Student recruitment

Seven things to include in your strategy to kickstart the new university recruiting season

Adopting digital tools and building connections can be the strongest elements of your recruitment strategy. Read on to discover more ways to boost enrollments.

Leslie Birch
August 24, 2022
5 min
Seven things to include in your strategy to kickstart the new university recruiting season
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Seven things to include in your strategy to kickstart the new university recruiting season

As university recruiting and admissions teams begin laying out their plans for the upcoming recruitment season, it’s more important than ever that they formulate a solid strategy and leverage all the tools available to them - especially when it comes to reaching international students in a post-pandemic “new normal.”

Recruitment trends

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the entire education system around the globe and brought about unprecedented challenges for university recruiting professionals and students alike. As a result, the U.S. saw one of the steepest drops in international undergraduate enrollment since 2012. International enrollment dropped by 15% in 2020/2021 compared to 2019/2020, dropping from 851,957 to 710,210. 

To reverse the downward trends and achieve ambitious yield goals following the turmoil of the last three years, universities will need to develop a recruiting strategy designed to attract right-fit students by:

  • Meeting students where they are.
  • Using data to more effectively allocate recruiting staff and budgets.
  • Developing creative ways to customize their outreach and communications.
  • Ensuring diversity and exclusivity and expanding efforts in lesser-known regions of the world.
  • Facilitating new means of student engagement, especially when in-campus visits aren’t possible for many students.

7 key elements of your university’s recruitment plans

Here are seven things to incorporate into your university’s plans for the upcoming recruiting period that will help you build genuine connections with qualified students and expand your reach to more students around the globe: 

Plan your recruitment strategy with your institution’s unique goals in mind

Consider the big picture and collaborate across academic departments before setting any concrete goals. Identify which departments can accommodate more students and break down the admissions numbers by departments and for the campus (or campuses) as a whole. Review data from the previous year’s campaign to see if there are outstanding areas for an opportunity that should be included in this year’s plans.

Look at enrollment data from previous years

Tools like Cialfo’s Higher Ed Insights help you make data-driven decisions to better focus your efforts. By examining this data, you can easily identify trends that can shape your strategy for maximum ROI. You’ll be able to identify what countries the majority of currently enrolled students came from (in addition to being able to source new high schools around the globe to extend outreach). You can also glean helpful information by delving into any enrollment surveys of existing students to determine the top reasons they selected your school and highlight those in marketing messaging. 

Plan a mix of virtual and in-person events for best results

As the pandemic wanes and more admissions teams plan to travel for in-person meetings, virtual events will still play a very valuable role in the recruiting process. Leveraging the mix of in-person and virtual events benefits both universities and students. For admissions professionals on the road, virtual events combined with real-time information in the Cialfo platform can help them make the most of the brief face-to-face time they have with students and their counselors abroad. They can be better prepared for in-person events, with information on the preferences, interests, and academic data of students they’ll meet with in advance. 

They can also identify countries where students who are frequently attending online events come from so that they can plan travel more efficiently. Megan Mankerian-Stem, Director of International Enrollment, Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Creighton University explains how Cialfo’s College Visit helps recruiters.

"I love using College Visit as it’s a great way to really make the most of my travels this fall. It’s incredibly helpful to see the available dates and times for each school, as well as learn who’s moved schools during the pandemic! As recruiters start to hit the road again, it’s a great transition back into creating robust schedules and really making sure that we are supporting as many schools and students as possible while in the country."

Megan Mankerian-Stem, Director of International Enrollment, Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Creighton University

Some other creative ways to align digital and in-person plans to ensure maximum engagement include:

  1. Incorporating visits to local high school job fairs and hosting a virtual campus tour at the same time.
  2. Conducting live webinars and chat sessions on topics that capture students’ and parents’ interests like on-campus housing, financial breakdowns, and special support for international students.
  3. Fine-tuning your digital presence (website, social media accounts, Cialfo profile) to make sure you’re providing the information students and their families are seeking (along with an attention-grabbing site experience).

For students who can’t attend on-campus visits, virtual events give them the opportunity to interact with universities that wouldn’t normally fall within their geographic reach.

Meet new high school counselors and strengthen existing relationships at the same time

High-school counselors are the key advocates for students and one of the primary sources of guidance on college admissions issues. They know their students better than anyone and understand each student’s unique academic strengths, talents, and professional aspirations. This knowledge is invaluable when it comes to the college search process and helping students identify and apply to schools that could be the “best-fit” for their individual needs and goals. 

In building and maintaining strong relationships with counselors from diverse schools around the world, admissions professionals can pave a direct path to a larger pool of qualified students. This makes it easier to identify and forge connections with students who would be most likely to enroll and ultimately, find success on their campuses. 

