Blog 🏛️ University 20th November 2020

We Redesigned Our Virtual Events for International Students in 2020: Here's What We Learned

Profile image of Zahra Onsori
Zahra Onsori University Content Writer
In 2020, we worked with our university partners to redesign our virtual events for our community of over 82,000 international students. We reflect on what we learned. 

The events of 2020 have made it almost impossible for universities and higher education institutions to interact with prospective students face to face, be it through school visits, or at university fairs.  

In-person events served a valuable purpose for higher education institutions. They’ve historically been a great way for universities and colleges to raise their brand awareness with international students and forge authentic connections with potential applicants. 

It’s no surprise, then, that this has been the year where higher education institutions all over the world have had to innovate, expanding into new channels and exploring platforms to deliver their virtual recruitment events online. 

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Learn how BridgeU can help you align your enrolment strategy with your international student audience.

Whether it’s virtual campus tours or online university fairs, many universities and colleges have found new ways to allow their international applicants to conduct their post-secondary research from the comfort of their own homes. 

But for every piece of advice written or insight shared about the value of virtual events for international students, it’s easy to find two pieces of commentary written about the dangers of so-called ‘Zoom fatigue’ 

Faced with a proliferation of online events as they conduct their research, students might be experiencing burnout. After a time, university fairs and webinars may begin to feel like a conveyor belt of identical events. 

Even before COVID-19, we knew that international students had to sift through a range of information sources in order to make the most informed decision about the right post-secondary path for them. 

When it comes to attending virtual events, this problem becomes even more acute. A students’ inbox may be filled with notifications for any number of fairs or webinars. It’s understandable that your student audience may be experiencing information overload.

How BridgeU & our partner universities adapted

Like our colleagues working in our partner universities, BridgeU had to place our in-person events on hold in March of this year.  

In the following weeks and months, we worked with both our partner universities across 7 countries and our international school community to program a range of new virtual events to help steer our over 82,000 students through a rapidly unfolding crisis. 

For the most part, we’ve been thrilled with the results. We’ve collaborated with universities and international schools to create a wealth of online showcases, webinars and networking events across regions and markets – and we’ve received lots of positive feedback from schools and universities alike. 

It’s been a learning curve for us, as much as it’s been for our university partners. And we’re not here to give definitive advice, or share a one-size-fits-all solution to designing the perfect virtual event for your international student audience. 

But we thought we’d share some insights from our year of creating virtual events with international schools and universities – and what we’ve learned along the way. 

We hope you find it useful. 

Segment your audience and tailor your events to their needs

We didn’t set out to design one-size-fits-all events for every student or school that we work with. Instead, we’ve run virtual events that are tailored to the specific interests and questions of our diverse student body

Let’s look at a brief example. 

This year, it quickly became apparent that the disruption caused by COVID-19 would be a particularly busy time for both UK universities and international students alike. What’s more, we knew that our international students might not be as familiar with the process of Clearing & Adjustment as their domestic counterparts in the UK. 

So we created a bespoke Clearing showcase for our UK university partners. 

The goal? To give BridgeU international schools a quick, digestible overview of the courses at a select number of UK institutions that still had places as of August 2020. 

Remember that, as students move through their decision making journey, they’ll need different information at different times and the best way to engage them is to speak to their needs in a timely and relevant way. 

Watch: Our Recent North America University Showcase

Make international schools your partners, not your prospects

It’s worth noting that, this year, students haven’t been the only audience for our virtual events. Generally speaking, we’ve designed three types of events both with and for our international school counsellors. 

Helping schools integrate universities into their guidance programmes

It can be easy to forget, but it’s often the case that our international school counsellors and advisers also need help understanding the nuances of the various systems and application processes in countries across the world. This is especially the case when a school counsellor is transitioning into his/her role for the first time. 

This year, we’ve run a number of educational webinars in collaboration with our universities focused specifically on counsellor professional development.

Our aim was to make our university partners active participants in our schools’ counselling curricula, thereby giving BridgeU counsellors actionable insights that came directly from universities. 

For example, back in September, we ran a webinar where we asked several of our US university partners to explain the rationale and strategy behind early decision deadlines to an audience of our school counsellors. 

It gave our advisors and counsellors a valuable opportunity to understand how the ED/EA system worked and take away actionable ways of navigating the ED/EA process with their students. 

