Higher education landscape

Building meaningful relationships with international school counselors

Insights from a PIE Live webinar featuring Felicja Syska, VP of University Engagement at Cialfo, Ciara Newby, Acting Head of Undergraduate Recruitment (International) at the University of Bath, and Joe Marshall, Head of Higher Education at The Alice Smith School

Leslie Birch
June 15, 2021
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15 min read

It goes without saying that forging authentic relationships with international school counselors is one of the more important aspects of a university recruiting rep’s job. The challenges wrought by the pandemic and the emergence of digital recruiting tools have opened exciting, new pathways for university reps to not only develop meaningful relationships with counselors, but also with potential students and their families.

For Joe Marshall, who leads counselling efforts as Head of Higher Education at The Alice Smith School, one of the oldest international schools in Malaysia, connecting with universities through digital platforms like Cialfo has, in his opinion, “revolutionized what we’re doing and it’s really exciting!”

What do high school counselors want university reps to know?

Building Trust

Joe believes that one of the most crucial things for university reps to consider when reaching out to counselors is to have a good understanding of what type of school and the diversity of the students the counselor represents from the start. In his past experiences, he found himself having to frequently “educate” university reps who came to his school for on-site visits on the nuances of his particular school and region. He understands that it can be challenging for reps who visit multiple countries during one recruiting trip to tailor their presentations for each school they visit. But when university reps come to his school without a thorough understanding of the students they’ll be reaching, it actually makes his job more labor intensive by having to provide many different reps with an insider’s overview of his school and his students. 

Arrive knowing the school 

Building trust starts with knowing that the university rep has a solid understanding of your school, its students, and what they have to offer. He says “it’s more difficult to be flexible and more fleet-footed when you’re travelling around moving from school to school and especially country to country. It’s difficult to interact differently with each school.”

Another way to connect with counselors is to find events that can build meaningful relationships. One example is our series of Counselor Connect events - facilitated by Cialfo and exclusive to our community. Universities get the chance to network with counselors in a 1:1 setting. This allows reps to find out more about a particular high school and minimizes pre-event “orientation” on the part of the counselor.

Personalize your approach 

For Joe, a more personalized approach from the university side is also a must for building beneficial connections with counselors. One of the most challenging parts of his role is helping his students try to navigate various fees, admissions requirements, etc., for universities across multiple countries. He feels that having a dedicated university rep to call for help with changing requirements creates a much deeper level of trust for the counselor and a more solid relationship between counselors and reps.  

When it comes to orchestrating both face-to-face and online recruiting events, Joe’s advice to universities is to really think about quality versus quantity. It’s not enough to simply package your traditional presentation and put it online (which is what many universities did when COVID forced last-minute pivots). 

He is especially enthusiastic about online events which in his words, “open new doors and level the playing field.” The transition to online events and forums has exposed him to new universities in regions of the world that might have never thought of visiting his school in Kuala Lumpur.

Connecting with counselors and their students

Get creative with online events

When the pandemic brought University of Bath’s in-person college fairs to a halt, Ciara Newby, Acting Head of Undergraduate Recruitment (International), experienced both the benefits and challenges of abruptly changing strategies. In their efforts to create more engaging online recruiting events for students - many who were suffering from “Zoom fatigue” - the university got creative and brought in academics and student ambassadors to participate in online events. This added a whole new dimension for the students and the recruiting reps. While academics and student ambassadors wouldn’t normally be a part of a face-to-face event (because of time, travel, and budget restraints), it was easy to bring them in for a short online event and offer students and counselors a deeper look into what really makes University of Bath special. 

While Zoom fatigue can be an issue for students these days, Joe is confident that universities like Bath who’ve been creative with their online efforts will reap the benefits. In fact, he’s seen that his students have responded even more positively to online events with engagement levels up by 200% with parent participation much stronger as well. He notes, “This has been the case the whole way through. We’ve massively increased engagement across time periods, age groups, and we’ve even added more parents.”

Look for tools that can support bringing you closer to international schools

Cialfo’s Vice President of University Engagement, Felicja Syska, strongly believes that universities who offer a more personalized touch when it comes to content and interactions with counselors will see more positive results in their recruiting efforts. Cialfo is the conduit that brings universities and counselors together and offers data-driven insights for university reps to gain a more complete picture of the schools and students they are trying to reach. While Cialfo was already conducting online university events before the pandemic, the crisis accelerated the process with more than 4,000 university sessions and 160,000+ students participating in 2020. 

As Felicja notes, “Cialfo helps give universities a better idea of what your school is like, what your students are like, and what your parents and families are like so that Ciara and universities like hers can bring that information to the table and tailor content to what your school and students care about - rather than taking the university team out on the road and just hoping for the best.”

Joe is extremely optimistic about the future of digital platforms like Cialfo and appreciates the creativity he’s seen on the part of universities in these online sessions thus far, which in his words, “have only begun to scratch the surface.”

From the university point of view, Ciara says, “the ability to use Cialfo to build on the work we are doing with counselors is brilliant.”

Leveraging technology in the post-pandemic landscape

As we look forward to a “new normal,” Ciara, Joe, and Felicja all agree that digital recruiting is here to stay and will make building trusted relationships even easier. They foresee a trend towards a hybrid model of recruiting - mixing face-to-face events with customized online efforts. Joe believes that “the online format is helping universities become so much more creative and it has much more potential than a lot of the in-person formats - we have to stick to some kind of hybridized format with the emphasis on quality.”

Ciara is looking forward to the many ways the data in Cialfo can help her team be even more strategic when they do decide to return to in-person events: by allowing them to plan ahead, focus on students who would be the best fit, save budget and resources, and even cut down the university’s carbon footprint by eliminating unnecessary travel. To find out more about how data can help support university recruitment, visit us here

To view a recording of the webinar, click here.


This webinar was hosted by the PIE Live, featuring Felicja Syska, VP of University Engagement at Cialfo, Ciara Newby, Acting Head of Undergraduate Recruitment (International) at the University of Bath, and Joe Marshall, Head of Higher Education at The Alice Smith School.

Image credits: Amy Hirschi

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