One in ten U.S. undergraduates study abroad before completing their degree, according to the Institute of International Education’s 2016 Open Doors Report.
Often we work with institutions who invest in marketing study abroad programs only to miss their enrollment goals. As a result, the institution is left feeling that there must be an issue with their marketing or there is simply not enough demand. But after a quick review, we’re able to show them that they’ve promoted their programs inappropriately and/or didn’t fully understand the recruitment preferences of their prospective students.
In response to this growing trend, we’ve written a new eBook, Recruiting Study Abroad Students: Current Approaches and Best Practices, to assist institutions that are new to the market or those seeking to improve their current recruitment efforts.
And though there are many ways to promote, and recruit for, your study abroad programs—such as leveraging your university’s network, creating marketing collateral, developing a micro-website, and hosting events— you must first understand the following two concepts before your institution can effectively leverage these channels:
- The competitive and market demand environment
- The recruitment preferences of students
Your Competitive and Market Demand
The marketing of your study abroad program must be clear and demonstrate an understanding of your institution’s market position.
To help guide you in developing a clear understanding of your market position, let’s answer these three questions:
- What is your market demand?
- How aligned are your programs to that market demand?
- What is your competitive environment?
What is your market demand?
Market demand is defined as understanding your prospective study abroad students (size, wants and needs) and creating program types and lengths that match those wants and needs. To determine the market and demand preferences of your ideal prospects, professional higher education market research is imperative.
Consider this fact: in 2015, 63 percent of students spent less than eight weeks studying abroad, 34 percent spent between one- and two-semesters, and only 3 percent spent more than two-semesters, according to the 2016 Open Doors Report produced by the Institute of International Education. And, according to a recent survey by StudyAbroad.com, almost a quarter of prospective study abroad students indicated that they were concerned about school credits, busy class schedules and graduating on time. Contrary to the popular belief that a longer study abroad experience is best, data makes it clear that there’s a demand for shorter study abroad experiences which allow students to complete core classes and still graduate on time.
If resources aren’t available for a professional market research demand study, valuable information can still be gathered from your frontline staff, since they interact with students. Ask your staff to answer the following four questions:
- Do your current marketing practices and policies have a positive impact on your recruitment efforts by aligning with prospects’ communication preferences?
- What type of communications do your prospective students want to receive?
- Why do inquirers and applicants choose not to enroll?
- What can you learn from your current study abroad students that may help your attract others like them to your programs?
The answers provided by your staff will provide objective insight and help to guide your marketing and recruitment strategies and tactics.
How do your programs align with demand?
Institutions have to consider the preferences of prospective study abroad students to determine how well their offerings respond to marketplace demand. The University of Washington (UW) has a great page devoted to study abroad marketing and recruitment strategies. It lists the top four reasons why UW believes students apply to study abroad programs:
- A friend told them it was great
- Location and term
- Courses offered fulfill graduation requirements
- Who is leading / teaching the course
In our StudyAbroad.com survey data, we’ve found that student preferences about certain study abroad programs also include:
- Program duration
- Time of year
- Credit vs. non-credit program
- Pricing options
- Availability of student and academic support services
When designing programs for study abroad students, all of the factors above should be considered to support your marketing and recruitment efforts. After all, you can have the most accurate audience targeting but if your messaging isn’t aligned with the wants and needs of your prospects, your enrollment rates will suffer.
Understanding Your Competitive Environment
Your competitive environment is determined by the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) you face within your industry. Developed by Albert S. Humphrey in the 1960s, a SWOT Analysis is a practice that you must implement and use regularly if you hope to effectively recruit study abroad students. Through use of the SWOT framework, you can better position your institution to take advantage of opportunities as well as shield yourself from potential threats. And as you objectively examine yourself relative to your competitors, you’ll develop strategies that not only differentiate your institution but also increase your likelihood of success.
Study Abroad Recruitment Preferences
As demand for study abroad programs continues to increase, so too will the competition to recruit these students. Understanding what outreach works and what doesn’t is critical for increasing enrollment yield.
In 2015, the number of U.S. students studying abroad increased three percent over the prior year, according to the Open Doors Report by the Institute of International Education. To ensure your institution is effectively and efficiently recruiting prospective study abroad students, you must identify gaps in your recruitment process and correct them. Typically, the four most prominent gaps are: speed and consistency of contact; quality of contact; method of contact; and web-based prospecting activities. Let’s take a closer look at all four.
1. Speed and Consistency of Contact
When institutions evaluate the inquiries they most often fail to convert, speed of contact is often one of the causative factors. It’s common to see institutions spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing campaigns which generated a flurry of new inquiries but received few or no enrollments. Why does this happen?
Because inquires are only part of the enrollment funnel. To increase your inquiry-to-enrollment rate, you must have a follow-up strategy in place. Here are three simple tips to improve your inquiry-to-enrollment rate:
- Make yourself available via e-mail and/or phone with students and/or parents.
- Follow-up with inquiries at least three times.
- Contact inquiries within 24 hours.
Don’t think it’s important to follow up with an inquiry immediately? Well, according to the 1,500 prospective students surveyed for the 2016 Online College Students Report, almost half (49 percent) enrolled at the first institution to respond to their inquiry.
2. Quality of Contact
While responding quickly to prospective student inquiries is important, you must also personalize the conversation to the prospect’s wants and needs. You and your team must be deeply familiar with your program offerings and enrollment process if you wish to have a meaningful conversation. There’s a big difference between being the first to contact a prospective study abroad student, and actually being empathetic to their concerns and questions. It’s vitally important that your enrollment counselors are trained to assist students in the decision-making process.
In fact, the conversations between your enrollment counselors and the prospective students may be the chief factor in a student’s program selection. Consider Benjamin Scheibehnne’s research on choice in which people are most affected when provided with enough information to make a choice. If your enrollment counselors don’t know enough about your programs, your student prospects are less likely to enroll.
3. Method of Contact
While study abroad prospective students expect a swift and personalized response, institutions seeking to bolster enrollment yield must also evaluate the preferred contact method among prospects. In the StudyAbroad.com survey, 90 percent of students preferred to be contacted via email after their inquiry had been submitted. Only 27 percent said a phone call was an appropriate form of contact. And 32 percent felt they would still prefer to receive a traditional mail communication. It’s important to ask your prospects how they want to be contacted and follow through with that promise.
4. Web-based Prospecting Activities
The dynamic nature of today’s digital media gives students several outlets for gathering information about your study abroad programs—and about the programs of your competitors. To that end, prospective students must be provided with easily accessible, information-rich resources both on your website and across all social media platforms. Here are three tips to help you improve your online presence:
- Provide detailed decision support on your website including information about travel, culture, academic and social experiences.
- Utilize all social media outlets: Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, LinkedIn and Twitter. But also consider niche social networks and online communities which may resonate with the program you offer.
- Ask the youngest member of your staff, and other students, to be part of the recruiting process through social media outlets. The youngest members of your recruitment staff are likely to be the ones able to most effectively navigate this territory for you.
It’s important to remember that recruiting strategies and tactics in the digital world change quickly. And while there are no hard and fast rules to study abroad recruiting, institutions must be willing to test, review, and redo if they wish to be successful in this competitive space. For more strategies and tactics for recruiting study abroad students, download our eBook, Recruiting Study Abroad Students: Current Approaches and Best Practices