Rebooting Your International Student Recruitment Strategy After the Pandemic
Date posted: July 21, 2021
Many of the world’s nations are enjoying the distinct feeling of coming out on the other side of the pandemic – and with that evolution, educational institutions are eagerly planning the year ahead. For many, that plan includes a well-rounded, solid international student recruitment strategy as an important revenue stream to assist in the recovery from sagging overall enrollment.
Unsurprisingly, many international students put their study abroad ambitions on the backburner due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID travel restrictions. Now, as the dust settles in many regions around the world, many of those same students are returning to their plans to study overseas, with recent surveys showing a clear rebound in overall demand.
The major difference now is that those same prospects have had a long time to reconsider their options. This means potential competition for your school coming from others around the world who are also in recovery mode. They’re all vying for the same recruits you are – and they’re all beefing up their budgets and strategies in the hopes to grab them before you do.
So how can you come out and lead the pack? The answer is to revisit your approach to international student recruitment – scrapping what you were doing before that’s no longer relevant in a post-pandemic world and placing a new emphasis instead on strategies that fully take into account the shift in student perspective in the current environment. We share the details on bolstering your international student recruitment strategy here!
Some Good News for Your School
While no one should be under the illusion that we’re out of the woods just yet, you might be inspired by some of the forecasts coming from various educational news organizations.
The latest survey from a COVID-19 snapshot series taken by IIE reveals that U.S. colleges are anticipating a strong international enrollment recovery, with 43% already reporting an increase in international applications for the coming 2021/2022 year. An encouraging 86% of schools surveyed are anticipating in-person learning by the fall, as seen in the graph here:
Source: ICEF Monitor
The “cautiously optimistic” outlook from US schools is that recovery is expected to come in phases, depending on the vaccine schedules and travel guidelines of each country.
The outlook in other key English-speaking destinations for international enrollment is looking equally encouraging. In a recent survey of Canadian schools, 48.4% of postsecondary schools across the country said they plan to deliver in-person programs in fall 2021, with 30.1% opting to continue with hybrid learning.
Only 4.6% of respondents said they would remain exclusively online in the fall – an encouraging shift from the previous fall, when just 4% of schools planned to offer in-person learning.
Another, more surprising report from the UK showed that international students have actually enrolled in record numbers during the pandemic. The report attributed this surprising increase to the initial rapid shift to online learning following the crisis, with enrollments steadily growing thanks to the ease with the virtual format that international students have quickly become accustomed to. That means hybrid learning won’t necessarily put off your prospects.
This all certainly bodes well for the year ahead, and will hopefully lend some inspiration as you prepare to bolster your own international student recruitment strategies. In those efforts, your school should prepare to use a multi-channel approach that includes paid advertising, social media, blog content, and email marketing.
Search Engine Ads
If you’re going the search engine route, Google Ads are a great place to start, with targeting largely based on the keywords your prospects will be using when searching for a study abroad course, program, or school of interest. With the goal of attracting international students, you can hypertarget your ads to the audience you want to reach by using keywords that you’ve identified as high-value.
Example: A tool like MOZ can help you identify top current performing keywords associated with your school’s course offerings. As seen here, a list of “Keyword Suggestions” comes up associated with the keyword “business program” selected by a school looking to promote its courses to international students.
You can typically get more qualified leads by bidding on highly relevant keywords, helping to raise your conversion opportunities and ROI. You also have some level of demographic targeting as an option to help you better direct your efforts to your international prospects.
Social Media Ads
Paid social media ads can be just as effective for reaching your international prospects at this time, letting you define your audience based on various demographic and behavioural targeting. This means you can target by country for a start, and the regions within that country.
With that in mind, it will be important to research where the global student demand is coming from so you can target your paid ads more effectively.
Example: This graph reveals a downturn in international students from China and India enrolling in U.S. colleges (as those nations have taken a more localized approach to education in response to the pandemic). At the same time, we see a 4% increase in enrollments from European nations. Data like this is key for knowing which countries might garner the most results just now from your advertising efforts.
Source: The PIE News
In your research, it’s also important to pay attention to the finer details of local and regional data for international interest. As an example, a recent report reveals that U.S. colleges saw a 9% overall increase in applications from India in the last year – but a lot more promise came directly from the Indian cities of Hyderabad and Jaipur, with a respective increase of 44% and 43% in U.S. college applications coming from those particular urban centres.
With this data in mind, you can see the importance of knowing which regions have the most recruitment potential in order to refine your school’s own targeting strategies. The demographic targeting capabilities offered through most social media ad platforms make it easy to take a geo targeted approach to your school’s international student recruitment strategy.
You’ll also need to do a little research to determine where your international targets are spending their time on social media these days. While it may be tempting to stick with some of the platforms you’re most used to advertising with, like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, this might be a good time to try out some other, newer channels.
TikTok, as an example, now has an affordable paid advertising self-serve auction platform in place that can be designed to be highly targeted, and has already been used to good effect by schools.
Example: EAE Business School in Barcelona achieved notable success using TikTok’s In-Feed ads to promote its bachelor’s degree programs. The school used the geolocation targeting feature of TikTok’s Ads Manager, which allowed them to pinpoint users based in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, where they wanted to recruit.
As TikTok has made a name for itself as the fastest growing social network across the globe today, you stand a great chance at reaching more international targets through the platform.
Use Your School’s Social Media to Re-Engage International Prospects
While we seem to have turned a corner in handling the pandemic, we can’t deny that things remain unpredictable. We still have COVID variants to consider, causing setbacks in countries that had progressed with admirable vaccination rates. In the meantime, other nations continue to lag substantially with their vaccination targets, causing persistent travel restrictions.
