International student recruitment tours are an often-popular way for universities to visit a large number of high schools and recruitment tours in a short amount of time.
Some international recruitment agents offer their own school tours, separate from the major tour providers. There are many pro’s and cons to joining an agent-led tour. As you become more experienced in international recruitment, it’s important to think critically about each potential recruiting opportunity. Here are 14 questions to consider before embarking on an agent-led international student recruitment tour. The answers are not necessarily right or wrong; rather, they will help you examine your own recruitment strategies and policies and make an informed decision about where to invest your recruitment dollars.
It’s important to know the curriculum of the high schools you will be visiting. For instance, on a recent tour I visited schools with American, Canadian, British, and local (Chinese) curriculum.
Our international office is comfortable with all these curriculums, so admissions isn’t an issue here. However, in certain countries the curriculum that students follow indicates the most likely country they will study abroad in. Students in a Canadian or British curriculum, for instance, may be pushed by their high school counselors towards Canadian or British universities. I’ve visited high schools where the school directors and/or counselors are very interested in American universities but just haven’t prepped the students enough and the students themselves are not interested in U.S. universities yet. So, while there isn’t a right/wrong answer to this question, learning about the teaching curriculums may allow you ask follow up questions and design your marketing correctly. (For instance, if I had known I would be visiting Canadian and British high schools, I would have prepared a handout/presentation about “Why Study in the USA.”)
Do you have references from previous trips? Do you have star ratings on www.educationagentreviews.com?
It’s always best if you can read reviews or talk to peers who have gone on these tours before. (This is why we founded educationagentreviews.com!) Try to obtain references from similar institutions – a large research state university, for instance, may have quite a different experience than a smaller community college. Remember to compare apples to apples.
Are these schools with whom you (the agent) have prior relationships or are these new schools for you as well?
A good tour will include a mixture of old and new schools. There’s nothing wrong with adding new schools – perhaps the scheduling never worked out before, or perhaps the school itself required the tour to be established before allowing them in. But you should be able to glean the strength of the agency by the answer to this question. Ideally, an agency should be building connections with high schools and students on your behalf to begin with. So hopefully they would include these schools with whom they have existing relationships, along with a mixture of new schools. My concern with all new schools is that there could be the possibility that the agent is using the strength of a group of US Universities to break into new markets from the agent’s perspective – so the agent may be looking to build new relationships with these high schools and is “proving” itself by bringing in American universities, but the high schools themselves could be a poor fit for your institution and not a good use of your time.
What will be the format of the tour? Is it traditional tables, presentation-style, or meetings with high school leaders?
Everyone has their own special recruitment style – I actually would rather make a presentation than sit at a table, for instance. So this question isn’t about the “right” way to recruit. But rather, the response to this question will clue you in as to how much they are trying to prep the high school directors ahead of time and to make sure there is good communication. This is not always the tour organizers’ fault – I am well aware that sometimes they themselves are at the mercy of the high school changing plans at the last minute. However, their response to this question should give you a good idea of the level of organization.
I was on a tour recently where the school wanted each university to play a 5-minute video or presentation before the high school fair. I happened to have a flash drive with information on it (another lesson: always be prepared!), but some other universities who didn’t realize they would have this opportunity felt that they missed out on the opportunity to play a video. We could tell that the tour organizers were also unaware that this request would be made.
Will you (the agent) be providing high school school profiles or general information/summaries either before or after the tour?
School profiles are sometimes a nationality-specific concept, so the lack of a school profile isn’t necessarily a negative. However, it can be hard for an exhausted admissions representative to absorb all the information necessarily on a quick school visit. Even if the school itself doesn’t have a printed school profile, the agency should be familiar enough with a school to answer basic questions. An agency that remembers to give the schools a standard overview – whether it’s in print or verbally — such as “Our next school is _______; they enroll 200 students annually in US Universities; they follow a national curriculum; you will find their students will ask a lot of questions about engineering and business; and their students will need scholarship information so be sure to initiate this conversation,” will do wonders for your notes for your trip reports.
Will the fairs be exclusive to your agency tour, or are we joining other organizations along the way?
There isn’t any right or wrong answer to this question, although the answer will give you a clue into the communication between agency and high school. I did a tour once where one high school had invited EducationUSA and representatives from the Embassy to give speeches before our high school fair. It’s still unclear to us whether the high school itself had not disclosed this to the agency. But if the agency had known about this ahead of time, I also would have preferred to know about it in advance rather than be surprised, because I could have reached out to my own EducationUSA contacts to make sure they knew I was participating or to add on some additional activities with them for cross-marketing. This is just an example, but it’s good to know who all the constituents are in these events.
What parts are for high school students and what are for the public ? Will I need a translator?
A good agency-led tour will make sure your translating needs are taken care of, so you shouldn’t need to bring your own. But it’s still good to be prepared. For instance, at events that are open to the public, it may be more important to pack marketing materials that are translated into the local language or that are geared more towards parents. You also may have different materials that you give out to counselors vs. students, so it’s good to know ahead of time who your audience is.
Will you (the agent) be sharing the university profiles with the high school counselors ahead of time so that they can prep their students?