Greg Friedman, Director of International Admissions, at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, sums up how his institution works with counselors and tailors their presentations to the needs of the school and students:

 “1 on 1 counselor appointments and small group visits are extremely valuable for our team to identify the best-fit students and build relationships with counselors. I encourage all high school guidance counselors to help us by providing visit availability in the CIALFO platform along with any other information regarding what they are looking for in a university visit. We are more than happy to cater our visits or presentations to better fit the needs of each school and community, whether that is in person or virtual.”

Greg Friedman, Director of International Admissions, at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

Cialfo connects universities to a network of more than 310,000 international students and their counselors worldwide. In addition to using our digital platform to aid students in the college research and application process, counselors also turn to Cialfo’s global community of their peers for up-to-the-minute information and resources.

Through Cialfo’s exclusive “Counselor Connect” networking events, counselors meet and interact with representatives from different universities in small, intimate settings, to learn about their latest programs and find the best opportunities for their students. Universities can also extend their global reach with Cialfo’s extensive counselor network through the Cialfo platform, by participating in virtual college visits, and interactive virtual engagement events including Ask Me Anything: University Discovery Weeks, Career Fairs, and branded webinars.

Showcase what makes your institution different

There’s no question that “Video is King” when it comes to Gen Z. In fact, video content has such a major impact on Gen Z and millennials that one in  two surveyed in a YouTube report said they “don’t know how they’d get through life without it.”

Universities can grab and keep students’ attention by spotlighting engaging video content in their Premium Profiles. Some creative ways that university admissions teams can engage students while differentiating their offerings include:

  • Taking students on a video tour and highlighting all the popular spots on and off-campus. 
  • Handing the camera off to currently enrolled students; let them record a “day in the life” of an international student. 
  • Capturing alumni presentations and sporting events.
  • Interviewing faculty members in top programs. 
  • Exploring the university’s city or town and sharing some history lessons and must-see tips. 
  • Highlighting all the ways students can meet their peers and get involved by introducing different student organizations. 
  • Sharing the school’s spirit with a cameo from the school mascot or a video of the marching band. 

Other ways to communicate your university’s most unique aspects include outreach through international student ambassadors, one-on-one online meetings with students and their parents, and having notable alumni involved in the recruiting efforts. 

Offer financial assistance and other means of support

Our recent report titled China, India, and Elsewhere: Predicting How Student Mobility will Evolve offers a series of takeaways from a panel discussion at International ACAC earlier this summer. Part of the discussion focused on ways in which U.S. universities could implement a more welcoming and inclusive recruiting approach, especially in regions in the world where the process is often seen as “tuition-driven,” such as China and India. 

Xiaofeng Wan, Associate Dean of Admission, Coordinator of International Recruitment, at Amherst College, and other panelists noted that offering financial aid is an effective way universities can adopt to attract more students from underserved and more diverse regions. 

He spoke of a survey that his team from Amherst College sent to 343 Chinese parents who planned to send their children to the U.S. for college. Of those surveyed, he said “33% of them said they would require financial assistance to afford the 4-years of a U.S. education. Even those who can afford it are under a lot of financial pressure - because they feel that if they apply for need they will be more easily denied by  U.S. colleges. They are not entirely wrong as only 6 U.S. colleges have a need-blind admissions policy for international students.”

Test-optional policies and scholarships are also effective in drawing international students. Universities should ensure that this information is openly promoted to students and their families, whether in the Cialfo platform, on their institution’s website, or in all other forms of recruiting communications. 

Utilize digital tools in student recruitment

During the pandemic, hundreds of colleges and universities shifted to digital recruiting tools to help them reach students across time zones and geographical borders. Institutions that have adopted digital platforms are now realizing that these tools offer countless additional benefits. 

Today, many admissions teams are dealing with pandemic-related reductions in staff and budget cuts. As a result, they need to be even more strategic about where and how they should be allocating their recruiting efforts and resources for maximum return on investment. Digital platforms like Cialfo provide rich, real-time data that helps universities develop focused strategies that maximize their time and resources. 

Digital recruiting tools also enable universities to easily identify right-fit students and get them engaged at the earliest stages of their college application journeys. Cialfo lets you see when students express interest in your university so that you can immediately open a communication channel and tailor content based on their interests. 

Digital platforms offer data allowing the user to track emerging mobility trends and benchmark how your university compares to your peers. Cialfo’s Higher Ed Insights analytics works to enhance efficiency by helping you segment and target qualified students and focus your resources on the countries they are coming from.

Another benefit of digital recruiting is the streamlining of the entire application process - both for your team and potential students. Cialfo features a user-friendly application portal that allows qualified students from 105+ countries to apply directly to your university. This provides universities with instant access to verified applications and eliminates dreaded paper trails. 

We hope that the 7 points we’ve mentioned above will be welcome and beneficial additions to your recruiting strategy this year. To learn more about how Cialfo partners with universities to help you meet your recruiting goals, please contact us.  In the meantime, here’s to a safe and successful recruiting season to all!

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