When prospective international students are browsing your website right now, there’s no doubt that they’ll be on the lookout for the latest information surrounding your university and the coronavirus.
It’s important that students’ concerns are addressed and common questions answered in an easy to find place on your international pages. The prevalence of this information will help the student develop a more positive opinion of your institution - it will be more likely a student will reach out for further information and convert from a visitor to your site to a student enquiry.
From our student advisors, we know that the following are the concerns and questions that are brought to Studee from students:
- What happens if I cannot arrive on time for the Fall 2020 intake?
- Will all classes be online? And if so, for how long?
- Can I defer my admission? And if so, if I had a scholarship can I defer my admission but keep the scholarship?
- Can I receive a refund of my tuition fee if there are visa process delays?
- Will the start of classes be delayed?
- Are universities offering discounts or payment flexibility due to the current situation?
- Are universities offering new options regarding English tests such as Duolingo?
Information universities can provide
Some information that students will be seeking you’ll be in a position to directly answer. These will be specifics that you as a university control, or that you are in a position of knowledge to advise on.
Explain to students the support you are offering during this time, whether directly linked to covid-19 or not. Prospective students will be interested to know how your university supports students like them in general, as well as with specific issues related to covid-19 such as visas , immigration rules, and the plan for delivering teaching.
Students choose a university based on how they think they will be treated when they commence their studies. and this is based on how they are treated pre-arrival/what supportive info you have provided
The worldwide pandemic will have also had an effect on the mental health of some people. Promoting these services upfront, and their method of delivery (for example if online options are available). Let students know the mental health conditions that the university can help with.
Extensions and deferring
In this time of uncertainty students might not be able to commit to starting a program when they’d like to. Circumstances beyond their control to do with finances or travel may mean they require more flexibility within the application process and enrollment. Students will appreciate you being upfront about what the options currently are for students, and featuring these prominently on your international pages may encourage students to continue with their enquiries and applications.
Those who have already started a program but have had to have an extension or temporarily put a hold on their studies will be looking for reassurance around what to do next and any restrictions on them returning to their program.
Let students know of any changes to your scholarship schemes and their application processes. As Covid-19 has an effect on the economy and people’s available finances they will need to hear about any financial hardship support and scholarship opportunities.
For some international students, the opportunity to gain their qualification solely online for the duration of their program will come as a relief, meaning that their accommodation and living costs will be lower. Make students aware if this is now an option your university is offering.
If any rule changes have been made to working abroad with a student visa make sure you flag this to prospective students. Some will be looking at this as a means of funding on top of their core finances.
Even accessing banking at the moment may be difficult for some students. Explain whether or not you are offering extensions to tuition and accommodation fee payments or splitting costs into smaller installments.
Make sure you address what healthcare international students have access to at your university, including the facilities available. If health insurance is a government requirement for visas then suggest reputable places for students to get it from or dos and don’ts of signing up for a policy.
Consider outlining the steps to take for students in regards to self isolation when entering the country, and the protocol for if they feel well once they have started their program. It will be reassuring to know what you’re expecting students to do in these situations or if there is a local spike in the number of virus cases.
More than anything, students right now are keen to understand what their program will look like in terms of the delivery and teaching. It’s important that universities provide examples or case studies of how they are delivering their classes, and the options students may have in the future to continue their studies online or move onto campus when it is safe / possible to do so.
External resources to sign post
Don’t be afraid to tell students what you do and don’t know. They’d rather know which information is still in the process of being revised so they have a good idea of what they themselves can and can’t access. It’s important for them not to try and complete stages in their application process that they can’t finish right now.
You won’t always have the answers that prospective students are looking for, and in these cases it’s important that you guide them to the correct websites or organizations to get a better understanding from those in the know.
Immigration and visa issues
Depending on the current response to coronavirus in your country, international students may be restricted in terms of access to the visa and immigration processes. For example, if they are unable to travel to register with the police, or to attend an embassy interview, they’ll need to know what the alternatives are.
Directing students to the right people to talk with in this case is an important task, ensuring they don’t feel stuck at a dead end. Consider listing common problems students are likely to face due to Covid-19 restrictions, and who to contact.
Bear in mind that distance learning students will be particularly confused over whether they need a visa and the type they require.
English language testing
Make it clear to students that they won’t be penalized for things outside of their control. One thing they may struggle to access is the correct English language test for your institution. Try and offer alternatives or direct them to people that can help with booking and arranging their assessment.
What are other universities doing?
If you work with third parties to recruit international students, then it’s vital that you ensure information is consistent across your site and theirs. Make sure to contact them to update their processes when helping students to apply and enroll with you. It’s important at this time to achieve some sort of clarity for prospective students - even if that’s openly admitting what you do and don’t know. Reach out to update third parties with webinars or regular email updates.
Some universities still haven’t contacted students with an update on Fall 2020 enrollment. For prospective students who are preparing to start in Fall it is best to contact them as soon as possible with updates, even if that is simply stating what you can and can’t provide information on at this time.
Some universities are providing constant sources of information:
- The University of Southern Mississippi and Texas State University have banners on their homepages directing students to the latest Covid-19 updates for their university. This gives students a place to check and a correct source of information for universities to update.
- The University of Helsinki (Finland) has a friendly FAQ guide specifically for Covid-19 to answer students concerns.
- Trine University provides students with an E-brochure that explains the clear steps and tracks available to students starting their studies this year
Some universities have communicated changes to students about the way they are able to pay for their tuition and accommodation:
- The University of Oulu (Finland) recently offered an extension of the deadline for paying tuition fees because of the pandemic the banks are closed and they want to give extra time for those students who can not pay using credit cards and need to reach their banks.
- Linköping University (Sweden) is offering students a generous refund policy until August.