Students who are considering studying abroad under this current reality are intent on staying highly informed of the local situation at their schools of interest. Your social media lets you provide them with important updates as they come up.
Example: UCLA recently posted this update to its Facebook page, letting students know of their vaccination policy for the coming fall term.
This is also an ideal vehicle for spreading optimistic news about how your school is adapting to the situation.
Example: Your school is more likely to appeal to international recruits by remaining upbeat under the circumstances, as we see in this recent Facebook post from Randolph-Macon Academy – demonstrating that amid the pandemic reality, life goes on for its student population. For years, the private boarding school has attracted large numbers of international students annually.
International prospects following your social channels and who have yet to make a decision will be reassured and encouraged by the steady stream of information coming from your school, letting them know you’re committed to keeping students safe and informed.
Direct Your Prospects to Key Study Abroad Details on Your Website
Make it easy for international students to get the important information they seek by connecting your social media posts and other content back to dedicated information pages on your school’s website associated with COVID protocol. Your school might even have a page or hub designed to handle queries from international students, who have additional concerns to consider beyond those of domestic students such as visa requirements, ease of travel in an emergency, local medical facilities, health insurance, and accommodation.
Example: This website page from the Spanish Institute for Global Education in Sevilla, Spain is dedicated to informing its largely international student population on COVID protocols.
Your social media posts can lead prospects to this dedicated international student website page or hub, which can be a launching point to direct these students to additional in-person or online events designed specifically for them (info sessions, meet and greets, etc.).
Use International Student Ambassadors
There’s nothing more compelling to students wondering which overseas college to attend than hearing from their peers. To help international students reach a level of comfort with the notion of studying abroad at your school in a post-pandemic environment, you might think to ask your current international students or alumni to help create some of your social media content. Content showcasing your ambassadors’ stories gives your prospects an authentic view of what it really feels like to be studying abroad at your institution under the current reality.
Example: The University of Leeds in the UK created this video for YouTube, showcasing one international student’s experience of studying abroad at the school. The video received over 12,000 views over a short duration. In the year ahead, when studying abroad rebounds, one can see how powerful this type of content might be for convincing international students of the positive experience they can hope for from your school.
Attract More Students from Around the World Using Your School’s Blog
Having a routinely updated blog on your school’s website is a great way to share more in-depth information about your school’s programs and student life. Under the current pandemic environment, you can focus on creating some of your regular stream of blog posts to inform international students on more specific details on how you’re handling the situation.
Parents and students alike will be trying to imagine what life will be like in a school in another country under the current environment. In coming up with ideas for your content, think about the types of pressing questions parents and students may have these days. What is your school’s precise COVID protocol for keeping students safe? What online and hybrid learning is in place to adapt if necessary to local outbreaks? Who can international students turn to at the school if they need support while studying abroad? Where do students hang out in between classes, and what are the rules in common areas under the COVID reality? Design your blog posts to answer these questions with stories that are transparent, informative, and encouraging.
Example: The blog post below was created by Randolph-Macon Academy.
This post discusses the way the school’s summer programs will be adapted to the COVID situation. During the pandemic, the school has posted several blogs dedicated to the theme of COVID safety protocols. These blog posts are designed to reassure both students and parents alike. Create blogs that are optimistic about your own school’s handling of COVID, sharing as many details as possible to show that you’re being transparent and proactive.
Leverage Email Marketing to Reach Your Prospects
Some recent research has shown that emails and texts are the preferred channels of communication for many students when it comes to dealing with college admissions. With this in mind, it seems a sound decision just now to feature email marketing in your international student recruitment efforts, re-engaging with leads you already have in your CRM. If it has marketing automation functionality, use it to create newly designed drip campaigns to keep up a steady stream of relevant emails to prospects who showed an interest in your school before the pandemic hit.
Remain Flexible with Your School’s Strategies in the Days Ahead
Perhaps the most important element of your international student recruitment reboot will be a commitment to remaining flexible. With the continued unknowns presented by COVID, over three quarters of colleges and universities surveyed by IIE clearly have this in mind, stating they would offer international students deferment to spring 2022 in the case of ongoing travel restrictions and vaccine delays in their various countries of origin.
Other examples of flexibility for attracting and accommodating international students have included allowing credentials other than standardized testing, and an allowance of more online documentation. A comparison of supports offered between spring 2020 and spring 2021 shows a clear increase in services offered by U.S. colleges to assist international students:
Source: ICEF Monitor
A Commitment to Going Hybrid
A combined online and in-class hybrid learning approach is a clear-cut aspect of any sound recruitment strategy moving forward. Your school might take inspiration from other’s approaches, such as offering international students the opportunity to take one year of courses from home, then attending their chosen university for in-person classes when things have hopefully improved. The hybrid approach has also led to a rise in the types of academic supports offered to international students, such as synchronous course schedule options, general flexibility to accommodate different time zones, and IT support where needed.
While a cut to tuition fees might be necessary to further sweeten the pot in a hybrid learning scenario, it will be worth it for keeping up the number of enrollments in these trying times ahead. A hybrid approach also motivates your school to keep sharp in your online offerings, knowing virtual learning is no longer just an appealing option – it may well become the learning approach of choice for overseas students over the long-term.
Overall, remember to stay positive. All schools are in the same boat, so it’s a level playing field out there just now. Those who put in the most effort stand to succeed. With success in mind, your school can forge ahead by seizing this moment in history as an occasion to take your digital marketing efforts to new, unexplored heights!