“International” is a huge buzzword in the education world today. Many schools talk about being globally minded and wanting to attract international students. So the question is: is your admission department truly equipped to compete for international students? Here’s a quick quiz to assess how sophisticated your team is in its international recruitment strategy.
- Have you factored international holidays and major sporting events into your recruitment events and application deadline calendar?
- Do or your staff members speak foreign languages?
- Does your office utilize Skype for phone calls with candidates and accommodate the business hours of different time zones?
- Do you or your staff members have study or work abroad experience?
If you answered “yes” to three or more questions, you’re on your way to a strong international strategy. If you did not, read further for a few easy things you can do in the next six months to become a magnet for these sought-after applicants who will bring a fresh perspective into your classroom.
If you were extremely interested in, say, Harvard Business School’s Executive M.B.A. program, would you attend an in-person information session on Christmas day? Probably not. Before you waste precious hours and dollars on hosting an ill-timed recruitment event, remember that every culture has days and times of year set aside to focus on family and/or religious rituals. Scheduling open house events or even application submission deadlines around important holidays will increase your attendance rates and application rates. Certain key ones are:
- Lunar New Year, which falls in January or February (celebrated by Chinese, Vietnamese and certain other Asian cultures)
- Easter (which means at least an entire holiday week in Latin America and some parts of Europe)
- Canadian Thanksgiving
Aside from formal holidays, consider the major sporting events that rule certain countries or regions. Again, you probably won’t attend an information session happening on Super Bowl Sunday. Likewise, scheduling your recruitment event in the midst of a much-anticipated World Cup game in Latin America or Europe may spell empty seats and missed opportunities. To avoid being the lone attendee at your session, search for holidays in the particular country you’re targeting. Better yet, talk to a local (maybe a current student or alum from that country) and get advice not only on days of the week but times of day that make sense in that local market.
International applicants will be more likely to communicate openly and continue in their application process if they are supported by an admission staff member who can communicate in their native language. Even better is a staff who can communicate to applicants’ family members in a foreign language. Admission officers know that winning over parents is key to enrolling a student. In my former life as an admission counselor, speaking to applicants’ parents in Mandarin Chinese or Spanish helped me seal the deal a number of times!
If you have the opportunity to make a new hire in your department, consider foreign language skills as a criteria. Alternatively, a more budget-friendly step is to bring on student volunteers who speak Spanish, Chinese, or other widely spoken languages.
Method of communication
Success in international recruitment also depends on understanding how your audience likes to communicate. Are they most comfortable with e-mail? On the phone? In person? My experiences recruiting students in Latin America and Europe showed me the importance of adapting the method of communication to my audience’s preferences. I definitely saw a preference for phone in Latin America while I saw a higher comfort level with formal written communications in Japan. With modern technology, it is easy and cheap for admission offices to offer counseling (and persuasion!) over the phone in markets where this is favored. Sign up for a free Skype account—it takes less than five minutes.
Alongside the issue of phone versus e-mail is the issue of time zones. Institutions that effectively compete for international students run their offices to meet the applicants’ needs. For example, if due to time zone, applicants from Europe are most interested in reaching a live person in your admission office from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. instead of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., adjust your staffing so that at least one member can receive phone calls at the prime times. In this example, if you snooze, you really lose!
Your staff’s international perspective
I remember distinctly arriving at a bus station in the dark of night in Cuernavaca, Mexico to study Spanish. I was a lone female and simply had instructions to wait for a red truck to pick me up to bring me to my host family. That frightening and yet exhilarating experience instilled in me a deep respect for others who risk a lot to go abroad to learn outside of their comfort zone.
If you’ve hired admission staff members who have studied abroad, they’ll tend to relate to newcomers in a school or town and feel for the anxiety and excitement of foreign experiences. I’ve found that such staff members tend to go the extra mile to helping a new foreign applicant with the questions on housing, transportation, and lifestyle that international students inevitably ask.
Again, if you have the opportunity to make a new hire, bring on talent who has studied and worked abroad. Alternatively, a more budget-friendly step is bringing on international student volunteers who can relate to the applicants considering a move from their home country.
The bottom line is this: learn about the people with whom you want to communicate. How do they want to hear from you and when do they want to hear from you? You might not want to get a marketing message as you’re sitting down to Christmas dinner, so think of others’ holidays and sacred periods. Adjusting your marketing and admission operations accordingly will help international applicants feel at home and make them eager to experience your campus and community.
Alice Huang has recruited students from over 40 countries and managed recruitment events in over 20 countries, including ones she cannot pronounce. Share your comments and questions with her at email@example.com.