This week, AACRAO published an early release of findings from a survey of 250 institutions assessing trends in international applications. The survey was organized in response to concerns raised during the 2016 election that the political climate would make the US a less attractive study destination. It seems, for now, that these concerns may come to fruition.
Among other things, the survey indicates that international student recruitment professionals are hearing significant unease from students around the world, particularly from the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America regarding visas and attitudes toward international students in the US. While volume of applications hasn’t dropped for the majority of survey takers (although it has for a significant minority of 39%), most institutions are worried about the appetite among applicants to ultimately enroll. 77% of the survey respondents indicated concern for yield.
Proactive, personalized encouragement and support throughout the enrollment cycle has always been crucial to getting international students on campus. It’s a huge emotional and financial investment to study in a foreign country. But, active communication has become especially important since the election as students around the world face uncertainty over visas and hear news of hate crimes and unwelcoming rhetoric across the country.
To make sure your international applicants understand you’re there for them, leverage your communications mix as follows:
Use the phone more
Get on the phone; a lot. By nature, the phone is a more personal communication tool. When you’re on the phone, a student feels like they’re not just one in a crowd on the receiving end of marketing campaigns. Over phone, you can really talk through any concerns on their minds and discuss the qualities of your institution in a very targeted way to appeal to their interests. The phone also provides a tangible voice for your institution. For those students who can’t make a trip to campus, the phone enables them to connect personally with your institution to get a genuine sense for the community and culture of your college or university.
To maximize engagement with your international admitted students, we recommend having at least three phone conversations with them before your student decision deadline. Try to include a current student and/or alum in a conversation. Time your outreach according to certain milestones in their decision-making process. For example, when scholarship awards are decided.
For a further analysis of the benefits of active phone outreach, see our blog post To improve yield, use the phone.
Prioritize “high touch” emails
In concert with your phone outreach, keep up the engagement with both personal 1:1 emails and segmented, dynamic automated email journeys. In addition to showcasing the qualities of your campus, academics, and student experience that make your college special, demonstrate an interest in your admitted students’ lives back home. For instance, UniQuest Enrollment Advisors send celebratory messages on behalf of our university partners to prospective international students during their popular local holidays. Around holidays like Chinese New Year send a well-wishes email featuring stories and images of how your students celebrated on campus. This is a small gesture that shows you care about your international students’ traditions and cultures.
Equip your teams for more inbound inquiries through all channels
Make sure you’re prepared to efficiently tackle a higher volume of concerns raised through your institution’s website forms, presence at fairs, email, etc. Have responses and resources at the ready to quickly address any concerns that are flagged.
Compile and organize content like your blogs, videos, event summaries, student clubs and organizations’ news, and local stories that demonstrate how much your community values international students.
Anticipating concerns and having a formalized repository of materials to support your responses in the moment will enable your team members to more confidently, quickly, and effectively put admitted international students at ease.
Overall, it comes down to building a strong relationship with every admitted international student. You can’t remove all the barriers out there, but through proactive, personal, and supportive communication you can mitigate the risks to your international yield and ensure prospective international students are hearing positive messages from the US.