Ohio University hopes to use smartphone applications in the future to entice more international students to come to campus.
In the past seven years, OU recruited approximately 1,700 international students a year through agents and representatives abroad, according to its website. The Strategic Enrollment Management Office at OU is examining ways to take advantage of social media to target international students.
“We are in the process of looking into what is the best WeChat strategy for us,” Craig Cornell, senior vice provost for Strategic Enrollment Management, said in an email.
WeChat is a mobile-messaging service app created in China and has functions similar to Facebook, Instagram and Skype, Xin Su, a senior from Tianjin, China, studying electronic engineering, said. Approximately 806 million people use WeChat monthly, according to Tencent Holdings Limited, the creators of the application.
OU can expand recruitment in countries like China by creating an account on WeChat, in which it can post “moments,” which are similar to Facebook posts. A user can see such moments from their friends, curated into one news feed.
A “moment” can be a photo, a short video called a “sight” or a written post shared by a user to their friends on the app. A university could create an account and post advertisements or information about its programs for WeChat users to see.
Some universities in the U.S. have already created accounts on WeChat, such as Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania. The university started using WeChat to recruit international students, and in six weeks, it had 200 students sign up for the mobile app, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Cornell said the enrollment office currently reaches international students through partnerships with international universities, agents who represent the university and other recruitment events.
Many Chinese students and their parents know a lot about U.S. educational system, and now have many different options when choosing an American university, making recruitment more difficult for OU despite many years of effort, Cornell said.
Fadwa Al Zadjali, a sophomore studying business administration, said a representative from OU came to talk to her school in Oman, but she said using social media might be easier to bring more international students.
“Most of the people now use social media, and they spend a lot of time on social media,” Al Zadjali said. “So it might be a good idea to let them know more about OU and their facilities and services that they have because it’s the easiest way.”
Many countries avoid using apps that are popular in the United States, Su said.
Countries like China, for example, use apps such as WeChat because the Chinese government has blocked some western apps such as Facebook from being used in the country, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The blocking of apps does not bother Su, he said, because he uses other apps created in China, such as Baidu and Sina Weibo. He added he does not need apps like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Su said universities using apps directly to persuade potential students is more effective than a third-party study abroad agency. Su said he learned about OU through the agency JJL Overseas Education Consulting & Service Co., a study abroad consulting service.
Using a third-party study abroad agency is a popular way for students to find a university, but it can cost both students and universities thousands of dollars, according to the New York Times.
Alenka Fairley, a freshman from Cairo, Egypt, studying psychology, said she thinks the university has a good online presence and found the OU Facebook page before she enrolled.
“(OU) is doing pretty well regarding international programs and stuff,” Fairley said. “I think they could just advertise more about the programs available for international students that they might know of.”