International student recruitment strategies
For reputed colleges and universities globally, admission of international students has transformed from an unpredictable bonus to an essential requirement. They have found that international students don’t just walk in to be enrolled; they have to be lured into campuses. Prospective students have many options and can pick and choose from among different countries and universities.
But thankfully for colleges, international student mobility has been increasing every year and is expected to touch 8.5 million by 2025, according to the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2013 report. The main market is Asia, with 50 percent of students enrolling from the region, with China, India, and South Korea accounting for over 25 percent of all students studying abroad.
However, the reliance on these dominant markets has alarmed market watchers who are advising colleges to look at Africa and Latin America more closely. Meanwhile, countries other than the traditional educational destinations are vying for a share of the market—China, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore, for example.
Competition is goading colleges to tone up their marketing plan for international student recruitment strategies. In higher education, prospective students are potential customers, and the good old basic rule of customer engagement applies here, too: find out what they want and tweak your product/service.
For colleges hoping to recruit international students, an important consideration is address their main concerns. The better a college addresses their concerns, the more likely prospects will consider joining the college. A recruitment strategy should first tackle these concerns.
Main concerns of international students and solutions
What are international prospects’ main concerns? There appear to be four:
1. High tuition fee in colleges and the cost of living in these locations.
2. Distance from family/friends, cultural disconnect, and language barrier.
4. On-campus recruitment and job opportunities on completing the programs.
To tackle high tuition and high cost of living, one way to help prospects is to offer them international-specific scholarship that will partly cover tuition fees. Grants, financial aid, and loans, and also graduate assistantships available, should be publicized.
To help students demystify the cultural scene and allay their fears over distance from family and friends, colleges can get current international students and alumni from the candidates’ country speak to them about what attracted them to these colleges.
Colleges must also address the worries of parents of prospects as they are the real decision-makers. They need to be convinced about the idea of sons/daughters studying abroad. Besides students and alumni, immigrant communities can be roped in. Offering English language classes is another way to make prospects feel confident about fitting in.
Another factor is safety/ health on the campus and in the city where the college is located. Reports of attacks on foreigners cause worries, and colleges should tell prospects/parents about safety measures and stress a caring environment. Videos and webinars involving college officials, current students, and alumni, who can explain issues and answer queries of prospects/parents, will instill remove fears. Alumni can be brought to webinars or roundtables at fairs in target countries.
Job opportunities are a major concern for prospects. In on-campus job fairs, colleges can include organizations that genuinely desire to recruit international students. Provide information about which organizations are attending jobs fairs and about salaries offered to international students/graduates. The support given by career services teams should be highlighted.
Basic elements of student recruitment strategy to include in your marketing plan
Quality and brand strength are important basic elements of strategy. The top universities and colleges are well-known brands and their quality is a given. Lesser-known institutions have to convince prospects that they have quality advantages. Colleges should strive for the highest academic accreditation possible for their programs and take steps to improve their rankings. They could also develop strategic partners in target markets to improve their brand image.
Colleges should advertise their unique selling propositions, such as degree programs that can be completed in three-and-a-half years, tuition holiday, and free summer classes. Student exchange and internship opportunities should also be publicized. So also “exclusive” disciplines that are not offered in all colleges.
Commitment to diversity
Most importantly, colleges should make a commitment to internationalize themselves—by increasing campus diversity; enhancing cross-cultural and global skills of staff; and improving opportunities for global partnerships in research and education.
Other key strategy components for student acquisition
Here are other important strategy components that a college should focus on.
A recruitment strategy requires adequate funds and an efficient team. The staff should include not just academic and cultural assimilation experts but also people well-versed in immigration policies and visa rules.
A college should know which market to tap. Is it going to be India, China, or South Korea, or all three? Or should it be one or more of the smaller nations? What is the profile of the typical prospect? Which programs are likely to attract the most prospects? Colleges could use data aggregators and social media database to identify prospects.
A partner in a target market will represent/promote a college/university all through the year; give a college information about its local prospects and its popular programs; take care of local media campaigns; provide services for the college teams on their visits; and simplify the admission process and visa procedure for your prospect.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a cost-effective method to identify markets, since payment is needed only when prospects click on a link. Landing pages and analytics should be ready before PPC is used. Google AdWords’ Keyword Planner is a good tool for discovering keyword and group ideas. The landing pages should coax the prospect into taking the next step. Publicity campaigns in local newspapers/magazines will also fetch dividends.
A college website should appeal to its target markets and language groups. A local language should be used in the way native speakers use it.
A website should be easy to use on a mobile device and should include details about degree programs/locations, the school’s USP, tuition fee/living expenses, and admission policy, and videos and virtual tours of the campus. Messages should be clear and concise.
Search and mobile trends
It is a good idea to optimize digital marketing platforms for mobile devices, which students prefer. Geo-specific and program-specific keywords have a greater chance of click-through conversions. Google Analytics can help understand the main source countries, so that colleges can prepare tailor-made messages for prospects from there. Search engines won’t give a good rating to a website that uses auto-translation or outdated content. Search engine optimization will ensure that content on a website is relevant to web search by prospects.
College teams could visit locations in target markets at least once a year. Global student outreach efforts may be able to get government support. Web-conferencing through easily accessible platforms such as Google Hangouts or Skype for consultations with admission advisors, current students, and financial aid representatives can be made available. Aps featuring campus scenes, sample lectures by top professors, and application tips will be popular among prospects.
Digital technologies enable colleges to make direct contact with prospects. A navigable website with links to college department microsites and to websites of major higher education institutions will be useful. A blog by current students can enliven a website.
Email is the preferred mode of communication for international prospects, and quick responses to email queries from candidates would be appreciated. Prospects should be addressed in person, the messages personalized, and useful links provided.
It is a good idea not to wait for a prospect to maintain correspondence; persistent follow-up messages until he/she takes action will bring results. Live chats and messaging aps (WhatsApp is used by two-thirds of all students globally) to discuss complex problems provide quick solutions.
Social media can come in handy to find out about prospects’ groups through online conversations, quick surveys, and lively posts. It can provide feedback about the image of a college brand and interest among students. Keep in mind that not all US social media and video sites are used in all countries; local social media sites dominate in China and South Korea, for example.
Virtual tours give students provide a glimpse of campus life, as done by some US universities through Google Maps Street View.
Besides funds, the top challenges prospects face are taking standardized tests, writing the application essay, completing the application, and going through visa procedures. Colleges should strive to make their application and admissions processes easy to understand. Tips on how applicants can meet requirements will be welcomed. The application and admission cycles in other countries are different from the US system, and colleges should be aware of that when setting deadlines.
Mix and match
There’s no magic formula for colleges to arrive at the best mix, since a lot depends on factors such as program focus, target demography, geography, and career aspirations. A practical approach would be for colleges to try out some or many of these strategies, and measure the efficacy of each.
How we can help you
We have helped many leading universities from across the world with their content marketing plans to attract international students. Our website has a significant online footprint and attracts highly-focused students from across the world who are interested in studying at the top programs.
Read more on how we can help, and what some of our partners are saying: Higher education content marketing reviews.