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Recruiting Intelligence

International Student Recruiting: When Travel Fails

Recruiting international students is hard work. There's no doubt about it: Traveling internationally, meeting students and parents over the span of back-to-back (to-back-to-back) 12, 14 or 16 hour days, all while keeping up with home office responsibilities. Thank goodness the rewards are great. Well, the personal rewards are great, that's why we are in this line of work. But what about the organizational rewards. How are we doing there?

Our latest mystery shopper experiment checked out a number of international recruiting tours to assess this highly used prospecting method. We were a bit stunned by the results. Will you be? Read on...

Traveling internationally to recruit international students is not only time consuming but also a significant financial investment. Meeting students in their home countries needs to show the right return on investment or it becomes increasingly difficult to justify. Early trips to a region may not show immediate returns in new international enrollments. Yet there is often justification in the market research and relationship building that is critical to entering a new market.

Still, international recruiting tours are designed to do more than develop relationships and provide market intelligence. They are designed to develop prospects that your recruitment program should then convert a percentage of into enrolled students.

After meeting students and collecting their contact information, now should come the easy part. There should be an established systematized approach to following up and build a connection with those students met during travel. Unfortunately we've found that many institutions lack the time, energy or resources to prioritize contacting students in a timely manner. This reality calls into question the value of investing in these prospecting trips.

If you are a regular reader of our blog you know how much we enjoy running mystery shopper experiments. This past spring and fall we introduced two experiments in which our mystery shopper, a Chinese high school student, contacted institutions asking for information. We were shocked to find that 1/3 of surveyed institutions did not respond to our student's requests! Please see: 1/3 of Surveyed Institutions Ignore International Student Requests and 25% Don't Reply to Prospective International Student Inquiries.

After learning that so many institutions fail to respond to prospective international students who email requests, we decided to try another approach. Our mystery shoppers hit the road and attended college fairs organized by the major fair providers in China, Vietnam and India this past fall. Our international students completed many inquiry cards. After two weeks time none of the institutions had reached out to our "prospective students."

The prime period of engaging with the students was completely lost. No doubt the admission counselors were incredibly busy: continuing travel, returning to the US, catching up on work post-travel. All completely understandable, and yet, the opportunity lost!

And what of the investment in all that travel - time, money? There has to be a better way to engage with students, to capitalize on their interest before they turn their interest elsewhere.

Let's be honest, these students have a lot of options and often the institution that pays the most attention, the one that is most attentive during the process, has a serious advantage over the competition. In fact, it is often the first institution to respond to a prospective international student that wins the recruitment competition.

After a couple of weeks and having received no follow up from our inquiry cards, our mystery shoppers took it upon themselves to pursue the institutions (heavy sigh). Our "prospective students" attempted to re-engage the institutions they had met at the college fairs by sending email inquiries to those universities, and, when possible, specifically to the contact person they met at the fair. The results were consistent with what we had discovered through our previous mystery shopper email enquiry experiments.

For the student who attended the college fair in Vietnam, upon sending a follow-up email to the institutions and requesting additional information, 31% of the 26 institutions either did not reply at all or took close to a month to respond.

Vietnam chart resized 600


Of the 28 institutions our "prospective student" met at a Chinese college fair, 25% did not reply when a follow-up inquiry was sent

china chart resized 600

We found similar results in India. Of the 13 US institutions that received a follow-up inquiry, less than half responded to our "student's" request

india chart resized 600

We are sure your reaction is similar to ours. This is simply unacceptable.

The students that an admission counselor meets on the road are more interested and engaged in the institution than a random student contacting a college. Failing to respond to their simple inquiries for additional information is inexcusable. If the whole purpose of spending time and money to travel abroad for recruitment is to engage with prospective students, failing to follow-up on their inquiries in a timely manner completely undermines the trip itself. What is the point of engaging with students only to ignore their requests shortly thereafter?

This is a problem. The significant investment in travel is undermined by failing to engage with students in a timely, appropriate manner after they are met on the road. Interestingly when higher education professionals were surveyed in two recent WES webinars (Recruiting Students Seeking Bachelor's Degrees and Recruiting Chinese Students) if participants had an extra 10% of their budget for international student recruitment over 1/3 would participate in more recruiting trips. Recruitment travel handily beat online outreach efforts, an international student/alumni ambassador program, recruitment agents and information technology systems.

We find it fascinating that so many of our colleagues would choose to spend additional resources on travel when we would argue that travel isn't being done in the most cost-effective means. Institutions could benefit greatly from more effective follow-up post-travel.

We also know from our work with clients that in many instances admissions officers are not responsible for follow up delays. Often, they are waiting for their fair organizers to deliver student contact information. 

There are simple solutions. Proactive admission offices across the country and throughout the world, for that matter, have established auto-response emails with appropriate, relevant and compelling content. They can respond to and engage with prospective students anytime, anywhere. Compared to the cost of travel, the initial investment in time and resources to establish automated email messaging is minimal.

Furthermore emails need not be boring, static messages. There are numerous ways to implement exciting and engaging digital tools to make your emails stand out from the crowd. See our recent blog Digital Engagement Tools for International Student Recruitment.

Finally, in selecting a tour operator, we suggest that you make timely provision of student email contact information as one of your selection criteria. We'd be surprised if your fair providers won't be responsive to you if they fear they are in danger of losing your business. There are many prospect capture tools out there that can automate the process of knowing who stops by your booth with a simple scan or swipe. Automated emails can go out the very next day. Customized emails can easily follow. Why are these systems not standard for international student recruitment tours?

We want to see US institutions succeed as they work to recruit international students. Meeting students at college fairs and then failing to continue the conversation simply doesn't achieve the results we all expect. Relationship building takes time, and must be nurtured through multiple channels. A successful recruitment trip should not be undermined by email/follow up failures.

Students are fickle and often the institution that pays the most attention or shows the most involvement wins the day. Your goal is to be that college/university.


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