UniQuest International Stealth Applicant research

Understanding International Student Recruitment & the Student Journey

Domestic stealth applicants have long been a topic of discussion – and sometimes area of frustration – among Admissions and Enrollment Management teams. Flying under the radar until the point of application, stealth applicants leave a blind spot at the top of the recruitment funnel.

At UniQuest, we obsess over the international student journey and we’ve noticed stealth applications from international students rise over the years. In the 2016/2017 recruitment cycle, we identified that 85% of the international students we supported to enrollment had applied without making an inquiry before submitting their applications. Analyzing the enrollment data further, we found that admitted students who made an inquiry before the application had a yield rate that was 56% higher than that of stealth admits.

As international stealth applications become the new normal, International Enrollment Management teams are losing visibility across their recruitment funnels. What’s lacking is knowledge on how those students who don’t inquire are arriving at the application stage, and what unique support they may need at this point if they haven’t had the benefit of any engagement with the institution beforehand.

This year, we’ve set out to answer these questions to build a complete picture of the international stealth student journey.

About UniQuest’s international stealth applicant study

In January 2018, we launched an embedded, ongoing study with international admitted students as part of our student engagement and conversion operations. The research sources insights to empower universities to better understand and therefore support stealth students, who now dominate universities’ international pipelines.

We’re identifying the channels that international students use to discover, consider, and make decisions to apply to universities, focusing on international admitted students who meet the criteria for entry into their chosen university. Insights from right-fit students enable international marketing and recruitment teams to pinpoint which channels are meeting their branding and application generation objectives and therefore support teams in deciding where to allocate their marketing budgets.

As of June 2018, 1,047 international admitted students we’re engaging on behalf of our UK university partners have taken part in the survey. We continue to survey students as they receive admissions offers and will perform further analyses of the data as students make their enrollment decisions. The existing study excludes international admitted students who have been working with agents; we plan to research the agent student journey separately later this year.

The findings

To date, the survey indicates that 71% of current international admitted students are stealth. Google Search is coming up on top as the channel through which stealth students first find out about a university.

Graph: Channels international students use to find universities

Top 5 channels through which student first discovered the University

From there, the University website is overwhelmingly the place where students go to learn more about the University.

Graph: Channels international students use to research a University

The website continues to eclipse other channels when it comes to application decision-making, ranking as the biggest influence by far on students’ decision to apply. Social media, on the other hand, is proving to be less impactful. Ranking their top influences on the decision to apply, 75% of responses indicated the University website as the number one influence compared to just 2% for Facebook.

Chart: Channels that most influence international students decision to apply


What international stealth trends mean for universities

The website is still very relevant for growing quality applications

Don’t underestimate the power of the website. There is a lot of buzz around social media and while social media plays a role in student engagement, it by no means replaces or should take priority over your website.

Make sure you continue to invest in optimizing the website experience with the specific needs of international students in mind. Read our blog for some simple but impactful adjustments to make your website more user-friendly for international prospective students.

More work will have to be done to qualify and nurture stealth applicants

Although they’ve submitted an application, stealth students may be colder than admitted students who engaged with your pre-application. As mentioned, last year stealth students had a yield rate that was 56% lower than those who inquired pre-application.

We will be working with our partners to buck the trend by delivering proactive communication campaigns at the point of application to gauge where stealth applicants are in their consideration process, understand their existing perceptions about the University, and what needs they still have. We’ll get a true sense for where stealth applicants are in the recruitment journey as it’s never as linear and simple as the funnel concept suggests. Targeted engagement campaigns will then be delivered to support each student from where he/she really is in the recruitment journey.