The conundrum that exists in international admissions offices is how to make the time to do content marketing right. Some might even be saying “content what?” Unless coming from a marketing background, most charged with international student recruitment learn on the job when it comes to knowing the essential elements of who, what, when, where, why and how to get an institution’s best stories in front of overseas audiences. Each of these questions can be extremely difficult to answer without awareness of both current trends in how students prefer to communicate with institutions and access to content that resonates with prospective students abroad.
Why It Matters
While all prospective students can check out search engines, websites, and social media channels to gather information, most international students considering U.S. universities are at a disadvantage in three unique ways – environmental context, physical access, and perceived barriers. At present, less than 5% of the 1.2 million international students in the U.S. are enrolled at the high school level according to the Department of Homeland Security’s SEVIS by the Numbers, December 2017.
Unfortunately, most overseas students can neither appreciate the true scope and diversity of the higher education landscape nor the dramatic differences in how colleges are so much more than academic courses in the United States – context. An even smaller percentage of prospective international students can make an actual campus visit before deciding where to enroll – access. And, perhaps most frustratingly, recent political rhetoric and actions in the form of travel bans and proposed changes to immigration rules, present prospective international students with either perceived or real barriers to their entry to the United States. As Hotcourses Group’s 2017 International Student Survey revealed the number one concern of international students considering the United States for university study centered on visa requirements (40%).
As a result, institutions must establish their individual value propositions in a convincing, personal, and, importantly, very different way than they might approach domestic audiences. For those colleagues that travel extensively for international student recruitment, these differences are especially apparent when hearing questions from students and parents at fairs and school visits. However, most colleges don’t have the budget or long-term commitment to overseas travel and rely heavily, if not exclusively, on armchair recruitment. So how can institutions best leverage their stories, their value, virtually to international audiences?
Where to begin
Perhaps this challenge is most acute in offices outside a unified admissions and marketing communications operation. Yet without clear assistance or open lines of cooperation from elsewhere on campus this struggle is real for all. To break this down, in general terms, there are four main areas that are mission-critical for getting the good news out to intended international audiences: university search sites, institutional website, social media, and e-communications (Hotcourses Group 2017 International Student Survey data).
Each one of these platforms will have varying levels of importance during the admissions cycle in attracting, admitting and enrolling international students. Many would include general search engines and other media on this list, but for purposes of explaining the value of effectively using an institution’s great stories to the fullest, i.e. content marketing, our focus is on those platforms where distributing the message remains largely within a college’s control.
The Institutional Story
Most international admissions directors can articulate what it is about their institutions that draws international students: the programs, the campus, the community, safety, scholarships, etc. The problem is these all begin to sound the same, much as promotional brochures have for years. So, separating an institution from among the sea of similar faces effectively is the task at hand.
In the coming weeks, we’ll focus on a series of five content areas (the what) and how those topics can be delivered across those channels, media, and platforms most relevant to prospective international students and their parents at the right times, and in a variety of ways.
- International student profiles
- #YAWH (You Are Welcome Here) campaign
- Translations of key information
- Women in STEM
- Alumni success stories
Ultimately, the question of where these content pieces should be placed and when those messages are best received in the admissions funnel may vary but the point is: institutions need to have the stories to tell well. As we will share in future posts, new data Hotcourses Group has gathered indicates student preferences for what content matters does not always line up with what colleges are sending, and will be very different depending on where the student is in the world.