In addition to the tragic loss of life, draconian travel restrictions, and worldwide lockdowns, it’s certainly no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a serious blow to international students. Thousands of international students hoping to study in the U.S. were forced to make other plans. Sadly, many of those left stranded gave up on their college dreams altogether.
The economic impact on institutions of higher learning was equally devastating. For the first time in 70 years, the number of international students studying in the U.S. dropped a whopping 15 percent for the 2020-2021 academic year.
As travel restrictions lifted, hopeful international students still had to contend with widely varying health ordinances as they traveled from country to country. Many even found shifting requirements as they moved from city to city! In short, a lot of international students experienced confusion — even when conditions are optimal. And, that number has increased exponentially.
Prospective International Students Drive Demand for Niche Information
Fortunately, the outlook is getting brighter for students hoping to pursue an advanced degree in the U.S. Travel restrictions have eased up considerably. Vaccines are being widely distributed and administered. Colleges and universities, for their part, have become increasingly intentional about reaching out to their international communities and applicants.
Additionally, something of a niche market has evolved designed to help international students who are understandably confused. There is a serious need for reliable information and how-to pointers. Specifically, these are ones that simply can’t be filled by a single institution of higher learning. More than a few enterprising former international students have jumped into the fray to share their own experiences. They did this to help others avoid experiencing the same level of frustration.
Overcoming the Challenges
As just one example, Soundarya Balasubramani is the author of Admitted: The Missing Guide To Craft a Winning Application and Study Abroad. Not content to merely write and market a book and leave it at that, Soundarya seeks to help would-be international students navigate this unique process by hosting both a blog and YouTube channel that shares strategies on succeeding in their careers. These supporting resources have numerous views, and her YouTube channel alone has garnered more than 22,000 subscribers. In her spare time, she also facilitates a successful course on productivity and mindful planning, which has an impressive waitlist.
According to Soundarya, a graduate of Columbia University, the road to studying in the U.S. can be strewn with potholes. But, they’re easy to navigate once you know what you’re doing and how to systematize your academic quest. Her book walks international applicants through the ins and outs of shortlisting likely institutions. It also walks them through writing an SOP, preparing for interviews with Admissions personnel, and more. Everyone who purchases her book also receives an invitation to a private Slack community with more than 1,200 current members. Here, they can meet other aspirants to create a sense of community as they go through the application process. The net effect is to throw some light on a rewarding educational experience by minimizing the pesky details wherever possible.
Schools Scaling Outreach Efforts…But Will They Be Enough?
According to the Institute of International Education, there may be some cause for guarded optimism that the number of international students living and studying in the U.S. will rebound. Recently the IIE issued a report indicating there are some strong signals that colleges and universities are scaling their outreach efforts and the number of international applicants is once again on the rise.
Of course, they need to overcome many remaining obstacles. These include the increasingly difficult paper chase involved with obtaining a visa, residual health fears on both sides of the process, and the near-constant fluctuation in local health ordinances, vaccination and booster requirements, and enforced travel restrictions. Ask anyone working in the Admissions department of a college or university with a history of hosting international students and they will be quick to tell you that higher education stands at a crossroads and no one can say with absolute certainty how things will ultimately shake out.
Of course, online education has rushed in to fill the void, but not everyone wants to earn their degree over the internet. There are many reasons students in every country seek to study abroad, even if it’s just for a semester or two. One primary reason is to round out their education by taking in the sights, sounds, and culture of another country. Online universities can certainly meet the need for degrees and certifications. However, everyone recognizes that digital education cannot provide the added extras and educational experience of studying abroad.
For now, enhancing outreach efforts to international applicants seems like the safest bet for colleges and universities. It’s likely too soon to tell if the COVID-19 damage to international enrollment signals the beginning of a years-long slide. So, it only makes sense that institutions do what they can to assuage fears and get more proactive with informational resources. And, they can also keep close tabs on local, state, and federal regulations.