Navigating International Student Recruitment During Covid-19

4 min read

Benjamin Boivin

illustrated image of people looking at a world map with a magnifying glassGlobally, international student enrollment has decreased over the past three years, yet in the United States, the population made up 1.1 million students in the 2018/19 academic year. Unlike domestic student recruitment, international admission representatives communicate with students in different time zones that speak different languages with diverse cultural barriers. Thanks to COVID-19 travel bans, international recruitment is more challenging than ever. 


Focus on where you can travel 

The “new normal” will not last forever. Certain countries handled the coronavirus pandemic better than others, and many of those countries are welcoming business travelers again. It's proven the more face-to-face interaction you have with prospective students, the more likely they are to enroll.

While you may need to switch up your target market and travel plans from previous years, you might be surprised what new students you attract in markets allowing college fairs, counselor visits, and in-person interviews. 


Reallocate your travel funds

It’s safe to say international recruiters have the largest budgets of all admissions divisions. Where will that money go if your travel plans are canceled? Think digital marketing! With less travel, you’ll have more time to send the right message to the right student using the right channel. 

Print collateral has usually never been very successful for international recruiters due to high shipping costs and deliverability. But with more people connected to the Internet than ever before, now is a great time to send targeted digital ads, personalized emails, and boost your social media presence. What’s more, marketing automation ensures your international students receive communication at the most effective time and day, despite various time zones. 


Screen-to-screen interaction

If face-to-face conversations are out, schedule more screen time. It won’t be as easy to attract organic interest in your university like it is at an international college fair, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative. Consider hosting a real-time walking tour of your campus, personalized one-on-one conversation from a tourist destination in your city, or a meet and greet with the entire family so that they can also learn more about the opportunities offered. 

As a bonus, masks are not required when sitting in front of your laptop! 


Enhance your video relevancy

Still have extra money in your budget? Probably not. If you do, hire a videographer to record 4K videos of campus, film drone footage from the sky, and masterfully edit a series of Vimeo or YouTube-able videos. Or, you can do it yourself. 

Between significant improvements in cellphone video technology and the impressive footage you can get from a $300 GoPro Hero8, it doesn’t take much to put together something special. Another option would be to bring in admissions student ambassadors to create authentic “day in the life” style videos. Topics to consider are around town, living on campus, clubs and organizations, discovering the best study spots on campus, and how to ace the campus interview. All of these videos can be modified with an international twist to create relevancy for next year’s class. 


Utilize international alumni 

Depending on your student population, it may be challenging to contact international alumni that moved home after graduation, but it is possible. One idea is to set up a budget for international recruitment by utilizing alumni from the same region as prospective students. This idea can be mutually beneficial as you can communicate with families face-to-face through the student lens, and provide a side hustle for a post-grad that loves their experience at your institution. 

If you don’t have the time or resources to vet, train, and benefit from international alumni in person, there are other ways they can help. Build a repository of international student testimonials or invite them as guest speakers during recruitment information sessions and virtual events. Testimonials can also be utilized across all marketing channels and a single quote can be used for up to five years . 


Encourage social media communication 

Keeping up with the latest social media trends takes an army of current students, creative minds, and administration to run correctly. By encouraging prospective students to submit content, you will save time and build community without added stress. 

After an unprecedented Spring 2020 semester, it’s clear students choose to go to college for the social campus experience. During study-from-home, popular social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels grew in popularity and there is no better time than now to familiarize yourself with these useful communication tools. 

One idea is to offer waived application fees to students that post a certain number of videos, or a t-shirt giveaway to the best study-from-home post. These affordable contests can have a huge impact on your prospective student interaction. 


Keep in touch 

After various focus groups, virtual surveys, and conversations with students from home, it’s evident students appreciate the campus community reaching out on a regular basis with campus updates. The most positive student responses came after a professor’s phone call, administrator email, or video message from the university president. Keep the news stories relevant to the universal fight against COVID-19, as well as provide as many campus and travel updates as possible. 

“We’re all in this together” takes on new meaning as the world unites to battle COVID-19. While international student recruitment faces various challenges, admissions professionals are expert adapters. Scientists and medical experts are rapidly searching for a vaccine and just maybe, the solution will come from one of your own problem-solving, global-minded international graduates. 

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