Part 2 | Fact vs. Fiction in Applying to Study Overseas: Promoting Strong Outcomes by Anna Wise and Barbara Chen (USA)

By Sallie Ly posted 10-16-2019 01:14 PM


The first part of this series highlighted the need to effectively communicate truth with international applicants to help them sort through the sometimes misleading process of applying to study abroad. This follow-up focuses on helping students find a university that will result in positive outcomes after graduation. When I recruit abroad, a common phrase I use is “I am not interested in just recruiting Towson University applicants, I want to recruit future Towson University graduates and alumni.” Communicating the need to think about outcomes can be challenging, and when combined with cultural barriers and misperceptions, our messaging can get lost in translation.


A common question recruiters ask students is: “What do you want to be?” or “What do you want your future to look like?” Students will answer and talk about plans to change the world, but when you ask them which schools they are applying to, their lists remain fairly static, without much imagination. They apply to highly ranked universities, with the goal of studying accounting (“because my Auntie says accountants make good money”) and the idea of a truly transformational education remains out of grasp.


Student experience and success, not only rankings

The previous blog entry talked about some basic ways that rankings can be misleading, but it is important to talk about outcomes here as well. InitialView Fellow Barbara Chen, formerly the China Admissions Representative for University of Tulsa, is eager to spread awareness on the factors which affect international student outcomes. In presentations with students and parents, she frequently deconstructs rankings, revealing the methodology. For example, the new mobility factor in US News and World Report rankings, which includes data on Pell Grant recipient graduation rates, does not even apply to international students, yet comprises 13% of the overall ranking. Financial resources, which account for 10% of the ranking, does not include money institutions spend on dormitories, yet housing is a primary concern for international students. These factors are indicative of the fact that rankings are not always the best measure of student outcomes.


If we are seeking alternatives to sort fact from fiction, it is helpful to point out concrete examples of institutions focusing on career outcomes as opposed to just rankings. For instance, Towson University participates in GoinGlobal which is an online resource designed to help students find H1-B opportunities as well as employment opportunities abroad. Other institutions take their support for international alumni a step further and coordinate international career fairs, both in the U.S. and abroad. For example, The American Universities in China Association (AUCA)  collaborates to host career fairs for their alumni in several cities in mainland China. This provides concrete opportunities for students to directly connect with international businesses seeking to recruit and hire qualified returning graduates. These types of career placement programs do not show up in universities’ ranking profiles, yet directly relate to the return of investment (ROI) for international students.

Towson Graduate


Of course, in order to secure excellent outcomes post-graduation, it is important that international students take advantage of opportunities on campus. Research shows that students who engage in campus develop soft skills which lead to increased employability. This means students should be encouraged to get engaged on campus at whichever institution they decide to attend, but also to consider these opportunities when selecting their institution. I commonly ask students to envision a professor with a research grant opportunity, and I ask them to consider which students would be selected to join the project. “They will select the top students,” they answer. I then talk about the importance of making sure that they select an undergraduate institution where they are among these top students. After all, top achievers will receive higher opportunities and those opportunities can lead to jobs or graduate school placement. This can sometimes mean that students may be better served by enrolling in an institution where they would be among the top achievers in their class, as opposed to enrolling in the most selective institution.


If there is anything that can be done to separate fact from fiction in IEM, it is clear that we must stop having “best-kept secrets” but rather need to celebrate the excellent work and opportunities that we strive to provide for our students and graduates. It is through concrete examples and open communication that we can ensure international students make the most informed decisions about their futures, and that we can continue to increase international student mobility around the globe.


Dr. Anna Wise is the Associate Director of International Recruitment at Towson University. Anna has an MBA from Wesley College and an EdD in Higher Education Administration from Northeastern University. Barbara Chen is the 2019-2020 InitialView Fellow. Barbara has an M.S. Ed. in Higher Education from The University of Pennsylvania, a B.A. from Georgetown University, and a College Counseling Certificate from the University of California, San Diego.


Photo credits:

1st photo: Towson University

2nd photo: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay (Open domain)