04 December 2020
Recruiting students internationally

This is an extract from the book Successful student recruitment with Google Ads by Guus Goorts. Download your free copy here.

Online advertising can be a great, cost-effective way to get more applications from abroad. To be successful, though, international student recruitment campaigns need to be different in a number of ways. That is, they need to

1. be tailored to the target country,

2. offer more opportunities for online engagement,

3. be written in appropriate languages, and

4. cover different topics.

1. Tailor your campaign to the target country

While your programme is going to be essentially the same for all students, it will be perceived differently in different countries. The subject you offer may be hot in one market and less so in another. You’ll be compared to different institutions. In some countries you may be considered a premium option, in others, an affordable alternative.

This means that if you’re serious about recruiting students from a specific country, you need to treat your online recruitment effort there as a separate campaign. Be sure to do the legwork needed to understand how prospective students from that country perceive your course offerings.

2. Offer opportunities for online engagement

If you’re a UK-based institution trying to recruit in, say, Mexico, prospective students will not be able to show up for an open day to get a feel for your institution. Thus, it’s even more important than usual to offer options for getting to know your institution. These can include the following:

• Webinars. The talks held during open days can also be offered in the form of webinars.

• Videos. Having videos of your institution, the students, the town and facilities makes a big difference. Prospective students will get a more realistic impression than when they have to rely on words and images alone.

• Virtual campus tours. These are similar to videos, but they allow for more self-directed exploration.

• Communities. Few sources of information are more effective than prospective students’ own peers. Put prospective students in touch with student ambassadors on a forum of your own, or set up groups in country-relevant social networks: for example, Facebook, Vkontakte (Russia) or WeChat (China). You can also find ways to tap into your alumni network.

• Local activities. If you’re going to organise an event or attend a student fair in the target country, be sure to advertise this and mention it on the landing page. Serious prospects will probably come by and say “Hi!”

3. Advertise in the appropriate languages

In which language should you address prospective students? The standard response, especially in English-speaking countries is “In English, of course. They’ll need to speak English to study here anyway.” However, if all your information is in English, and you’re serious about recruiting in a non–English-speaking country, you’ll bump into the following issues:

• Missed out keywords. You could show English ads in, say, Germany. But when people search with German keywords, your ads won’t show. If you limit yourself to English keywords only, you’ll be competing with the entire world for a limited number of clicks.

• Excluded parents. Parents are important stakeholders. In many cases, they foot the bill. And depending on the culture, they will have some say or even the final say in the choice of programme. While your prospective students may speak English, their parents might not.

In short, if you’re aiming to recruit students in non–English-speaking countries, consider investing in ads and content in the local languages.

4. Cover topics that matter to international students

When you promote your courses to domestic students, a lot of information is already known. For international students, be sure to cover the following:

What it’s like to live in the city and at the university. Studying is about more than formally acquiring knowledge and skills. Try to give a taste of what the total experience will be like.

How to choose the right programme. If you can help prospective students choose the best-fitting programme at the outset – through an online assessment tool, for example – it will make your institution a more attractive choice. Moreover, you can prevent a lot of heartache down the road.

How others like them have experienced your institution. Testimonials from a diverse group of both current students and alumni can paint a clear picture of the culture at your institution. Such testimonials can also help prospective students see the kinds of career your programme can prepare them for.

How to make it all happen. Don’t forget the nuts and bolts. It takes courage to decide to study abroad. But by breaking down how to find housing and funding, you help reduce the fear factor and make your institute and its staff more approachable.

Online campaigns can be a great and cost-effective tool for recruiting students from certain target countries. To make these campaigns successful, you can apply everything that has been covered in the complete book. In addition, think of each target country as needing a separate campaign with its own research, ad copy, content and follow-up, possibly in another language.

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