Dan Oltersdorf: The Rise in International Student Housing

by Scott Reid

As student housing providers, we must strive to help international students meet challenges by adapting ways in which we communicate with them and our residence life programming.

Colleges and universities in the United States are seeing record numbers of international students. Forty percent more international students are studying at our nation’s colleges and universities today than just a decade ago. As providers of student housing, we have to know how to best serve these students with our residence life programs, as well as how to adapt our marketing strategies to recruit them as residents. 

Even though international students come to our country from different cultures and backgrounds, the fundamental ways in which we serve them are the same as with students from the States. They all want a secure place to live, to succeed in academics, to find their niche in the university community, to grow as individuals and to connect with other students.

However, international students do face additional challenges. As student housing providers, we must strive to help them meet these challenges by adapting ways in which we communicate with them and some of our residence life programming. Some of the challenges often faced by international students come in the form of basics of communication, submitting service requests, paying rent, understanding American culture and building a social circle in a new country.

The needs of each international student vary as much as do those of individual students living at any student housing community, so no perfect approach exists for customizing programs for international students. What’s critical is taking active steps to learn and understand the needs of international student residents. A key part of this is communicating with the university offices that know these students best. Universities serving international students have staff who work with these students and who can serve as a resource to you.

Like many other student housing companies, Campus Advantage is seeing increased numbers of international students living at our properties. In fact, we have tailored some of our marketing efforts to attract these students.

We start by taking away the initial barriers that might keep them from learning about our community. For example, we include multi-lingual websites as a part of our marketing outreach and our current resident communication. We know international students often search for a place to live before coming to the United States, so we offer a comprehensive online leasing system and online roommate matching to make the leasing process easier for them. We also use targeted social media advertising, leveraging Facebook pages and groups, to connect with international students.

We also want our staff to be effective in working with students from different cultures, so we provide them with multi-cultural communication training and work with the advocacy offices and international student services offices at the universities whose students we serve. We look for ways to expose our international residents to American cultural opportunities and to bring the richness of their cultural backgrounds to our communities through educational and social programming. These types of residence life programs have the added benefit of creating higher resident retention rates among international students and providing other residents with an invaluable international experience in their own community.

The following tips can help you better serve international students at your community.

  • Realize how important your role can be as a housing provider. If you step up to this challenge and become an indispensable resource for these students, you not only are doing something worthwhile, but you will retain and attract international students.
  • Acknowledge you don’t know everything. Be intentional about learning the needs of your international student residents and utilize the community and campus resources that know these students best.
  • Identify community influencers who are international students and can help you plan events that your international students want to see.
  • Provide as much information as possible online, not simply about the leasing process, but about community and campus resources and information.
  • Equip your staff to effectively serve this student population through intentional training and conversations.
  • Have fun! International students are an enjoyable part of the student housing experience, and as much as we can do for them, we also can learn from them. Having this philosophy and approach and instilling it in your teams will go a long way.

— Dan Oltersdorf is senior vice president of Austin, Texas-based Campus Advantage.

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