The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Successful International School Recruitment Visit

A successful international school visit can make all the difference to your team’s ability to meet recruitment & enrolment goals in 2022. We explain how to make your visit a success

The saying “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” has been attributed to both the Irish poet Oscar Wilde and the American actor Will Rogers. 

But whoever first coined the phrase, we’d argue it’s sage advice for anyone working in an international recruitment or admissions team. 

And it’s sage advice that’s never been more relevant. Since the start of 2020, international student recruitment has changed irrevocably, and we now know that the pre-COVID-19 status quo will not be restored. 

In short, international admissions teams will have to take a mixed, hybrid approach to their jobs. 

Of course, this hybrid approach will bring both rich rewards and new challenges. 

Let’s look at the rewards first. 

The move to more virtual and remote methods of recruitment presents  admissions and recruitment teams with more opportunities to be more agile in their strategy. 

After all, virtual engagement with international schools means that you’re no longer limited to those regions or markets that were the most accessible by air travel. And recruitment schedules no longer have to be tied to what is feasible within the limits of a month-long travel itinerary. 

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Introducing the 4-step process that helps your admissions team design an international recruitment strategy to reach students actively interested in applying to your institution!

But there are challenges too. We know first hand the importance of educating, informing and captivating international students if your wider enrolment efforts are to be successful. 

With the proliferation of these virtual recruitment channels, there may be more pressure on you and your team to deliver fresh and engaging digital experiences every time you speak to students. And that can feel like a big ask! 

Here’s the other problem with the growth of virtual channels. It can sometimes leave you unsure of how and where to focus your recruitment efforts. With so many markets and channels to choose from, how can you know where to start? 

Or to put it another way, how can you be sure that your international schools recruitment strategy is….well….strategic

That’s why we’ve devised a simple, four step process for ensuring that your international school recruitment strategy is successful at this crucial time of year. 

But before we get into the first step, a disclaimer. We’re only going to cover international undergraduate recruitment, and we’ll mostly be focussed on international schools as a source of undergraduate talent. 

There are two reasons for this. 

Firstly, it’s our area of expertise! 

We’ve written before about how international schools are becoming an increasingly important source of undergraduate talent for the university admissions teams we work with. And if you weren’t aware by now, BridgeU currently works closely with international schools in over 120 countries. 

Secondly, we know that for many international admissions teams, the international schools market can feel like a perpetual black box! It’s a market that’s growing in size and complexity so fast, that it can be difficult to know where to focus your team’s resources. 

So read on, and we’ll show you how our simple framework can lead to greater international recruitment success! 

Step 1: Reviewing your existing recruitment objectives and goals

Before you map out your school recruitment plan, we’d recommend a review of your existing enrolment objectives and goal, and how your international school outreach efforts will align with these objectives and goals. 

For example, it’s likely that at least some of your projected international student enrolment in any given admissions cycle will come from your relationships with agents in relevant markets. 

So what proportion of your enrolment targets will be achieved by visiting and engaging with international schools? 

How much of your undergraduate intake do you envision coming from existing relationships with schools? How many new schools will you need to foster connections with? 

And, perhaps the most important question of all: what can you achieve with your team’s existing resources? 

Finally, if you haven’t done so already, we’d recommend conducting a SWOT analysis of any relevant school recruitment markets. 

For anyone unfamiliar with this particular acronym, SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Let’s quickly look at each of those factors in turn. 

Strengths

In what markets is your institution’s brand already at its strongest? Where have your previous recruitment efforts yielded results in the past? And where can you leverage your existing connections and networks to help you deliver on targets for this academic year?

Weaknesses

Where is your team’s domain/market knowledge at its weakest? In what regions or markets have you struggled to convert students, or perhaps just been unable to make the most of your team’s resources?

Opportunities

Where specifically is international students’ interest in your institution coming from? Where are your emerging recruitment markets? What new event types, or recruitment initiatives could you be trying?

Threats

Who are your challenger institutions/competitors in your key regions? Where is international students’ interest in your region decreasing?

