are on the front lines working with students and have unique insights about the situation in their countries. Visit www.educationusa.state.gov to find centers in your target countries.

2.  Leverage your university’s social media outlets to let international students know they are welcome. Take part in the successful #YouAreWelcomeHere social media campaign, and share specific messages about actions your campus is taking to welcome students and provide services they will need. Share pictures from activities your international office is doing now to support current students.

3. Enlist your current international students as ambassadors. Encourage them to reach out to newly admitted students from their countries to let them know that the campus is a welcoming and safe environment. Ask them to see if their parents are willing to talk to the parents of newly admitted students. Nothing beats students hearing from students and parents hearing from parents.

4. Send accepted international students periodic updates about issues of concern such as safety and visas. Include specific information about your campus and community, drawing on local, state and regional resources, including consortia that promote your state as a higher education destination, or a state-wide tourist bureau. Be creative in going beyond your traditional marketing to let students know that the school fosters a supportive, inviting, and diverse environment. For example, you can include a letter from a local Mayor or Governor, with a message about how much they value international students.

5. Highlight student associations on your campus and other peer networks. Encourage them to provide photos and create messages you can send to accepted students.

6. Look to your international alumni as a great resource for accepted students and their parents. Facilitate personal connections, including the opportunity to ask questions by phone, skype or twitter chat.

7. Don’t wait until May to start your webinars for new students. Encourage students to start their planning and visa applications early.

8. Visit focus countries to talk directly with students and parents. Organize admitted student events and pre-orientation activities in areas where you have many admitted students. These earlier trips can help you get ahead of the curve for next year’s recruiting efforts.

9. Reexamine your print and online materials to make sure they represent the diversity and welcoming nature of your campus. Start a YouTube channel for international students. Make sure your welcoming messages are easy to find on your website. 

10. Consider offering alternative arrangements for this fall. For students who may be unable or unwilling to come to the United States right now, consider whether you can help them start their studies at a branch campus, study abroad location or a partner institution in another country and then transfer in or begin at the home campus at a later date. 

11. Download IIE’s white paper, “Advising International Students in an Age of Anxiety: U.S. Campus Responses to the Needs and Concerns of Current and Prospective Students from the MENA Region and Beyond,” which has been updated to include input from a workshop at our Best Practices Conference in March.