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The international student population is growing, and growing quickly.
As of January 2023, ISC Research reports that international schools around the world have grown by 52% between 2013 and 2023.
And whilst this growth presents an array of opportunities for universities worldwide, it also has its challenges.
At a time when our own analysis suggests that international students are often considering two or more countries simultaneously, universities must work harder than ever to stand out from their counterparts in other popular destination countries.
Within this blog post, we’ll discuss the benefits of having an international school network, why they are an asset to your marketing strategy, and how to begin building one.
Benefits of an international school network for universities
International schools are known for nurturing some of the most diverse, high-intent and quality students. They do so through a robust, internationally recognised curriculum, with a steer towards career-orientated learning.
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Read more about the general benefits international schools serve to your recruitment strategy
International schools have a variety of unique characteristics that benefit for both students and universities; but today we’ll be diving into why these networks are so great when it comes to developing your global marketing strategy.
International schools are quality, long-term investments for universities
The international recruitment market is a competitive one, which can potentially lead to a fixation on driving high enrolments in the here and now.
But prioritising marketing strategies that deliver the biggest ROI for one application cycle, may not amount to sustainable recruitment pipelines in the long run.
Our proposition is that by nurturing an international school network, you don’t have to choose between a sustainable marketing strategy and a return on investment.
International schools are not just a place of education but are also central hubs within their communities around the world. By adopting an international school network, you’re not just investing in a school, but are actively investing in their local community.
The community-orientated nature of an international school network means word travels fast, so for universities proactively building these relationships, they’re more likely to raise their brand awareness with counsellors, students and parents alike.
This is why we encourage you to abandon a competitive strategy and instead, adopt a more collaborative one.
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International school networks double up as a peer-to-peer marketing tool
Just like any meaningful relationship, building a collaborative network with international schools relies on trust.
And this trust, if built correctly, will blossom into a positive association of respect and influence among students and counsellors alike.
This is great news for your institution; peer-to-peer marketing can be the most effective way to reach students, as they are more likely to trust and influence one another. This trust will be instrumental in not just building, but maintaining positive relationships with prospective students.
This also has the potential to influence other stakeholders’ opinions, such as parents, who may otherwise be hard to reach in your marketing strategies.
We put together an example of how having an international school network could affect the shortlisting process for a student, vs not having one.
School A [Is part of your international schools network]
A parent is looking at university options with their child, and your university is one of them. The parent is familiar with your university due to conversations with the school counsellor, and has also attended an event organised by the school counsellor about this particular university.
The school counsellor has ties to your university & has recommended your institution as a best-fit for this particular student due to a specialised programme you offer that falls in line with this student’s academic aspirations.
School B [Has no affiliation with your university in any network]
A parent is looking at university options with their child, and your university is one of them. The parent is not familiar with your university and is unsure what your reputation is. The school counsellor is also unsure of this university and whether it’s the right fit for the student, and instead, advices the student to look at other institutions they can recommend confidently.
Of course, there are a variety of other factors that affect students’ decision-making, such as visa and degree costs, location, accreditation and career outcomes (to name a few), and the reality is not as binary as these two examples propose.
But, we wanted to highlight how building a reputation amongst an international school network can be an important factor in the decision-making process, especially when competing with other institutions.
Universities can obtain real-time regional markets insights faster
Student higher-ed decisions are not driven by the same factors everywhere in the world. For example, whilst European students are seeking out more support with accommodation and visa fees, this may not be the case in Eastern Asia. And so, the same recruitment strategy may not be effective for both countries.
Instead, tailoring your recruitment strategy to the nuanced needs of that particular region is the best way to ensure you’re maximising your chances of enrolment success, all whilst keeping the student at the heart of your strategy.
Whilst traditional marketing tools are important, it can be difficult to obtain these regional insights quickly.
One great thing about working with an international school network is that they act as a window into the regional insights of what drives student applications.
These insights can be really valuable, especially when diversifying into a new market or prioritising recruitment from a specific region.
Universities can reach students earlier on in their decision-making journey
Building a long-term relationship with an international school network includes students, parents, and counsellors alike, meaning you can reach students earlier on in their decision-making process.
This is crucial, as international school students are known to begin forming their higher ed decisions not 6 months, not 12 months, but up to 24 months prior to their actual higher ed decision.
