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 come 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 (WES) sheds light on what international students consider when choosing a master’s program and shows trends in the school preferences of students from specific regions.

WES conducted a survey of nearly 2,400 credential evaluation applicants to explore how universities can improve their targeting efforts toward students in different regions with varying financial backgrounds.

The study first assessed four “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 the four most important attributes of higher education institutions:
  • School reputation
  • Career prospects
  • Location 
  • Cost  
The study also examined four key characteristics of colleges and universities: 
There were two high-level findings in the study based on the above segments:

1. International master’s students who were surveyed said career prospects were overall the most important factor in selecting where to apply. If this is what you are primarily looking for when submitting applications, you are not alone. “Career prospects” were determined by earning potential following graduation, reputation of the school or program with employers, and the quality of the career services provided.

2. Students with higher financial resources (Explorers and Highfliers) said 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 the students' home country.

Read more in-depth findings of students from specific regions:

Chinese students tend to have higher financial resources than other students; therefore, most fall into the Explorers category, followed by Highfliers. According to the study, Chinese students are more likely to have strong familial support to help pay for their higher education. 

Given that cost is not as much of a factor for this group compared to others, the reputation of institutions plays a greater role in their decision of where to apply. More than 40 percent of Chinese students who participated in the survey said that the reputation of the school among potential employers played a significant role in where they decided to study. In addition, Chinese students preferred private over public universities, and a majority applied to doctorate-granting institutions.

Most Indian students surveyed (42 percent) fell into the Strivers category, meaning they had low financial resources but 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, according to the study, Indian students are more likely to value career prospects over any other factor. Program duration also plays a significant role, as 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. Having a strong support system in close proximity is particularly important for this group, especially for Strugglers. The study says that is 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 population the most likely to apply to schools in suburban settings, as well as 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 nearly 70 percent indicated their budget for studying abroad was less than $30,000. In addition, 45 percent of Latin American students said tuition and fees are a “very important” factor in their decision of where to apply. More than half of Latin American students also said financial aid and scholarships were “very important.”

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

Sub-Saharan Africa
The study suggests career prospects are the most important factor that sub-Saharan African students consider. Students from this region have the most restrictive budgets when it comes to paying for an education. In fact, 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.

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. While less than 20 percent of respondents identified cost as the most important variable, 41 percent marked tuition and fees as “very important.”

Read the complete research report

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