Step 2: Conduct an analysis of your relevant international school recruitment markets

The international schools market is incredibly diverse and complex. And that’s because, fundamentally, the world is a very diverse and complex place. 

Ultimately, your international recruitment strategy will be shaped by economic, political and social factors in any given region or country. 

Welcome to Step 2. Analysing your relevant markets and territories and making a note of any contextual factors that might affect your wider strategy. We’ll briefly cover each of these factors in a bit more detail. 

Political factors

Geopolitical considerations can have some bearing on your international school recruitment strategy. The international school market can be shaped by a country’s laws and business regulations.  

Let’s briefly look at some contrasting examples in Asia.

Currently, countries such as Thailand and Japan have quite liberal policies towards the establishment of international schools and the number of local students who can be enrolled in them. Laws governing international school governance may be tied to the country’s wider immigration policies.

Contrast this with a market like Hong Kong, where the regulations relating to the international schools market are beginning to tighten in line with developments in Chinese government policies. 

So as you’re planning and refining your international school recruitment & engagement political or regulatory factors could affect your international recruitment and outreach? 

How are international schools in the region/market regulated? How have immigration policies affected the growth/decline of the international schools market?

Economic factors

International schools are likely to appear in countries and local markets where business is strong and/or foreign investment is growing. It’s worth ensuring that your market intelligence takes this into account when designing your international school recruitment strategy.

For example, the 2019 ISC Global Opportunities report noted that, while the wider international schools market in Germany has recently contracted, economic growth in cities like Hamburg and Munich would lead to a resurgence in growth.

So note down major economic factors that might govern your recruitment & outreach strategy; e.g. how has the local/regional economy grown/changed in the past few years; how has the international schools market grown or changed in this region? What’s the average income/earning power in your target region?

Digital infrastructure

In an increasingly digital-first world, the question of digital infrastructure in a given country is likely to become more important for your strategy. 

For example, it’s easy to forget that the quality of Internet access can be a deciding factor in how students consume information and what social media channels they use.

So what digital infrastructure considerations do you need to take into account? Do students and schools have access to high speed internet? How might this affect your digital channels and outreach methods?

Social/cultural factors

There may be social and cultural factors that can and should inform your recruitment. For example, are there any cultural considerations or religious sensitivities you might have to consider when preparing your outreach and marketing efforts? 

For example, in an economy with an emerging middle class, you may encounter students whose parents never had an international education - or access to higher education at all! So how could/should this affect your wider recruitment and enrolment efforts?

Step 3: Research your target international schools

Now that you've researched the general context of your key international recruitment markets, you’re ready to start researching your target international schools in more detail. 

The problem? As of 2020, there were over 12,000 international schools worldwide. So where’s best to start? 

Sadly, we don’t have an instruction manual here. But we can give you a few hints and tips to point you in the right direction. Call it a road map instead.

 

 

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Research international school groups and associations

It’s important not to forget that the international school market isn’t a market at all. In fact, it’s more helpful to think of international school as part of a wider community. 

And this community is, in turn, composed of many school groups and associations. 

So we’d recommend familiarising yourself with as many school groups and associations as possible (we’ll give you more resources on these in the coming weeks, don’t worry!)

Track your international school research to your wider recruitment goals

If in doubt, refer back to your wider team goals. 

Once you’ve researched relevant international schools in a given market, ask yourself how these tie back to your enrolment targets.

Or to put it another way, document exactly what a best-fit international school looks like for your team

For example, as part of the wider review of your recruitment or enrolment goals, you might want to make a record of the following 

In previous application cycles, we know that we’ve had high conversions from IB student applicants in North Africa. As we expand into sub-Saharan Africa, I’m proposing that we initially target [x] IB World Schools in [y] countries. 

Ask yourself which international schools have yielded results for you and your team in the past?

Why? In what regions were they based? Can you find any discernible pattern in the curricula that they offer, or the academic interests of the students? 

Answering some of these questions may help you to narrow down the international schools where you should be dedicating your time and resources. 

When you’ve done this, you’re ready to make a list of your best-fit schools. With each school that you consider approaching, we’d recommend returning to these following qualifying questions. 

