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Which Type of International Student Are You?

By Laura Bridgestock

Updated March 22, 2021 Updated March 22, 2021

The new report released today by WES (World Education Services) builds on the organization’s idea that international students in the US can be categorized in four main groups: explorers, highfliers, strivers and strugglers. These four categories, first introduced last year, are intended to help US colleges target different segments to improve the efficiency of their international student recruitment strategies. (Hence its title: Student Segmentation for an Effective International Enrolment Strategy.)

Here’s a quick breakdown of each ‘segment’...

1. Highfliers – academically strong and independently funded

The first group, dubbed ‘highfliers’, are the international students every university wants – and the rest of us want to be. This lucky lot has both strong academic abilities and independent financial resources, meaning plenty of options when it comes to choosing a university. Highfliers typically have relatively well-off families, and are likely to be looking for a US college with a strong international reputation. WES estimates that highfliers account for around 30% of international students in the US, with a large group coming from China in particular.

2. Strivers – academically strong but need student funding

The next group, ‘strivers’, are also well prepared academically – but unlike highfliers, they are dependent on receiving student funding in order to pursue their education in the US. Described as “astute and serious”, with high levels of belief in their own academic potential, strivers are likely to prioritize both course content and the availability of financial aid. WES says this is now the most common group of international students in the US (about 31%), accounting for especially high numbers of Indian students and doctoral-level students.

3. Explorers – interested in the study abroad experience

The third group of students are those with relatively high financial resources but relatively low academic preparedness. WES calls these students ‘explorers’, as they’re more likely to be motivated by the wider study abroad experience (i.e. not just the academic aspect), and are more likely to seek information about the local area and student life. They’re also more likely to need English language support. The report says explorers constitute about 22% of international students in the US, with relatively high numbers from China and Saudi Arabia.

4. Strugglers – in need of student funding and academic support

The last category, ‘strugglers’, refers to students with low financial resources and also low academic preparedness. While keen to study in the US, these students need both financial and academic support in order to do so. Strugglers are less likely to be concerned about a college’s reputation, and more interested in finding out about various support services. This is the smallest group identified by WES, accounting for about 16% of international students in the US.

The main point emphasized in the WES report is that universities need to recognize the diversity of international students, and take account of different priorities and information needs when communicating with them. The report also points out that students’ expectations are constantly changing; in other words, recruitment strategies that worked in the ‘pre-Facebook’ era won’t cut it anymore.

The idea of being ‘segmented’ in order to be more efficiently processed through the ‘enrolment funnel’ may not sound too appealing, but the idea is that by analyzing international students, universities will be able to communicate with them more effectively – providing the information they most want, in the most accessible way.

Which type of international student are you? And what information is most important to you when choosing a university? Let us know in the comments below.

This article was originally published in October 2013 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'