Ensure you give prospective students the chance to connect with campus representatives online as well as in-person
How to increase your international student prospect pool by implementing a strategic digital marketing plan: Part 1
I’m going to ask you to put yourself in the shoes of a prospective student who has just made the decision to enrol for a higher education course abroad.
You’ll probably agree that while the idea is immensely exciting, it’s also an extremely daunting one. It’s likely that a long list of questions will be running through the young person’s mind. Where will I go? What will I study? How much will it cost?
In a significant number of cases it will be the single largest 'purchase' they have or will ever make, and so offering these young people the highest level of support is crucial. After all, if you were buying the most expensive purchase of your life wouldn’t you expect that level of personal service too?
In September, we interviewed more than 1,000 international students who are currently researching higher education options through the International Student Admissions Service. We wanted to know what plans they have to visit their top university choices. Here were the results:
The research demonstrate the importance of having online communication opportunities available in addition to setting dates for in-person interactions. This is due to the limited amount of students who can travel abroad to visit all or some of their top university choices.
Many factors will affect the student’s final decision in selecting an international university (we shall discuss this further in the next part of the blog series). However, students pinpoint online interactions as one of the top influential factors in the final stages of the decision-making process.
So what can you do?
This might be obvious but it’s important to consider that the perception of your institution begins from the very first point of contact. On top of this, if the initial enquiries a student makes are answered quickly, accurately and are clearly personalised rather than automated responses, it can achieve wonders in making a student feel positively about your institution.
Where should you start?
It’s better to allocate your resources to one online communication channel and one in-person communication method. If you utilise these channels well and provide a strong customer service to prospective students, you’re likely to be more successful in your international student recruitment strategy. Attempting to manage all communication methods could lead to spreading yourself too thin, not being able to maintain relationships successfully and being needlessly expensive.
Our research shows that email was chosen as the most preferred method of communication by prospective international students.
Try email marketing as your chosen online communication channel:
In a report conducted by BritishCouncil.org, 21% of international institutions did not respond at all to the student enquiries and 68% of the institutions that did reply did not send a second email or reminder. 
Institutions in the Netherlands, Canada and Sweden replied the quickest while institutions in Spain and China were less likely to respond to student enquiries as promptly.
Speed of response to enquiries should be a central focus for your international student admissions team. Reducing response times to international enquiries has a positive impact on student perception of your institution which will improve conversion rates.
Try integrating an online enquiry form with a ‘call me back’ service:
Responsiveness counts for 30% of ‘the student eyes research and scoring model’ - with findability scoring 30% and information and usability counting for 40%.
Your online enquiry forms should follow the below principles:
- Ensure the enquiry form is easy for prospective students to find and complete;
- Have a phone number available in case they choose to call;
- Also implement a ‘call me back’ service to prospective students and parents;
- Give students the opportunity to explain what their problem or enquiry is before you speak to them so you’re armed with an answer before the call;
- Forget what you want to tell them, and focus on what they want to know (we will reveal more data on this topic next week).
A final point to think about:
Magdy Attalla is an educator and consultant with 20 years of experience working in prestigious Swiss hotel and business schools, as well as with British and American universities. He said:
‘Listen more than you talk and use the insights you gain into your customer’s need and decision-making process to close more sales.’
A simple idea but when combined with your own understanding of ‘who you are’ and ‘what you offer’ (this should be established if this hasn’t been determined already), it is a prime opportunity to sell your university to that student on a personal level and increase the standard of your international student recruitment strategy.