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Keeping up with trends in the major international student markets is no easy task. Years of experience taught me early on that the only constant in international student enrollment management is change. Yet, behind every successful recruitment plan is an understanding of what motivates students in your targeted countries.

Many variables should be evaluated when deciding where to spend your limited recruitment and marketing dollars. Institutional history in certain countries (alumni, current students, institutional partnerships, etc.), macro-trends in international student mobility, the development of appropriate messaging campaigns, type of desired presence (in-person, 3rd party, or virtual), to an analysis of available data, all give you much food for thought.

Recent history

What many younger international educators forget is that as recently as 2009 (according to IIE Open Doors), India had been the top source country for international students studying in the U.S. In 2010, China surpassed India as the #1 country of origin, but that doesn’t mean India has fallen off the radar. In fact, in the ten years since then Indian students studying in the U.S. has continued to grow every year from 103,260 in 2008-09 to 196,271 in 2017-18 (IIE Open Doors), a 90% increase in 10 years.

While still a predominantly graduate focused market, there are definite signs of growth among Indians coming for undergraduate studies. What is motivating these young Indians? Anyone who has spent time recruiting in India, speaking with prospective students and parents, or even reading Indian press articles about their American dreams, knows that career prospects rank top of their concerns.

IDP Connect’s recent international student survey, recently featured in a PIE News article, certainly backed up this trend, with “better employment prospects and work experience during and after their studies” being key motivators for students.

However, challenges with visa uncertainties coupled with increased interest in other destination countries (like Canada) has certainly dampened Indian students desires to consider the U.S. Data from SEVIS by the Numbers March 2019 report reflects that overall Indian student numbers declined for the first time in over a generation, down 8% since August 2018. Bachelor’s degree students from India represent the only post-secondary area that saw growth (up 4.4%) since the beginning of the academic year.

Source: SEVIS by the Numbers, March 2019, August 2018

Nonetheless, given recent rule changes to H1B regulations that would give a significant advantage to advanced degree holders from U.S. institutions in the initial 65,000 cap as well as the already existing 20,000 advanced degree exemption quota issued each year, interest from India should rebound at the graduate level.

India: All Study Destinations Student Breakdown

Among the 705,000 Indian students utilizing the Hotcourses platform, interest in the US has dropped from 15.8% to 12.2% in the last year, with Canada being the biggest beneficiary, growing from 30.7 to 33.7%. As a matter of preference, the U.S. dropped from the 3rd to 4th most popular destination sought by Indians on Hotcourses behind Canada, Australia, and a resilient UK.

Source: IDP Connect Insights tool, June 2019 v June 2018

Clearly, India, apart from China, represents the most competitive market for international students among English-speaking countries. Changes in government visa and work policies in the UK negatively impacted Indians’ willingness to consider that country’s universities for several years. Yet, for the first time in years, Indian student numbers to the UK are back up. So there’s hope of a similar rebound for U.S. institutions in the years to come.

India: United States Student Breakdown

So what is changing in terms of those Indian students who are considering the U.S.? According to the IDP Connect Insights tool, when comparing June 2018 to June 2019 students using Hotcourses platforms, of those who indicated the U.S. as their preferred destination, are increasingly female (59.1%), slightly less but still overwhelmingly graduate focused, and are increasingly using Hotcourses from mobile devices to view your institutional profiles (61%).

Source: IDP Connect Insights tool, June 2018 v June 2019

What do they want to study?

In terms of the subjects that attract Indians to the United States, traditionally there has been a strong STEM focus as well as in business programs. The most recent group of Indian students utilizing Hotcourses platforms is no different with health and medicine leading with 20.2%, followed by applied and pure sciences (17.5), engineering (16%), and computer science (11.7%) all in double digits followed by business.

Source: IDP Connect Insights tool

Where they live?

From where are they accessing content online?

The top locations online where Indian students are accessing U.S. higher education-related content:

  • Education/Post-secondary institutions

  • Test-prep and tutoring companies

  • Places of employment

  • Employment/career consulting services

  • Travel/hotels & accommodations


From the available data points, U.S. institutions’ general messaging to Indian students using Hotcourses should take in consideration these items:

  1. Mostly female, graduate audiences

  2. The major metropolitan areas of Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, and Delhi represent over 80% of Indian students interested in the U.S.

  3. Nearly 65% of Indians are seeking STEM programs followed by business

  4. Students access content most from educational locations – schools, colleges, test-prep, tutors and places of business.

  5. Comparative value propositions of competitor nations, especially Canada, UK, & Australia are significant.

Beginning in August, we’ll examine some important changes in the Student Visa Process that should be accounted for in your communication flow with prospective international students.

CP - Author Image - Marty Bennett
Marty Bennett12 July 2019