Forecasting 2021 International Student Recruitment for Schools and Study Abroad Programs

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted many industries worldwide, and the education sector is one of the most significantly affected. Universities and secondary schools are preparing for big declines in international student enrollment and revenue. Furthermore, these drops in international student numbers may be further depressed by federal decisions to limit visas for those studying in the United States. The American Council on Education (ACE) estimates that enrollment will drop 15% for the next academic year, including a projected decline of 25% for international students. But there is some good news as well, according to one BridgeU study, 67% of international students indicate they are not changing their plans for 2020, and U.S., Canada, and the U.K. still account for 85% of all 2021 prospective international students’ top destinations.

The upcoming admissions season is going to require international student programs to plan and remain flexible with their recruitment strategies. Schools and study abroad programs must continue to establish trust and communication with their prospective students to meet the challenges of the upcoming recruitment seasons. From a marketing and communications perspective, international student programs should focus on price, process, and people as the three main standards.



  • Promote Early Decision Incentives: utilize scholarships or other perks to incentive earlier decisions on admissions.
  • Expand Recruitment Efforts (based on total package pricing): expand outside of China to countries not as impacted by current political and socioeconomic shifts in the current market.
  • Expand Applicant Pool: relax international student requirements, i.e. promote test requirement flexibility by using online English tests such as iTEP and DuoLingo.
  • Easier Admissions and Relax Timelines:
    • Admissions committees are recommended to pinpoint a single decision-maker for new enrollment to lessen the time from interview to decision.
    • Consider rolling acceptances rather than batch decisions, some of the country’s top boarding schools are releasing ED letters even earlier to push deposits and enrollments up, day schools should also be adapting!
    • More importantly, don’t make students interview more than once. Simplify the overall admissions process both for yourself and students.
  • Increase Digital and Social Media Presence: connect directly with students and parents more often.
    • By including potential customers in your community updates, you build trust leading to a higher conversion rate within your lead pool.
  • Optimize School Website for Increased Traffic: ensure a smooth user experience on your website, which is your first impression for many prospective students.


  • Outsource Services: schools should outsource services and process they can’t handle internally, so choosing trusted and preferred vendors or service providers is critical to student success.
    • Reevaluate your international student faculty: Does the size of your program align with the staff members you have? Do you need a full-time employee for this position? Could you outsource this service?
    • Review financial stability of any service providers you use to ensure quality and safety.
  • If you do choose to use a student provider, base your decisions on quality and support, not student recruitment.
    • The main focus for schools with international students, given the projected decline in new enrollment, is to ensure strong retention of current students by offering additional support services (Tutoring, Counseling, Residential Support, and Other Premium Services).

In summary, admissions functions and school boards alike must re-imagine the future of international student recruitment just as we have for the traditional in-person classrooms as a result of COVID-19. The future of education will forever be influenced by technology and the need for a safe space, be that in-person or virtual.

Cambridge Network is an international education consulting company that provides admissions, academic, and homestay solutions to high schools throughout the United States and Canada. We work to raise the international profile of high schools, enhance diversity, and provide valuable support and supervision for all Cambridge students.

For schools looking for more information on Cambridge Network and our services, please submit an inquiry form.