Watch: Our Early Decision/Early Action Webinar For International Schools

Collaborating with counsellors to create regional virtual events

Where possible, we’ve collaborated with our school counsellors to create more collaborative virtual events. 

Working with schools in Milan, Cairo and Blantyre, Hong Kong, we’ve run a number of virtual fairs for students at specific international schools. 

The benefits for both universities and international schools have been evident. 

For counsellors, it’s helped them to reassure students (and their parents) that universities are taking the right precautions and global education is still possible during what has been a tumultuous and uncertain year. 

Meanwhile, for our universities, it’s allowed them to maintain a dialogue with international students in specific regions and, in many cases, reach a wider network of potential applicants than would normally be possible with in-person visits and fairs.

Networking events between university reps and BridgeU counsellors 

We’ve trialled smaller, more intimate networking events between admissions reps from our partner universities and counsellors/advisers working in BridgeU schools in select regions around the world. This has given both BridgeU schools and universities the chance to meet in a more relaxed and informal setting. 

Help your international students see the big picture

One of the many important things we’ve learned is that as well as information about their chosen universities, international students value a detailed and comprehensive overview of the education systems in the countries they are considering. These students will likely be weighing up the pros and cons of applying to a country or subject as a whole,

It can be easy to forget that international students won’t be as familiar with the nuances of a given national university system as their domestic counterparts. 

A student who is interested in applying to a university in the UK may not know that England’s higher education system is subtly different to that of Scotland. 

Similarly, a student who is actively considering studying in the Netherlands will likely need a clear explanation of the difference between a research university and a university of applied science. 

That’s why, when designing virtual events, we’ve found it useful to give international students important contextual information that helps them to make more informed choices about studying in another country. 

For example, in many of our joint university fairs with BridgeU schools, one or more of our participating university reps have provided a much-needed overview of what it’s like to study in a given country or region.  

Likewise, we ran a session during our recent fair with the British International School of Cairo entirely devoted to helping students understand what sets US liberal arts colleges apart from other universities. 

We’ve also seen the value of running events where students are given a richer understanding of a particular subject area or academic discipline. 

To cite another example, one of our international schools in Milan recently devoted one of their virtual sessions to exploring Hospitality Management, with participants that included a number of our European university partners. 

By collaborating with universities and schools to provide this much-needed contextual overview, we’ve helped our students to get a better handle on the whole post-secondary international landscape.

It never hurts to repurpose your content afterwards 

We know that many universities will already have lots of content on their websites and in their existing library of marketing collateral, all designed to help answer international students’ most pressing questions about life at their respective institutions. 

But we’ve done a lot of showcases with our university partners and we’ve had a lot of the same questions come up time and time again. Questions like: 

‘Does your university offer financial aid?’

‘Can you tell me more about the accommodation on campus?’

‘What are your IB entry requirements?’ 

A recent study from QS found that international students’ most useful sources of information when researching an institution were, in the following order: the institution’s website, a general online search, the institution’s rankings, other course finder websites and social media channels. 

And while these are all useful channels, it remains the case that they’re all fragmented sources of information. 

So where possible, think about how you can repurpose any of the content, themes or topics that you’ve covered in your virtual events into an easy-to-use, digestible format

Whether it’s ebooks, cheat sheets, infographics or videos, providing students with more specific content that helps to answer their most pressing questions can really help raise your university’s brand awareness and, perhaps more importantly, remind students that your door is open to them! 

Why virtual events will continue to be essential in 2021

Like our university partners and our peers and colleagues in the wider international HE sector, we’ve learned a lot this year. It’s safe to say we’re still learning, and we’re looking forward to the opportunities and innovations that 2021 will bring.

As we’ve discussed in some of our previous articles this year, the transition to virtual engagement with students in global schools has been expedited by COVID-19. We can’t expect things to go back to the way they were. 

Now, more than ever, online and virtual events will form a key part of your institution’s brand identity. These events offer an opportunity to make the post-secondary research process more personalised to the student. 

If you’d like to know more about the work we’ve been doing with universities in 2020, and how we can help you in 2021, book a consultation with us below. We’d love to talk to you about expanding the diversity of your virtual events! 

Get in touch

Learn how BridgeU can help you align your enrolment strategy with your international student audience.