Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
28th Jun 2013

Part 1: How to engage students’ parents during recruitment and study abroad

We’ve talked before on ICEF Monitor about the role of parents in decision making for study abroad – something even more important where younger students are concerned. Today's article looks at what can be done to engage parents in recruitment and make them feel valued and listened to as they take part in an incredibly important and emotional decision-making process with their children. In the next instalment of this series, we look at how institutions and recruiters can go even further at leveraging parents’ influence.

Involving parents is not just considerate, it’s smart business

Julie Bryant is not only the associate vice president of retention solutions at Noel-Levitz, a respected higher education consulting group, she is also mom to a college-aged daughter. The combination has naturally helped her become a strong believer in involving parents in the recruitment process. Of the steps her family took on the way to choosing her daughter Kylie’s college, she notes on the Noel-Levitz blog that Facebook played a helpful role:

“Although Kylie was admittedly a little nervous about being on campus again and meeting her new peers, she had already begun to connect with other students in the college’s class of 2017 through their Facebook page. Is your campus using social media to build relationships for your incoming students? If not, I highly recommend it. The college also has a Facebook page for the college parents, which I learned about at orientation and immediately connected.”

Other things Mrs Bryant appreciated about the college’s orientation session included:

  • The college offering a session just for the parents so they could “ask those ‘stupid' questions that our kids would never want us to ask while they were around, but the college administration didn’t let us feel stupid while we were asking them.”
  • The attention paid to safety and advising features at the school. Parents are at least as concerned about safety as students are (likely more, because they worry about their children more than children worry about themselves!) so this is a smart emphasis.
  • A tour of the campus including a peek into dorm rooms and cafeteria so parents could imagine how their children would be living while studying.

Consider this paragraph from Mrs Bryant’s Noel-Levitz post, while remembering that she is a parent, and imagine you were also a parent of a prospective student for the college reading it:

“At the end of this orientation day, Kylie definitely felt more committed to the college, more excited about being there in the fall, and more confident about the classes she would be taking. As her parent, her excitement was contagious and I also now feel more confident about her next step in this journey.”

The passage – a great example of the power of peer-to-peer reporting – is intimate and soothing. The fact is, parents are going to trust the opinions of another obviously smart and knowledgeable parent at least as much as the institution itself. This is because the institution necessarily has its own interests high on the priority list when promoting itself, while parents’ number one priority is their children. So it is a great idea to have a parents’ blog or at least a Q&A section on the institutional website, as well as a Facebook page for them (in the local language is even better). As for who should post on the blog, hopefully there are parent volunteers who can write reasonably well. If good writing is in short supply, remember there’s always video!

A friendly, caring, and clean atmosphere go a long way

As we mentioned above, parents are first and foremost concerned about the safety of their children. Next on the list? Their happiness and general well-being. If an institution doesn’t come across as helpful, caring, and friendly in its communications, then there is every likelihood the parent will wonder if the school will be a cold and unhappy environment for their children if they enrol. Institutions should take every chance to display their human side, whether it’s on an emergency contact form or a FAQs page. Another fact is that parents care a lot more about cleanliness than their children do. Most of us can remember growing up and wondering why our parents cared so much about whether we cleaned our rooms, or why all the clean towels had to be laundered again just because a guest was coming over. There is in fact an entire blog post devoted to the importance of schools having well-scrubbed toilets and gleaming washrooms! As the writer says:

“Prospective parents and students constantly wonder, ‘If you can’t take care of your guest facilities, how are you going to take care of my child/me? And why are you charging me thousands of dollars for a dirty bathroom?’”

So make sure facilities are as immaculate as possible during an orientation where parents are invited!

Help parents get organised

Applying to school (applying for anything important, really) involves a lot of paperwork and time, and you can bet that a lot of students aren’t doing it all themselves. The easier you make it for parents to complete the application process with their children, the more likely it is they will apply. Make sure your application materials are in good order (no one appreciates having to spend even more time on this process because the institution has made a mistake or missed sending out something), and that all your deadlines are well communicated. It’s key to have a helpline or email address dedicated to assisting applicants, and a great idea to have live web or Skype help available. You could also develop a series of webinars to guide parents through various steps in the recruitment and admissions process, which could be essential for parents overseas who might not be able to visit your institution in person. For more on this, see our previous article with practical advice on establishing connections during three potential student periods: Arrival, Study mode, and Departure. Consider also whether to invest in translation services for your key international markets. India and China are often on the radar for schools with internationalisation mandates, so Hindi, Mandarin, and Cantonese might be good bets. Even if parents are proficient in English (or the language of your institution), they will appreciate the gesture of respect for their native tongue. Some good advice from eduGuru on thinking about translation:

“A translator may recommend wording that is stiff and formal, while a native speaker will be quick to point out 'this is how we really say it.' You’ll need to consider the tone you want for your university and hire a translator or native speaker (often a student employee) to be able to update your social media outlets online.

Help parents help their children

As much as parents want to be involved in their children’s study abroad experiences, distance often means that they can’t be as involved as they’d like to be. This can cause real alarm among some parents, and they may end up (a) intruding too much (e.g., by email and phone) on their child’s study abroad experiences and/or (b) contacting the school too often for information. Consider this aspect of parents’ psychology in communications and resources for them. The website GradTrain has a post up about how parents can help their children with study abroad experiences. It would be wise of institutions to offer web-based resources like this in some shape or form, possibly with the help of international student advisors or even a guest psychologist. A psychologist could present a helpful tutorial, for example, on how to deal with feeling sad to see children go or missing them once they’re gone – and how to connect with them over distance without intruding on their privacy.

Know where to draw the line

In Mrs Bryant’s post as well as according to our own expertise, it is crucial to have a well-considered strategy where a good balance is achieved between:

  • Helping parents be engaged in their children’s recruitment and study abroad periods;
  • Preserving the privacy of students and respecting the fact that this is a chance for them to be independent from their parents.

The parents-only session Bryant described is a good example of such a strategy. It’s worth really planning out this delicate balance, since executed well, helping parents feel connected can reap great rewards, while done poorly, students will feel their own experience has been interfered with and even spoiled.

Make your school their school

Parents may be sending their children to your school, but they’ll think of it as their school, too! They have so much invested – emotionally and otherwise – in their children’s study abroad experiences that it’s worth rewarding their feelings. How about some school-branded merchandise? T-shirts? Coffee cups? A newsletter sent out specifically to parents with fun facts and event news they might not be hearing about from their kids? Brainstorming ways to help parents feel connected to your institution can be a lot of fun – and, make a lot of sense. Ready for more? Move along to part two in this series that covers easy, effective ways in which parents can actively help schools gain more international students.

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