Studying abroad is a big decision which cannot be taken lightly. Prospects will do extensive research to find the right course, school, and location, and carefully consider how well it fits with their needs and goals.
Most of this will revolve around the ‘big picture’. They will consider the quality of education they will receive, the value of the qualification they will obtain, and the career and further study opportunities they can look forward to after attending. In many cases, however, smaller details can also have a huge influence on their decision.
Some of these might be practical, like the cost and quality of accommodation, access to transit, or the amenities available. Others are more about personal and cultural preferences, like food, lifestyle, and entertainment.
For this reason, schools looking to target international prospects often need to support their basic USPs with secondary messaging that addresses some of these crucial factors.
If you’re attempting to reach students overseas, here are a few things that you may not be paying much attention to in your digital marketing efforts right now, but that could make a huge difference.
Affordable, Quality Accommodation is Important to International Students
As demand in many popular study destinations has climbed ever higher, the cost and quality of accommodation available to international students has become crucial to their decision-making process in recent years. Despite increased investment worldwide, many cities have notable shortages of student housing, and rental prices can be very steep for those on a student budget.
With that in mind, it’s crucial that schools looking to attract international prospects can reassure them that they will have access to affordable accommodation. Clearly and simply laying out all the options available to them on a dedicated web page can be a great start.
Example: Centre of English Studies has very detailed accommodation pages, which clearly list all of the options students can choose from, and provide an extensive gallery of photos. The school has a unique page for each of its locations so that any differences in what is available are clear to prospects.
It’s important to break down the facilities and amenities students have available to them in your accommodation clearly, too. Many schools will do this using charts or visual breakdowns that make it easy for readers to compare their options.
Example: The visual breakdowns of the features and amenities of various accommodation types on Liden & Denz’s website are very helpful for comparison.
You can go further than that, however, by developing content around this subject. For instance, if your school organizes homestay accommodation, you could create a blog promoting the benefits of this option, such as the reduced cost, cultural integration, and meals and other extras students can enjoy.
Example: Westfield Secondary School created this blog comparing living off-campus to homestay accommodation.
Video can also be a great medium to showcase your accommodation, as it allows prospects to get a much clearer view of what they can expect. Many schools which have their own student housing will often post video tours on their website and social media accounts. You could also try to solicit testimonials from current or past students about your accommodation for use across your digital channels. This will reassure new prospects that you deliver everything you promise.
While you should emphasize the positives of your accommodation, it is important to be honest in what you present. If your housing doesn’t have laundry or ensuite bathrooms, make sure this clear in your materials. If housing is not particularly close to your campus or to the town centre, advise students they will need to commute. Students most likely won’t find these kinds of things too problematic if they are aware of them, but may be disappointed if they aren’t.
Of course, it may be that your school doesn’t offer any of its own accommodation, or organize it for students. If that is the case, you should still try to offer advice for prospects about where they need to look to find it, how much it will cost, and what they can expect. You could also provide links to the accommodation providers in your city on your website, and even make your admissions staff available to offer advice and suggestions.
Example: Regent College in Vancouver does not offer housing of its own for students, but maintains a database on its website so that prospects can find rental properties easily. The school also offers information and advice about the different accommodation options available, as well as typical prices for each one.
Not only will taking these steps help ease their path to enrollment, it will also ensure that your international students are able to get good accommodation at a fair price in your location, and don’t get taken advantage of or make bad choices because they are unfamiliar with the market.
Local and Global Transit Links at Your School
An important tie-in to accommodation is access to transit, both on a local and global level. In short, prospects will want to know that both your school and where they are staying is going to be easy to get to and from. Providing details about transit links, as well as general information about getting around in your location, will make it that much easier for them to get a sense of what they can expect.
Example: The International Student Services department of McGill University includes a guide to getting around in Montreal in the Pre-Arrival Information section on its website.
Global transit links can also be important. International students need to be able to plan their initial journey to your school, and may also want to know how easy it might be to return home should they be faced with an emergency or other unexpected issue. Mapping their route to your school will give them a clear idea of what to expect. Outlining any particular visa requirements or other things they need to arrange will also make advance planning easier.
On a less practical level, prospects may also be keen to know about how easy it is for them to get to other places in your country or region. For instance, an international student studying in Europe may be keen to take advantage of cheap flight and train options to explore other countries on the continent, so promoting this possibility in your marketing efforts could be very advantageous.
They may also want to know how to reach popular tourist attractions and destinations near you. Your school could create content offering some guidelines, while also highlighting just how much here is to do and see in your area.
Again, it’s always best to as honest as possible about where you are in relation to other places in this situation. If your school is a couple of hours’ bus ride from a major city, for example, you can promote that it is nearby, but not you are in that city. A prospect who is aware of exactly what they can expect will be less likely to be disappointed by their experience, and more likely to give your school positive online feedback and word-of-mouth recommendations.
Safety First in International Student Recruitment
Coming to an unfamiliar country can be a daunting prospect for international students, particularly as many will be relatively young, and may be living away from home for the first time. As a result, safety tends to figure highly on their list of priorities. The Know Your Neighborhood Fall 2017 Report conducted by Intead and FPP EDU Media revealed that 50% of international prospects rated campus safety as important in selecting a university:
This is likely to become even more of a factor at the K-12 level, as parents will naturally have misgivings about the safety of particular locations, and the level of supervision their children are going to have.
So how do you convince prospects and parents that your school and location is safe? For a start, you can develop content that emphasizes any safety, security, and supervision measures your school takes, underlining how seriously you take this issue and how proactively it is addressed. Developing guides that offer advice about staying safe in your town could also be a good idea.
Example: The University of Edinburgh created this page for incoming students offering advice on staying safe in the city. The page includes tips about laws international students may not be familiar with, as well as helpful links to emergency services, external safety guides, and other resources.
