Four ways to ensure your university is making the right first impression to international students

July 16, 2019

In higher education today, competition for the attention of international students has never been more significant – or challenging. So what can your institution do to succeed? It’s all about making the right impression.

For anyone entering the world of higher education right now, the scope of opportunity has never been greater. The increasingly diversified global economy relies on a highly-educated population, drawn from around the world. So, students with an ‘international’ qualification have never been in greater demand.

But how does your institution catch the eye of prospective students in such a congested marketplace?

Reputation, outreach, word-of-mouth (WOM) and general recognition are useful tools for local students, but often, even one tier down from the very top universities, that doesn’t translate into international renown. Additionally, a study carried out by student recruitment agency IDP showed that international ranking and reputation is the number one factor in choice of university or college. For institutions and countries looking to internationalise their student base then, there’s no time to waste. 

So, how do you convince potential students to take the leap; to set up a new life, even if only temporarily, overseas? And how do you stand out from all the other institutions aiming to do the same thing?

Yes, the facilities, the programmes, the faculty, and all the usual things you’d expect, play a huge part in the decision. But you won’t get the chance to have a conversation about these more focused elements if you haven’t already caught the prospective student’s attention; if the prospective student doesn’t see you as attractive and engaging from the word go. 

From our experience, there are four key things you can do:

1. Use your alumni

By using your current and ex-students, you can create a campaign based on WOM. There are many studies into how this impacts the decision-making process, but the reassurance it gives to prospective students means that they analyse the more complex criteria (program, facilities, etc.) in a more positive, less critical manner, because they are seen as hygiene factors. Instead, they focus on the ‘softer’ factors around student life – which are much easier to sell!

2. Get your brand right

A striking modern brand, a clear proposition and a universally-applied look and feel across a whole range of communication materials (this last one people often forget!) are crucial to making a good first impression – and maintaining that impression. If you want to attract an international audience, your brand has to be internationally appealing.

3. Seize the moment

The current political and economic uncertainty in the world means that people are more willing to explore opportunities they wouldn’t necessarily have considered previously. So, demonstrating awareness of messages that are capturing the world’s attention will get your voice heard.

4. Match your messaging with the decision cycle

As ever, the timing of your marketing is critical. For example, QS research states that a major influencing factor for international students in choosing a country and city is the sense of safety and welcome they feel during the pre-application stage, rather than nearer to enrolment. 

For more detail on this, Proctor + Stevenson’s Strategy Director, Kevin Mason, recently produced an in-depth guide to marketing throughout the higher-education decision-making cycle. 

It’s rare in our professional lives that opportunity matches so well with the ability to grasp it. But for the global higher-education sector, this is certainly the case right now. 

So if you would like to explore the topic of international recruitment further, and seize the moment while it’s here, Proctor + Stevenson can help you with both the methodology and mechanics of international recruitment. Drawing on more than 20 years’ experience in higher education marketing, we provide proven sector specialism, and straightforward advice that can put you on the road to success.

To discuss your specific requirements, please get in touch with us at marketing@proctors.co.uk today.