The answer to this will give you a clue as to the communication between the agency and the high schools themselves. A well prepared high school will want to know ahead of time who is visiting their campus in order to hand-pick students who may fit your institution and guide them to your table for conversation. Obviously, this doesn’t happen all the time, and high school counselors are often pulled in many different directions and may not have time to personalize your visit. But it does give you some insight into the potential for future partnerships or recruiting trips when you notice that a school really didn’t care who visited their campus. A school counselor or director who hasn’t familiarized themselves at all with their visitors may indicate that the students may not be prepared to study abroad.
However, given intercultural differences, this is not necessarily all the high school counselors’ fault either. A good agent will try to bridge this intercultural professional gap and to alert the high schools ahead of time of the benefits and strengths of each university so that you avoid any uncomfortable face-to-face conversations discussing your ranking or having a high school counselor announce publically that you are in Massachusetts when really you’re in Idaho.
How many other universities are on this trip? Who else has joined so far?
It’s important to know whether you will be traveling in a small or large group before you pay for a tour. This is personal preference, but you should know what you are signing up for. Additionally, knowing which of your university colleagues has already signed up can help you make a final decision – perhaps you want to travel with other universities your size, or perhaps you are looking to be the only private university on the tour, or perhaps you want to travel with higher ranking schools in order to get more table traffic near you. It’s all up to you to decide how to interpret the possibilities.
Do you, the agent, have recruitment agreements with these schools? Or are these schools that you’re looking to create recruitment agreements with?
The answer to this may vary depending what country you are in. In certain countries, it’s not unusual for high school counselors in national schools to have adhoc agreements with agencies to help their students apply to US universities, since national schools may not even be used to the idea of study abroad. These schools may allow agencies onto their property to do followup or general “Study in the USA” events – which can benefit your institution in the long run. Still other schools may be looking to sign agreements, and the tour is a test-run where the agency shows off all its university partners and hopes to gain the school’s trust through this fair. There isn’t anything wrong with this, but transparency is appreciated and universities should be able to make the decision whether they want to be unknowingly part of these negotiations.
What grades/levels will I be meeting?
Obviously recruitment happens at all grade levels. But recruitment tours can be extremely tiring. If you are only talking to 9th graders, and won’t see any yield from this trip for a few years, you may have to take this into consideration, especially if you must justify your travel dollars to an enrollment management group. Talking to younger students is unavoidable, but make sure your tour organizer knows your target audience and check to see if they have made adequate arrangements.
What follow up will you (the agent) do after the tour?
How does this tour differentiate itself from others? Will the agency be visiting the high school again, perhaps a few months later, to re-distribute your materials and to follow up with interested students? Will the agency be keeping a list of interested students for you and take care of the marketing, or it is completely up to the university to market itself virtually after the visit? In other words, what is the benefit of going on an agency-led tour, rather than a standard tour provider?
How many schools do we typically visit a day?
I was recently on a tour where we visited two schools per day. (Due to traffic and extra activities at each school, such as meeting with the school directors, we still were working from 8-5 each day!) This was actually perfect – we were able to spend a good amount of time with each interested student and not feel too rushed, but were still suitably tired at the end of the day without being ridiculously exhausted. Some other university admissions representatives, however, felt that they needed to justify their absence from the office with more school visits to “prove” that they were working (the pressures international recruiters receive from their domestic counterparts could take up its own blog-post!). So again, the answer to this question is a very personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer. But do bear in mind that when a tour promises you an extraordinary amount of schools visits in one day, you may spend all day rushing from school to school with only a few minutes of real student interaction at each school – which may not be effective. So weigh the pro’s and cons of the number of school visits carefully. It may “feel” good to tell your director that you visited 30 schools in one week – but will you get any results from this method? In the end, your recruitment results are what will be the measure of success.
Is there time to visit your (agency) office and/or do any type of training or networking – whether individually or as a group?
This may be the single most indicator of a truly good agent-led tour – and I don’t see it very often, no matter how good the agency! The issue may be communication. Most tour organizers (agents and non-agents) truly believe they are giving university recruiters exactly what they want. The opportunity for a simple office tour just isn’t on anyone’s radar. But this would be an important addition for both the agency and the universities.
So many tours leave out the relationship building that is crucial to a good agent-university partnership. On a recent tour led by an agent, which was fantastically organized in all other components, the one thing missing was the opportunity to visit their offices in each city and to get to know the staff. The opportunity to make sure that the agent counselors themselves knew about my university’s strong points was missing – and this is a weakness, given that hopefully the agent is in charge of following up with students and schools. If you see an agent-led tour that includes time to visit their office and/or to network with the actual agent counselors, jump on this tour – this agent clearly wants to build relationships and to represent you well!
In conclusion, asking these 14 questions can help you decide whether or not an agency’s international student recruitment school tour can help enhance your own recruitment strategies. Remember that international travel and international education itself does require a level of humor and flexibility – no tour or partnership is perfect, and being flexible along the way may help you discover some previously unknown wonderful recruiting market or partnership. But thoughtful examination of the above 14 criteria can certainly help set you off on a successful path!
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