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The annual NAFSA conference took place this week (26-31 May) attracting those in the education sector from all around the world. Celebrating its 65th anniversary, NAFSA invited our CEO Mike Elms to speak on the final day; but rather than talk about our company, he decided to let the audience know what YOU, our users, told us in a recent student survey we conducted.
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A few months ago we sent out a set of questions to users across our international sites, as well as to followers on associated social media accounts. This survey asked a number of things including: how students search when looking for study abroad options; what content they found valuable; their expectations of the application process; and their opinion of alternative study routes. We received an overwhelming 6,000 responses (thank you to those who did) which told us a lot about who uses our sites.
Just so you don’t miss out, below are ten key findings which the audience at NAFSA heard:
1. Applicants search primarily by course
When starting the search, 43.5% of all students search by course or programme, compared to university (27.1%) and location (22.5%). This was somewhat consistent across all countries, though there were exceptions: Thai students prioritise location, while Middle Eastern students regard the university itself more highly. Additionally, Korean students prioritise both almost equally above course.
2. Most students know the country they want to study in
83% of all students have a clear idea of the country they want to study in. Furthermore 63% of those students have a specific area or region in that country in mind. So while we endeavour to provide enough information to introduce the idea of studying in a specific country, these results tell us students likely come to us with a rough idea of where they want to go.
3. Students want to read information in their own language
With the internet at our fingertips when making such an important decision, why would anyone want to struggle with insufficient information? Language can make us feel instantly comfortable, which is important for us when working with students who are throwing themselves into the unfamiliar. Over half of all respondents consider access to information in their own language as ‘important’ or ‘very important’. More specifically, 90% of Korean students and 72% of Latin American students said so, suggesting that they may not feel as confident understanding another language fluently, and concessions ought to be made e.g. translated text, subtitles, specific content etc.
4. Parents have different levels of influence on their child’s decisions
While we all have different relationships with our parents or guardians, we found that some cultures value their parents’ involvement more so than others. Korean students appear more likely to be independent of their parents when making education decisions, while parents of students in Vietnam, Singapore and India are more influential.
5. Students care what their peers think
While we may not all listen to our parents, we do value what our peers think. We received a strong positive response when we asked how highly students would value reviews by current study abroad students from their own country. This indicates that not only do students see value in consuming other’s experiences, but who those authors are is as important – in other words, students won’t trust the word of just anyone!
6. Video content is preferred, though the subject depends on location
While it might be more complicated and expensive to produce, video – as opposed to text or image – is considered ‘helpful’ or ‘very helpful’ by 70% of all students (perhaps accustomed to living in the era of YouTube).
University life in another country is made up of many components, and to capture these properly on a video that is less than five minutes can be difficult – so efforts must be made where possible to cater these videos according to who we are trying to attract. The survey found that students in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Latin America want to see university facilities (specifically study facilities, rather than accommodation and social spaces). Meanwhile students in Vietnam, Singapore, Brazil, Thailand and China prefer to see a ‘Day in the Life’ style video, indicating that they wanted to see what an average day as an international student is like. Interestingly – given the economic climate and anxiety of finding graduate employment – no countries prefer to see interviews with alumni sharing their experience and the careers they have gone onto.
7. More information on non-campus degrees required
Some universities offer their courses or programmes at institutions in other countries, which saves students leaving their country. These will be at local institutions, colleges or campuses affiliated with that university. Results show that while 58.1% would consider this option, only 45.7% believe these to be the same or better than a standard campus-based degree in terms of quality.
66.5% of all students also consider online degrees to be inferior in terms of quality. Countries like Singapore and Thailand indicated that a significant number are currently uncertain about making a judgement, which suggests a gap in information which can be filled.
8. Most students apply to no more than four institutions
Fortunately for admissions officers, this finding indicates that most students are serious applicants. Rather than spread themselves thinly across many universities, students spend time researching their options to narrow that number down (making for more passionate applications). Students from Latin America, Singapore and Thailand are more likely to choose just one or two universities.
9. A satisfactory response is an email, 2-4 weeks after applying
Many students feel the pressure of juggling offers coming in while waiting for others when making such an important decision. For those who have to go through an interview, this requires some planning as well. As well as time to receive a response, we also wanted to know attitudes about the delivery system of this information; in 2013 is an email formal enough compared to a printed letter? The results show that overall students feel an email 2-4 weeks after applying was about right. Looking closer, over half of Chinese students also consider a letter through the mail a worthy response, while approximately the same amount of Thai and Brazilian students think the same of a prospectus. These are things which a university should consider when composing their budget – while physical prospectuses are traditional and have certain connotations, they cost a lot to print and deliver in bulk.
10. Chinese students spend longer researching study abroad options
While all countries indicated that a reasonable amount of students begin looking into study abroad two years in advance of starting, it’s almost unanimous that most begin the process twelve months prior to their course beginning (most likely when they start forming an idea of what their strengths are and what they want to study at a higher level). However the one exception is China, where 41.4% of students began 19-24 months prior to beginning to study.
Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad and enjoys approaching old international education topics in new ways. In his personal time, he's an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.