Tuesday, February 9, 2016

WES Research: How Grad Students Search for Schools

By Jordan Friedman
Contributing Writer

Thinking about which colleges and universities to apply to in the U.S.? Where you’re from, your financial resources and your academic preparedness could all play a major role in determining what you look for when exploring your options.

New research from World Education Services sheds light on the various factors that students consider when choosing a master’s program, and highlights the fact that students from different countries value different attributes when making a decision.

WES conducted a survey of nearly 2,400 credential evaluation applicants to explore the areas in which different universities can improve in targeting their marketing efforts toward different populations with various financial backgrounds.

To start, the study looked at four student “segments” of international students:

Explorers: Students with high financial resources and low academic preparedness
Highfliers: Students with high financial resources and high academic preparedness
Strivers: Students with low financial resources and high academic preparedness
Strugglers: Students with low financial resources and low academic preparedness

The study examined four attributes of higher education institutions – school reputation, career prospects, location and cost – and four key characteristics of colleges and universities: Funding source (public vs. private), location, size and Carnegie Classification, which recognizes institutional diversity.

Some of the more general findings based on these segments include:

Master’s students from overseas who were surveyed said career prospects were, overall, the most important factor in selecting where to apply, so if this is what you’re primarily looking at when submitting your applications, you’re in good company. “Career prospects” were determined by looking at earning potential following graduation, reputation of the school or program with employers, and the quality of the career services provided.

Students with higher financial resources (Explorers and Highfliers) said in the survey that they value location over other attributes. Location includes being in or close to a major city, having “fun things” to do in the area, being close to friends or family who live in the U.S., and being near a community of people from your home country.

Important findings for students from different countries include:

China: Chinese students typically have higher financial resources than other students; therefore, most fall into the Explorers category, followed by Highfliers. In general, according to the study, Chinese students are more likely to have strong familial support to help you pay for your higher education. 

Given that cost isn’t as much of a factor for this population compared to others, reputation can play a greater role in their decision of where to apply. More than 40 percent of the Chinese students who participated in the survey also said that the reputation of the school among potential employers played a significant role. In addition, Chinese students typically preferred private over public universities, and a majority of Chinese applied to doctorate granting institutions.

India: Most of the Indian students surveyed (42 percent) fell into the Strivers category, meaning they have low financial resources and high academic preparedness, followed by Strugglers (25 percent), with low financial resources and low academic preparedness. Given that many Indian students have less financial backing than Chinese students, they value scholarship and financial aid availability more highly when selecting a school. Still, if you’re an Indian student, according to the study, it’s more likely that you value career prospects over any other factor. Program duration also plays a significant role, as the Indian students indicated that they prefer shorter programs.

Middle East: Most Middle Eastern students fell into the Explorers and Highfliers categories (33 percent and 30 percent, respectively). Middle Eastern students said they value location over any other factor, the study says. Having a strong support system in close proximity is particularly important, especially for Strugglers. The study says that’s likely because many Middle Eastern students have their tuition – but not their cost of living – fully covered by government scholarships. 

Middle Eastern students are also the most likely population to apply to schools in suburban settings and the most likely to apply to medium-sized schools. If current trends persist, the Middle East will grow in importance as a source of international students.

Latin America: Most Latin American students (46 percent) fall into the Strivers student segment, indicating low financial resources and high academic preparedness. Thus, affordability is typically the most important factor for this population, as almost 70 percent indicated that their budget for studying abroad is less than $30,000 and 45 percent said tuition and fees are a “very important” factor in their decision. More than half of them also said financial aid and scholarships were “very important” as well.

In contrast to Indian students, Latin American students strongly prefer bigger cities as opposed to suburban areas. And they’re more likely to apply to large universities and choose smaller institutions as safety schools.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Career prospects are the most important factor that sub-Saharan African students consider, the study suggests, and of all the populations mentioned, this is the one that has the most restrictive budget when it comes to paying for an education. Indeed, 47 percent of the students surveyed were considered Strivers (low finances, high academic abilities). Location is not nearly as essential for sub-Saharan students, and given their emphasis on cost, many choose to apply to public rather than private institutions.

Europe: Similarly, European master’s students value career prospects over any other attribute of a university.  Strivers and Highfliers made up the bulk of the European students surveyed, but even they seem to prefer private schools, despite financial constraints.

Of the European students surveyed, 40 percent selected career prospects as the most important factor. And, while less than 20 percent of respondents identified cost as the most important variable, 41 percent marked tuition and fees as “very important.”

To read the complete research report, click here.

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