Trying to work out which university is best for you isn’t easy at the best of times. When you live in a different country to those universities, it’s even harder. Believe me, as a former international student, I remember how frustrating it is to try and understand what’s different about an institution when you can’t visit it. In fact, that’s why I set up Unibuddy.
And now, because of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, it’s even harder. Students are having their opportunities to engage with universities reduced. Drastically.
For thousands, that chance to ask someone face-to-face about what it’s really like on campus is no longer available. With higher education recruitment events and travel cancelled in key markets, young people are feeling even more alone and, quite literally, isolated.
This isn’t just a hunch or supposition. At Unibuddy, we’ve seen a huge surge in the number of sign-ups and conversations to the platform from China and other territories heavily affected by COVID-19. From January to February, we saw a 90% increase in the proportion of Chinese students signing up and chatting.
One thing is clear. Students want reassurance.
Reassurance that your institution and your country still want to welcome them. Reassurance that they’re able to talk about studying with you. Reassurance that they’ll still be able to find the best university for them.
Meanwhile, universities are racing to get around the challenges and very real threats posed by not being able to meet, advise and welcome students.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from working with our partners, it’s that there’s a huge amount of strength in being a community. It’s at times like these Higher Ed comes into its own, coming together to share best practice, knowledge and ideas.
All of the universities we work with understand that when you put the student first, you’re more likely to welcome a more engaged, and as a result, a more successful individual on campus.
And in that spirit, I’m sharing some of the activities I’ve seen our partners doing – some of the sharpest recruiters and marketers in HE – to help students during this uncertain time.
More institutions are making it as easy as possible for prospects to connect with a real person.
In place of recruitment events, we’re seeing universities offer the opportunity to message both their staff and current students on their website. Signposting them from their homepage to make themselves more accessible.
A student won’t want to sign up for an open day – but they still want to speak to someone who’s been through the journey. Someone who can give them a personal perspective.
Institutions who are no longer able to hold open house / open days or applicant / admitted student days are turning to online events.
These range from webchats, to WhatsApp groups and, of course, Unibuddy Live. The events bring together prospects, current students and staff, and are really valued by future students for creating that sense of belonging.
More focused events are better for prospects, giving them more interaction with peers and staff. Partners have themed these according to audience i.e. international students, domestic students, or by subject of interest.
It’s really important that the opportunity to connect with a peer is highlighted across communications. When I think back to my journey to university, I didn’t have all my questions at just one time. They trickled through and changed as my journey progressed. Having the opportunity to speak to someone at different points of that journey would have made a huge difference.
It must be even more confusing for these students affected by coronavirus, with even more questions, given their current situation. And the situation is changing every day.
Regular contact, or at least the opportunity to have regular contact, will help give these students more confidence and a feeling of having more control. And all of us know that when we feel we have control over our decisions, we feel less anxious and more motivated.
My biggest takeaway from all this is to remember why we do what we do. Ultimately we do it because we want to help future students blossom, and because we know that higher education has so much to offer them.
So let’s keep them in mind. Think about how they’re feeling, what they might be worried about and how we can help them. Because when they have confidence in you, and they feel valued, they’ll remember you. The beauty of the digital age is that communities can now span countries, not just a neighbourhood.
And that goes for Higher Education in general. It has a crucial role to play during the coronavirus outbreak. So let’s keep supporting and reassuring each other. We all gain strength from our shared experiences.
Look after yourself, stay healthy and let’s keep working together.