Long before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, global higher-education analyst Rahul Choudaha (2018) suggested that online recruitment was becoming “the first and most important channel for attracting and enrolling international students”. Now, almost two years later, physical restrictions and travel bans have brought a newfound gravitas to his argument.
When social distancing requirements came into place, in-person student recruitment fairs were some of the first events to be canceled. This was, and continues to be, a huge worry for institutions that financially depend on the revenue generated by international enrolments. In fact, QS’s recent survey revealed that 50% of higher education institutions believed coronavirus would negatively affect the volume of student applications they received.
In these uncertain times, online recruitment events have offered a lifeline to many universities and colleges. In the QS study, 75% of respondents recognized the increased importance of digital events, while 70% stated that one-to-one online meetings had become more crucial too. By harnessing the power of online recruitment, you can minimize the detrimental impact of the pandemic and continue to meet your institution’s enrolment targets.
In November 2020, Studee’s President of University Services, Jihna Gavilanes, and BMI’s Director of Special Projects, Spencer Hawkes, shared their top online recruitment tips with institutions across the globe.
They discussed how universities can pivot their activities and future-proof their recruitment strategies.
Recruiting Generation Z
Unlike the generations that came before them, Generation Z (Gen Z) were born into a highly-digitized environment. The latest batch of undergraduate recruits can’t imagine a world without the internet, social media, and instant messaging, and it’s often where they feel most comfortable engaging.
As digital natives, online recruitment events cater to the interests and preferences of Gen Z. However, because they already spend huge amounts of time browsing and researching on the web, their expectations of online recruitment processes will be much higher. They’re familiar with the endless possibilities of modern technology, so they’ll expect your institution to utilize the latest equipment and platforms.
Choosing the right recruitment event
Dedicated online recruitment events are one of the most effective ways to engage directly with students and build their trust. You have two options when it comes to organizing online events: use a virtual fair provider, or host your own.
Using a virtual fair provider
Working with a fair organizer can significantly lighten your workload. They’ll do the majority of the marketing and promotion for you, so you’ll just have to log in to the platform on the day of the event and interact with the students they’ve sourced.
Before signing on the dotted line, have a discussion with the organizer about the pool of students they’re hoping to attract and the countries they’re from. If the demographic doesn’t match up with the markets you’re trying to crack, it might not be the best event for your institution.
Consider the number of students they’re likely to draw to the event too. If the event isn’t busy enough to achieve your enrollment aspirations, you could end up out of pocket.
Hosting your own online event
If you run a private recruitment event, your institution will be responsible for securing student registrations, promoting the event, and absorbing the marketing fees. Advertising the event across your social channels and running email campaigns is a great way to achieve sign-ups.
Although they take a lot more planning, private events give you the freedom to cherry-pick the students you want to engage with and choose the exact format you’d like to follow. Here are a couple of activities you could offer:
One-to-one chats with the admissions team and faculty
Despite the physical distance that separates you from international students, you can still offer a personalized recruitment experience thanks to technologies like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype. Unlike group discussions and presentations, one-to-one video calls give students the confidence to ask sensitive questions about course fees and entry requirements.
If you’re blessed with a strong enough bandwidth, you can take your online event outside and showcase your campus facilities. Even if international students can’t physically visit, online tours give them an in-person feel from afar.
If you want to leave a lasting impression on prospective students, implementing a personalized follow-up procedure is vital. Following up on warm prospects is arguably the most important part of your recruitment strategy, but it’s where so many institutions fall short.
At Studee, we know that spam emails won’t make the grade for Gen Z. That’s why we offer an individualized service that supports students from post-event all the way to enrollment.
Contacting students within 24 hours of the event is key. By getting in touch quickly, you’ll prove to students that they’d be a valued part of your academic community. This helps them to build a sense of belonging and often leads to improved conversion results.
Phone and video calls are a great way to build rapport with students, but remember to ring at a sociable hour. If the student is unresponsive to your calls, consider sending a customized email that summarizes the discussions you’ve had and reinforces what your university could offer them. At the end of the email, encourage the student to reach out to you when they’re ready, and in whatever way suits them.
At Studee, we use various communication channels to interact with students, including phone calls, video calls, emails, WhatsApp, Wii chat, and the chatbot that’s built into our website. This ensures students can get in touch with us easily, no matter their communication preferences.
Applying to study abroad can be a daunting task, but supporting students through every stage of the application process will lead to better enrollment rates. If you can help with applications, set deadline reminders, provide visa information, and offer travel advice, international students are more likely to choose your institution.