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Part 2: How to involve students’ parents in recruitment for study abroad

At the end of the last post we did on involving the parents of international students in the recruiting process, we wrote:

“Parents may be sending their children to your school, but they’ll think of it as their school, too!”

We recommended rewarding their school spirit with school merchandise or parent-specific communications, but there’s actually much more to be done: rather than just reward parents’ enthusiasm, schools can go a step further and leverage it for recruitment.

Just as there are ways to encourage students and alumni to become brand advocates, there are easy and effective ways in which parents can actively help educational institutions gain more international students.

Parents listen to other parents

At Texas Tech University, there was a programme where volunteer parents of current students called those of prospective students and shared their experiences. They offered to be a resource for prospective parents’ questions, and covered certain topics agreed upon by them and the university, such as homesickness, transportation, safety, and financial aid.

Importantly, they would record some of the information from their calls with parents of prospective students and enter it into the university’s database. As Jamie Hansard, director of recruitment and marketing in the admissions office, said to the Chronicle of Higher Education:

“It was important to have that great conversation but it was also important to collect that data.”

The admissions officer and/or parent volunteer could then use the data entered to decide if and how to follow up with the prospective student’s parent for whatever reason to increase the chance of an application for enrolment.

Important to the parent programme at Texas Tech University was a strong training component, where parents could learn exactly what was expected of them and be sure to deliver the most current and accurate information.

With any such programme, there will be areas parents should talk about and others best left to university staff, so it’s important to set that out clearly at the beginning. The Texas Tech programme is on a year off hiatus, but is expected to resume in 2014.

In-person parent support

Parents of current students can also be great assets at educational fairs occurring in other countries from which your school is recruiting.

Not only do they know the native language of prospective students and their parents … they’re right there (and “there” may be thousands of miles away from the actual school).

If your school works with an education agent in a particular country, you might ask the agent to invite parents of current students along to a fair so they can show their enthusiasm for the process and share advice. Naturally, the school and agent will want to be careful in selecting only the most positive and poised parents for such an important role. But once the right candidates have been identified, this can be a great opportunity!

While we’re on the topic of education fairs, it makes sense to prepare a communications package specifically for parents. To get the messaging right, hold an informal focus group with parents of current and alumni students. Ask them:

  • What their biggest questions and concerns were when deciding whether to choose your school;
  • What their foremost priorities were when considering study abroad for their child;
  • What their initial impression was of your school – and ask for the good and the bad;
  • What other schools they were considering;
  • What their favourite thing is now about your school, now that their children are studying there or have graduated from there;
  • What they would have liked to receive re: communications from your school but didn’t.

Answers to these questions could be instrumental to your overall communications effort with parents.

Capture the emotion

As we noted in Part 1 of this series, a student’s decision to study abroad can be a volatile time for parents, with happiness, anticipation, and excitement competing with trepidation and loneliness. However, when those students graduate, that’s pure joy! Especially if the student has excelled, has had a fantastic experience, and/or has already lined up a great job.

So why not capture the moment? Here are some ideas:

  • Ask your graduating students to have someone videotape their reunion with their parents with a smartphone or tablet, and ask them to include a segment where they thank their parents for their support.
  • Have a professional videographer steal some time with graduating students and their parents at convocation (because some overseas parents will travel for this).
  • Have a group of graduating students walk through the campus, talking about great moments and places there, including some mention of how their graduating will affect their family/parents or how much their parents’ support meant to them. Then, make a video to post online such as an area of your school’s website as well as regional and global social media channels (including the parents’ Facebook section you should set up; see Part 1 for that).
  • If students are more comfortable with photos than with video, ask them to snap some shots of their family reunion and caption them for sharing on your social media site(s).

Speaking of photo opportunities, you don’t have to wait until graduation.

How about making one day a year a “Hi Mom/Hi Dad” day, where international students can gather together and hold up signs saying something along the lines of “Hi, I miss you, but I’m having the time of my life!” This could be done in a video or a photo montage compiled into an album on Facebook, a playlist on YouTube, or a themed pinboard on Pinterest. Parents will be delighted and proud to share the photos and videos around their communities at home.

Extend the recruitment circle

Our series has underlined a few fairly easy ways to involve a potentially very influential group for a school’s recruitment efforts.

Parents will be working hard on their own to be a part of – and stay connected to – their children during study abroad. Just imagine how happy they’ll feel if your school makes this easier for them. Providing them with concrete ways to be a part of their children’s institution will be yet another reason for them to tell their friends all about how great it is.

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