On a wider scale, you should look to present any statistics or evidence you have of the general safety of the area in which you are situated, your city, and country as a whole.
Example: Morehead State University in Kentucky created this blog after the city was named as one of the safest in the state.
This can be especially useful if you are located somewhere which might be perceived as being more dangerous then it actually is. For instance, many major cities are assumed to have high rates of crime and violence, even if in reality these instances are very rare.
Of course, the most effective way to address these concerns is talking directly to prospects and parents about it. Hearing from a real person who lives in the area will reassure them that they are in good hands.
How Much Does Food Matter to International Prospects?
While some of these factors are likely already being taken into account by many schools looking to recruit international students, there is one particular aspect of life studying abroad that often gets overlooked: food. In a 2016 article, ICEF Monitor highlighted a Canadian study on ‘food insecurity’ issues among international university students which illustrated a clear need for schools to take this into account.
There are a few reasons why food can be important. At a basic level, our favourite meals provide a certain ‘home comfort’ to us, which can be very significant if you are in an unfamiliar place. International students who anticipate there being very big difference in cuisine in a different country may be worried they will not be able to enjoy their usual meal routine.
Prospects – and particularly their parents – may also have concerns about health, particularly if your country has something of a reputation for fatty foods or dishes with low nutritional value. Food preferences which relate to religious beliefs – like Kosher and Halal dietary requirements – may also need to be catered to.
Your school can remedy this concern by emphasizing the food diversity of both your campus and local area in your online promotional materials. For instance, one simple thing which many schools don’t do is make the menus of their school’s food services viewable on their website. You could highlight healthy and specialty menu options to make sure prospects know their needs will be met.
You could also create content that offers tips about local restaurants and stores that might offer international food and ingredients. Even very small towns have a lot of diverse cuisine on offer these days, so you should find plenty of options once you do a little research.
Example: The University of Reading features its ‘International Student Food Project’ on its blog site. The school offers tips on shopping, dining out, and preparing meals to help students adjust to eating in the UK.
At the other end of the scale, you should keep in mind that you may also encounter plenty of international students who are a bit more adventurous, and are actually eager to sample unfamiliar local cuisine. Blogs about what your country or local area has to offer in this regard could be very appealing to this audience.
Show Prospective International Students What Kind of Amenities Your School Offers
Access to amenities can also play a role in a prospects’ decision-making process. Depending on their lifestyle and needs, a potential international student may be eager to learn whether or not there are gyms, libraries, stores, outdoor recreational areas like parks and bike paths, or various other services and facilities near your school.
For larger schools that have a range of amenities on-campus, highlighting what you offer can be a huge advantage in your marketing efforts. You could create blogs or video tours that focus on your campus’s range of services, exercise facilities, and other things you offer that students will avail of in their day-to-day life.
Example: Ashesi University created this Facebook post in advance of the opening of its new sports facilities.
If you don’t have these sort of facilities on-campus, providing information about where prospects can find them in your surrounding area can help to alleviate any concerns they may have about not finding everything they need in your town.
Providing Cultural Outlets for International Students
Cultural outlets can also be important for international students. Societies for students from different countries, religions, and cultural groups are a feature of many universities, and can be a valuable source of help, support, and friendship for many new arrivals. If you have these sorts of groups at your school, they should be pushed to the forefront of your international student recruitment campaigns as much as possible.
Example: The University of Toronto created this article about its Indian Student Society.
Smaller schools may have to look a little further afield again, and find cultural groups and communities within their local area that are relevant to their international personas. Making this information readily available to prospects will help to make them feel welcomed, and show them that you have thought deeply about their needs.
That isn’t to assume, of course, that international students will only be looking for opportunities like this related to their own culture. Many will be excited to experience and learn about your country’s cultural traditions and norms, as well as those of other students on campus, and your local students may be just as eager to get involved with them. Larger international student groups can be popular among both domestic and international enrollees, and will often host events that facilitate cultural exchange and interaction. Promoting these kinds of opportunities is a great way to show how diverse, inclusive, and interconnected your student community really is.
International Students Need to Know That They Will be Supported
Last but certainly not least, there is a definite need for schools to emphasize the support services they offer to international students. Studying abroad isn’t easy, and there can often be a period of adjustment where new arrivals experience a bit of culture shock or homesickness.
Example: ILAC Language Schools created this helpful blog for international students experiencing homesickness.
Even after they have settled in, it can be quite common for an international student to go through difficult times as friends of theirs leave or other circumstances in their daily lives change. Your school needs to act as their anchor in these situations, offering your support and guidance to nurture them through tough times. If you offer counselling services or other means of support, you should ensure that your international community is aware of this. This vital detail can be crucial to both recruiting and retaining students from abroad.
On a more practical note, your international arrivals are likely to need help navigating a number of aspects of day to day life. They may have questions about how to set up a bank account, how your health services work, or even how to claim tax refunds if they are planning to work during their studies. Ideally, your school should both create content that guides them through these processes, and provide personalized support for students who need it.
How Important are Each These Factors to Recruiting International Students?
You may be wondering just how influential each of these factors ultimately is to your international student recruitment strategy, and it may be helpful for your school to tap into some existing research into this area. A 2017 survey from Sodexo, for instance, found that global transport links was surprisingly one of the biggest influencers among non-academic decision-making factors:
However, what your own international prospects consider important will largely depend on their particular motivations and pain points, and you should also consider surveying your current students and alumni for their take on the matter.
While all of these factors are ultimately secondary to the education you provide, they can still have a huge bearing on whether international students choose to enroll at your institution, and how satisfying their overall experience will be once they do. By taking the time and care to communicate what you have to offer in these areas in your digital marketing efforts, you will ensure that your school is maximizing its chances of success.