  • What curriculum does this school teach?
  • What is the current level of counselling provision
  • What fees does this school charge?
  • Can you find out what international destinations students typically apply to?

Step 4: Preparing your outreach to your best-fit international schools

It’s vital that you engage with the unique context of each international school in your target market. That means tailoring your initial outreach to the needs of the counsellor and the academic interests of the students. Our top tips for this step include: 

  • Writing a personalised introduction to the counsellor, introducing your university and explaining what it can offer potential international undergraduates
  • Thinking about bespoke content or events that you could offer to students and parents. 
  • Considering ways that you could initiate a long-term collaboration with the counsellor or counsellors in this market. 

Let’s look at each of these steps in a bit more detail. 

Part One: Preparing your outreach to the school counsellor

Never forget our golden rule - every international school is unique! 

So ask yourself what bespoke outreach strategies you’ll adopt for this school. 

We’d recommend jotting some notes down on factors such as: 

  • How does the school’s curriculum/culture affect how you position your institution’s offering?
  • What is the size and available resource of the counselling team? How might that affect your outreach?
  • How can you align your needs with those of the counsellor?

Then there’s the question of what additional collateral or marketing materials you will need, or resources that will engage and delight students at this school. 

  • Based on the school’s curricula and orientation, what key questions do you think students might have about your institution?
  • What are some of the pain points and problems these students might face in the application process? 
  • How will school students’ academic and personal interests align with what your institution has to offer? 

Example:  

Based on my conversations with the counsellor, I’ve noted that many students at this school apply to the UK. As a liberal arts college, I’d suggest we prepare presentations and collateral that help students understand the benefits of a liberal arts education. 

Part Two: After Your Visit Has Concluded

We’d recommend that you use this final step to help you debrief after your initial communication to your selected international school. This is your chance to revisit the notes you made in previous sections and sense check them! 

Hopefully, you’ve opened up a good dialogue with your chosen international school, and you now have an idea of what the ambitions, needs and interests of your potential undergraduate candidates are. 

As you debrief after a visit, we’d recommend making notes on the following. 

What type of activity did you run with students - and how was it received?

Did you run a personal statement workshop, a webinar on a particular topic, or a session with some of your current undergraduates? 

How did it go? Do you think such an activity would be worth running again? If so, why?

What are the key challenges at this school relating to international admissions?

What are the main challenges that both international school students and their counsellors face when it comes to international admissions? 

For example, does the counsellor receive a lot of questions from parents about the financial aid for studying overseas?

Or is the counselling team at this school quite small, and their ability to provide a fully resourced guidance curriculum quite limited? 

These are all important considerations for your recruitment follow-up!

What were the most notable questions that came up during your visit?

Slightly related to the previous question is this next one.

What were the most common/frequent questions that came up during your visit, from counsellors, students or even parents? 

A few examples could include: 

  • Graduate employability 
  • Questions over the application process
  • Financial aid (yep, it comes up a lot)
  • International student support while on campus 

Making a note of these questions will help you create a more personalised experience for these students.

What will your follow up actions be?

To quote Martin Sheen’s fictional US President, Jed Bartlet in ‘The West Wing’ - what’s next? 

How will you follow up with this school, if at all?

To answer this question, we’d encourage you to look again at the previous three again. How were your activities received? What were the common challenges that counsellors face? Which questions came up a lot? 

It could be that you have a few students who are particularly interested in one subject. Is it worth doing a follow up presentation to these students in the near future? 

Or perhaps the counsellor is just eager to follow up with you themselves in the future, and is keen to stay in touch should they have any questions when application deadlines come around. Even small follow up actions like this are immensely valuable for you and your recruitment efforts! 

But whatever you decide, we’d recommend you document your next steps and set out a clear follow up plan. 

And to help you, we’ve put together a new international school recruitment planner, to help you document all four steps of the strategy we’ve outlined above. 

This simple 4-step process is designed to be used by your whole admissions team to help easily and quickly craft personalised outreach to your best-fit schools!

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