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The world is a pretty big place: over 7.5 billion people in 180+ countries speak to that rather obvious fact. But in these challenging times, we also realize quite quickly how small it has become. Those of us in international education certainly realize this more than most. Back in the early 1990s, a former supervisor of mine said, “I don’t care where students come from, as long as they come.” Today, however, international admissions strategies tend to be more intentional, sophisticated, and specific.  

No college that I’ve heard of has the budget to physically recruit in every country where they may wish to receive international students. Even well-endowed universities might only visit 30 countries a year at most. The reality for many institutions is when budgets are cut, travel is often the first item to take a hit. Let’s focus here on what you can do to build country-level admission plans for your target markets. 

Country-specific communications plans

There are likely certain countries in your institution’s recruitment strategy that are primary markets, while others are secondary or even tertiary. Determining which countries fall into which categories comes from a variety of data sources. These resources can include historical sources like Open DoorsSEVIS by the Numbers, and institutional application history, and they can also include real-time data sources like IDP Connect’s IQ services.  

Once identified, are you developing specific communication flow messaging for prospects in those key countries? What institutions can do with each group can vary widely, but common practice includes: 

  • Address needs of particular markets (e.g. particular academic subjects)


  • Announce relevant details and deadlines for country-specific scholarships


  • Inform students of any in-country in-person or virtual events


  • Give students and parents a peek at the “end result” through alumni success stories


  • Showcase how they would be cared for…

       • by current students, faculty, and student groups representing the country

      • by sharing important national events that are celebrated on campus

Last year, we did a series of articles on three key markets (IndiaBrazil, and Vietnam) that are likely part of your institution’s primary or secondary targeted countries. Check these profiles out for an example of the kinds of data that can help inform your decisions on what matters. Developed from a variety of sources including IDP Connect’s IQ On-Demand, these country briefs highlight the nature of each student market, the strongest academic areas of interest, and demographic breakdowns of undergrad/grad, male/female, and where students live in the respective countries. Ideally, you would want to develop these kinds of reports on each key market that will serve as the justification of why you do what you do.  

For those who have CRMs capable of segmented messaging streams, setting up country-specific email chains should be fairly straightforward. If not, doing so (certainly) means more work. But to set up a series of separate messages (from 2-10) that are directed specifically at students from targeted countries can have a significant impact. Whether those emails are simply re-writes of existing messages, country-specific emails for on-the-ground or virtual events, current student testimonials, country student association introductions, or a video message from a faculty member from that country, the potential is there to connect on a more personal level with prospective student audiences. 

Targeted social media campaigns

When connecting with international students, an element of your country-level recruitment plans should include social media outreach. From social ads serving as prospect generation tools in key markets; to current student testimonials encouraging applicants from their country; to faculty members from these key markets speaking to admitted students; to student association presidents sharing how they’ll help with arrival and orientation; there are easy ways to adapt comm flow messaging into a social media context. Additionally, geo-targeting using advertisements and even re-targeting (with which IDP Connect can assist) allow institutions to ensure their core messages get in front of interested students in important countries. 

Beyond these social ads and posts, particularly for those doing in-country recruitment, using social instant messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger (through an institutional page), or WeChat to reconnect with prospects represents what students appreciate most in communicating with colleges. Another avenue to consider would be to connect current students with prospective students using social platforms for live chats and one-on-one messaging, and/or a Facebook group for admitted students from specific countries to interact. 

Locally-hosted, native language content

Without the presence of an on-the-ground representative to manage any immediate student and parent questions or concerns promptly, most institutions struggle. So how can colleges better reach in-country markets without travel or in-person representation? An increasingly important component of country or region-specific recruitment strategies includes locally-hosted and native language content.  

Anyone who has recruited in China knows that being present on Chinese social media is a key method to connect with prospective students. The same applies to website content. In a major market like China, with substantial government controls over access to information online, locally hosted sites are prioritized in terms of access and search engine optimization. Institutions should, therefore, consider hosting a version of their core messages and content on websites and social media locally hosted within a targeted country or region.  

One final element of country-level planning is utilizing native language content. While some languages like Spanish, French, Russian, and Arabic will have value across a range of countries, others like Chinese, Vietnamese, Bahasa Indonesia, Brazilian Portuguese, Thai, and Turkish will have direct value for students in those specific countries. Determining which languages to utilize should be driven largely by those markets that you’ve identified as your primary, secondary, and tertiary countries.  

While several service providers can assist with developing targeted marketing content, IDP Connect offers a broad range of locally hosted, search-engine-optimized services, including its college search sites and institutional microsites. IDP Connect’s Hotcourses sites cover 11 different languages (those mentioned earlier along with English, and a locally hosted Indian version) plus IDP’s student sites connect millions of students with study options in major English-speaking destination countries around the world. This combined approach represents incredible value for money in access to key markets.  

If you’re searching for ways to develop your country-specific recruitment plans, check-in with Elle Butler and the marketing team at IDP Connect to explore your options and see how we can help.

CP - Author Image - Marty Bennett
Marty Bennett26 March 2020