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Recruiting Intelligence

Int'l Recruiting Agents Influence Study Decisions...Even When You Don't Use Them

Many factors influence prospective students' university application decisions. In the U.S., we always worry about the misbehaving student tour guide, not connecting with the students and upsetting the parent. In the international recruitment process, political issues and visa changes are out of our control. So are safety issues -- consider the tragic events in Boston recently.

Today, we are reviewing a few facts on another channel where universities have only partial or limited control. Depending on your recruitment methods and marketing strategy your level of control can be different. We are talking about the counselors and recruitment agents advising students and parents around the world. Considering how agents are used is particularly important when considering your Chinese recruitment plans. Yet, we think considering agent activities is also critical when evaluating your plans for the Korean, Vietnamese and Indian markets. Whether you contract with international recruiting agents or not, they are playing a significant role in international student decisions.

I-graduate's annual student barometer is a broad benchmarking survey of behavior and satisfaction of students studying outside their home country. The survey provides insights and practical advice on how to improve your admissions process, marketing and student services for international students. The goal is to attract more students and increase retention using i-graduate's data to drive smarter decision making.

The recent research shines a light on the expectation gap students experience -- the gap between what they think they are going to get and what they really get once they arrive on campus. Recruiting international students well has a lot to do with setting realistic expectations about your campus environment and the education you will deliver. And that reality can be quite different than the perspectives shared and promises made during the application process. Intentionally or not, the messages your marketing delivers to international students through your varied outreach channels can set inaccurate expectations.

And agents, with a lack of first hand familiarity with your offering, may not be providing an accurate picture to the students they guide during the application and decision making process. With agent use rising dramatically in China, ignoring this reality might cost you.

If you are attending the upcoming NAFSA conference in St. Louis, you may be interested in joining the i-graduate session "Great Expectations: Managing International Students' Decision Making and Preparation" on May 30th from 8 am - 9 am.

Recruiting agents are a growing source of influence within the Chinese market, setting expectations and guiding application and acceptance decisions for many international markets. These are high school counselors, counselors paid exclusively or partially by parents and commission-based recruiters compensated directly by universities. I-graduate's most recent research points out an increasing use of these agents by almost half of the surveyed Chinese students.

The survey revealed that last year a significant increase of 87% more Chinese students turned to agents for help with their U.S. university decisions. The actual percentage of Chinese students seeking help from agents went from 23% in 2011 to the 43% in 2012 (see summary chart 1). Just to be clear, these agents may have been paid directly by the parents just like U.S. parents sometimes pay private admissions counselors. Or they may have been commission-based agents engaged by universities. The survey does not distinguish between the type of agent or how they were compensated.

A few noteworthy points:

  • Satisfaction with the agency advice and services appears very high ("86% of the students using agents said that they did a good or very good job")
  • Agents are mentioned as one of the top three key influencers in line with friends and digital information on the university website
  • We wondered how students or parents selected their agency advisors (see Graph 2). The winner: "word of mouth" or more generally, recommendations from other students, parents or teachers. And finding success through word of mouth referrals is highly dependent on reducing that expectation gap. When the reality matches the promise, you get strong word of mouth marketing.
  • This strong referral element provides a great need and motivation to agents to provide satisfactory services to their clients, which means placing the students, but also placing the students in the appropriate college to be successful. Since an unhappy or unsuccessful student means, most likely, poor recommendations. And as we know, upset clients are likely to share their positive feelings are much more likely to share their displeasure than happy clients (just have a look at the Yelp or Amazon ratings).

Bottom Line: Our message to university admissions and marketing staff is this: consider marketing accurate and appropriate information to the agency world in your target countries -- even if your institution does not use agents.

The same way you may be bringing U.S. high school counselors to campus and your admissions staff is building relationships with your feeder high schools, consider the agency world as one of your marketing channels. They are key influencers in the decision making process for a significant segment of students (regardless of the ranking and type of university in the U.S.).

If you are using commission-based agencies as part of your recruitment mix, you already know that signing the agreement is only the first (many times, easiest step) in the process. Informing, updating and communicating with the agency counselors keeps your institution as a "top of mind" school for the agents. Managing this relationship effectively and feeding agents your latest information helps them present your education value proposition appropriately. You need to give them the tools to help their clients (students and parents) select your institution.

The goal, again, is to reduce that expectation gap. Poorly informed agents are adding to the expectation gap. Without accurate information available in the selection phase, the enrolled student is primed for disappointment.

I-graduate's work and the work we do for our clients focus on ensuring matches the expectations established before students leave home. Your work has everything to do with matching the promise to the reality.

Graph 1

Graph 2

Sources: i-graduate student barometer 2012


Topics: Insights