The 5 types of students in the international education

By Raphael Arias on 06 Jun 2018

Many education agents are formed from ex-international-students or hire many international students. The experience as a student is a great facilitator, but if you want to become the best-in-class, to sell more, make the students happier and grow your business, that’s not enough.

Everything starts with getting to know to whom you’re selling to.

Know to whom you are selling: their dreams, goals, financial capacity, parent pressure and you will be able to sell more. Classify in one of these 5 categories to make this process easier and faster.

Types of students

Using an interesting research from WES (World Education Services) we can categorise the students in well defined categories. By doing this we are able to set better marketing strategies and improve our persuasion, service and post-sale support.

In the original research there were 4 categories, but we’ve expanded with one more category, as in some countries these 4 categories may not fit all the purposes of the students.

1. Explorers

interested in the study-abroad experience

This segment of students are the ones who want to experience a different culture/country, to feel, to explore, to see new sights, eat different food and travel. They value more the experience, than perhaps the formal education, that’s why in most of the cases they don’t yet posses high academic preparedness.

When we talk to this profile of student, we should focus on the experience they are about to experience if they choose to proceed and close the deal. If we focus too much in the academic excellence or knowledge it will just not connect or make sense for them, and it will not create a strong rapport.

This type of students, usually rely on parents/family funding. While it’s somewhat safe to assume they come from a medium class, the goal of the student and the goals from the parents may be different. So we should target these different expectations accordingly.

Many of this students may start with a non-educational visa (like the Working Holiday in Australia), as they main purpose is just to “explore”. When that’s the case, if they want to prolong they stay they may choose to switch to a student visa (if allowed).

Keep in mind that, they focus much more on where they are going (location) than which institution will be selected.

2. Highfliers

academically strong and independently funded

These are the type of students mostly sought-after in the international student segment. They have the funds to do it, and they are interested in high quality international education.

For these cohort, what really matters is the institution reputation and quality and the course offering. When selling to these students, the focus should be on the program content or syllabus, the program delivery and the institution reputation for the given course.


AIT (Australia) is a good example of brand specialisation. Their brand is not as famous as UPenn but their are undoubtedly experts in technology.

When analysing the institution reputation we should take in consideration two factors: international brand and brand specialisation. While the majority of universities will not have a brand name as strong as Harvard or Oxford (international brand), most of the institutions can develop a strong sense of expertise in few areas, like marketing or software development. These factors will play a big role when the student will be deciding which course to choose from.

As many of this students are self-funded, the complexity of going through the parents and getting approval is replaced for a more in-depth questioning, high reasoning about the offers and more complex judgement if the course is suited for them.

3. Strivers

academically strong but need student funding

Students with low financial resources that will have a harder time funding their purchase, and may rely on scholarships, special payment plans and other methods. They in general are the largest segment in many markets.

While they may not have all the funding they need, they may have all the academic readiness or even more needed to get the visa or to be accepted in the institution.

What drive these students’ decision making process is somewhat different than the other two categories we’ve saw. The best cost vs benefit, loan availability (not available in all countries) and strong job marketplace (specially if in the chosen country it’s allowed to work with a student visa) are the most important factors, in general.

The education agency support on navigating the immigration/visa process with tight budget, scholarship knowledge and support to find a job (if allowed) will be great selling points for this type of students.

4. Strugglers

in need of student funding and academic support

It will probably very motivated and excited with the opportunity to experience another culture and study overseas but due to a low funding and academic background they may not be very interested in the institution reputation.

The lower interest in the institution reputation indicates they may have lower expectations regarding the quality of the studies.

Due to the lower academic background, they may need more support from the agency, specially at first, as their handling of English (or any other language of the host country, such as French) will be definitely lower.

An interesting aspect of this category is the mixed motivation. They may seek international studies to increase their employability in their home country or they may be interested in migrate permanently to the host country (if allowed or incentivised by the government). Which will result in a different decision making process, which you will have to address when discussing or marketing to this student.

5. Migrants

main goal to migrate to the host country

Students that fit in this category have the main goal to migrate permanently to the host country. This is more common in countries with open immigration policies, such as Canada and Australia.

They may or may not have funding, which will change how they approach things. If this student have funding they may look for courses that enhance their capacity to get a job in the host country at the same time that increases their possibility to get a permanent status. If they don’t have the funding they may focus in a smaller step, which would be to get to the country studying in cheaper course and from there (working) to find ways to migrate.

The needs of this student will differ depending the host country they want to go, funding and academic experience. In some countries, even with years of experience and heavy academic background, it still easier to get a permanent residency status or a sponsored job if you are onshore or if you had experience in the country beforehand. That policy makes the international education the go-to solution.

This student will have more needs and concern regarding relocating their family, quality of living, job market (specially how hard is to get a job in their area) and immigration services.

Takeaways: counsellors

  • Ask questions that helps the student to reveal key indicators so you can classify them in one of these categories and then refine your sales pitch.
  • To have the same approach or “script” for every type of student, it’s a recipe for failure.
  • Handle their main objections, taking in consideration their type of customer (do they care more about price or quality?).
  • If they want something more complex or are asking complex questions (classify in one of the steps that would ask these type of things), are you handling it properly? If not, no sale.

Takeaways: managers

  • What type of students you have in your current customer base?
  • What type of student would you like to go after?
  • Do you know where to find them (digitally and in-person) and how to resonate with them?
  • Does your current marketing budget is being spent in the type of customer you would like to have?
  • What is your current effectiveness to get leads and them convert for each type?

Topics: education agent counsellor, education agency sales

Raphael Arias

Written by Raphael Arias

Founder and CEO of EducationLink. After 4 years in banking, Raphael founded EducationLink to help the international education industry move forward. He specialises in innovation, strategy and business development.

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