It can be difficult to understand how traditional marketing tools help convert applicants at such a young age, and how they interact with your content. But having an international school network allows you to position yourself in front of younger prospective students, in a more organic manner.
For example, younger students who have friends and family that attended your university may become familiar with your brand name earlier on, giving you an advantage over competitors.
School networks can also give you a further nuanced understanding of how younger students find your university, which can inform your marketing strategy accordingly.
For example, you may find that younger students in a particular region may not relate or interact with your content much. This could be because your marketing strategy is directed towards students who are older and further along in their decision-making process.
Here, you would be able to adjust your content streams to younger audiences, by finding out:
- What types of questions they need answers to; E.g, instead of course-specific content, they may be seeking more general information about certain subjects.
- The influence of stakeholders in that region; E.g, are younger students more likely to be swayed by higher-ed decisions of family and friends?
International school networks help you personalise your marketing to reach students at the right time
For the majority, prospective international students first interact with universities through digital marketing streams.
Platforms such as Youtube, Tiktok and Google Ads, to name a few, are being increasingly used by universities to promote brand awareness and generate new leads.
And whilst these digital channels can open opportunities to create more data driven campaigns, it’s hard to control at which stage students receive this information, whether it’s the right time, and how this advertising shapes their final study decision.
But an international school network can give you this visibility. This is because you have the opportunity to shape how students interact with your university, and have direct access to the student journey within that particular region.
And as we mentioned before, with students beginning to think about their higher ed decisions up to 24 months before, it’s important to adapt your marketing strategy to be effective at every stage in their journey.
To help you conceptualise how marketing strategies would differ for each age group, we’ve split the student market in two.
Years 9-11/Grades 8-10/IB Middle Years Programme
Taking the time to provide content for younger students will pay dividends when it comes to building brand awareness with international applicants This content could take the form of a webinar or online fair to introduce your destination country to these students in a more high-level way. This in turn can be a massive boost to a counsellor/teacher’s middle years guidance programme.
Year 12/Grade 11/IBDP1
In the penultimate year of school, students will very much be focused on the questions ‘where do I go’ and ‘how do I get there’? This is where the university research and application process kicks up a gear. With 12-18 months remaining until students submit their applications, counsellors will ask students to start thinking seriously about which destination countries and institutions align with their personal and professional goals.
How to begin building a network of international schools
Now that you understand the benefits that an international school network can add to your marketing strategy, what’s next?
Here are some of your options if you’re considering the next steps of building an international school network.
Build and use the network you have
Without leaning on networking events or edtech to help you, it can be difficult to get a foot in the door when you have no international school connections.
But one way to develop a relationship with international schools is through alumni and current students. These previous connections are pivotal to help you begin fostering this relationship.
Running alumni events and in-country visits will be important to establish a rapport with your students in an international school network. However, it may not always be the most practical solution, as it can be time-consuming, for both you and the international school. So, we’ll move on to the next option.
Grow your own international counsellor network (or get involved with an existing one)
International counsellor networks are events that happen worldwide that bring together the international school sphere. Being a part of such networks [such as IACAC, and COBIS, to name a few], can give you an opportunity to network with school counsellors from around the world.
These events are valuable as, without them, it can be difficult to schedule time for in-country visits to counsellors, especially when acting independently.
School counsellors are very busy individuals, and can assume many roles, from teaching, marking, and organising staff, to guiding students’ higher-ed decisions, which can leave them time-poor.
So, attending international counsellor networking events are a more resourceful way to meet a multitude of counsellors in one place, at one time.
Find out more
Learn about international school associations & how they can aid your recruitment efforts.
Digital & ed tech platforms
For universities, digital and ed-tech platforms – like BridgeU – present an opportunity to take a more proactive and personalised approach to international student marketing.
With international students creating and submitting their applications all on one platform, university admissions teams have the opportunity to learn more about the nuances of an applicant’s admission journey than ever before.
We hold a unique position in the market in which we’re trusted by school counsellors and universities alike. We’ve supported over 100 university partners to grow their brand awareness overseas and increase international enrolment through our schools partnerships around the world.
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Learn how BridgeU can help you successfully diversify your international recruitment strategy today.