Improving engagement with international students

Trying to arrange a university place as an international student is a daunting task; they rely on the communication and support from universities to make the right decision for their life and career. 

Universities can look at making a few adjustments to increase and improve their engagement with international students, making them feel as comfortable and well informed as possible.

 

The tools you need

Content marketing

Content has the ability to create initial interest in your university, but it is also useful to provide for international students who are in the process of applying and enrolling at your university.

As a university, you can predict an international students’ needs and provide them with information before they even know they need it. Find out your international students’ most common pain points when starting at your university, and mitigate them by guiding students through it in advance using content.

Sending your prospective students guides or videos that offer a step by step solution to problems means they will feel supported and confident before they even enroll. If any issues arise during their time at your university, they'll know exactly what to do.

Content can also be fun and engaging, to get students excited for their enrollment. Between being admitted and starting at university, international students will appreciate staying in contact and up to date with your institution. Consider showing off your game day celebrations, groups and societies, diversity, or your facilities. 

There are a number of channels you can use to deliver content to prospective international students, including email, social media and instant messaging. Some universities have been using content marketing successfully, especially with user generated content campaigns - but in general, the sector still has a lot to learn.

 

Instant messaging

Increasingly, websites are using chatbots to serve and talk to customers in real time. Helping people through a website and sign posting them to information helps users at the exact point they need it. This tool can be applied to international students in a similar way: answering questions in real time can reassure students about their application, and increase interest in your university.

Instant messaging has the added benefit of being able to send and receive documents. Studee recently conducted a survey in which 38% of prospective international students claimed WhatsApp would be a preferred method of contact, this was the same as phone calls, and just behind the popularity of email. If you're phoning students, you should also try instant messaging.

 

Things to get right

Availability

If a student can’t get hold of you or hear back from you easily, then they’ll soon lose confidence in their ability to apply and be admitted to the program they want. 

University holidays are always a difficult time for availability for international teams, but it can be confusing for students to be left without correspondence. 

This is why a university may choose to use a third party option such as Studee. A recent survey of Studee's prospective students showed that 81% of international students not only want to be contacted by universities during holiday periods, but expect to be. The universities we work with rely on our service to guide their applicants to enrollment, especially when their office is overworked, traveling, or it's the holidays. This service helps to build a better relationship with international students, and gives them the reassurance they need.

 

Learn more about Studee's services

 

Consistency

Your university’s website should be the source of truth on how your admission processes work, and what a student can expect when they arrive for enrollment. The reliability of information builds trust with students and prepares them for feeling comfortable and in control of their application process and time at university.

If you have information on your website that is outdated, then you need a process to remedy it. Keep track of all the university’s pages that deal with international students, and create a method of auditing and updating those pages. 

Consistency of your content also stretches to your university's unique tone of voice and style of writing.

 

Tone of voice and style

How your university is perceived is in part down to the writing on your site. For prospective students to feel immersed in the culture and experience of studying at your university, your style and tone of voice of any content or communications needs to be consistent, and reflect your key principles. As part of your branding it's important to create a tone of voice document that lays out your tone, style and grammar choices for everyone at your university / international department to use consistently.

Empathy is particularly important when dealing with international students. When creating content, copy, or talking to them, think about their concerns, anxiety and excitement about the process. This extends to considering that some of the students you will be dealing with may be suffering with mental health conditions, or have previously, and are now embarking on the life changing journey of studying abroad. Reflect your understanding, concern and reassurance in any communications you have with prospective students.

Tech companies like Mailchimp have been praised for their public documentation of tone of voice and style guides which can provide universities / departments with a good template for developing their own.

 

The end goal

When implementing the above, it's important to measure the impact it has. Instant messengers and content marketing won't be a quick win, as take time to become established. However, you should still be measuring for indicators of improvement. Set out the key metrics you want to see improvement on from the beginning, and make sure you have everything set up to measure them. You'll also need an understanding of the current baseline. Whether it's applicant numbers, or simply the percentage of students opening your emails, measuring any changes will help you understand the impact you are having. 

The easiest way to get a clear understanding of the impact of new ideas is to run an A/B test. This usually means splitting impressions or traffic 50/50 for two versions of the same content; these versions should have a small difference between them. This allows a clear understanding of what impact a small change will make and whether it's a step in the right direction.

When testing anything new, always make sure you only change one thing so that it's simple to interpret what it is that has had the impact. Some ideas for A/B tests are:

  • Test which content resonates best with your audience
  • Which subject line has the most email opens
  • What type of page means you get the highest engagement

Remember that whatever the outcome of a test, you’ll get to know your audience better and know a bit more about what is interesting to them. Don't feel disheartened if your new ideas don't work as expected, any learnings are valuable!