Are you the head of international admissions at your high school? Or are you an associate director of admissions responsible for international students?
If yes, then this post will resonate with you because I specifically wrote it to help you increase quality international students at your private high school.

Why should you trust my advice?
People say that you learn the best from experience. I’m a former exchange student who attended Thornton Academy in Saco, Maine in 1998-99. Since I was an exchange student, 100,000 other international students attended the same program worldwide. Now, I volunteer for the same nonprofit and assist with international students coming to the US. At work, I help commercial brands and nonprofits achieve their digital marketing goals.

What will you specifically learn from this post?
I will explain you a digital marketing methodology that you should adopt to increase number of qualified international students at your school. Each experiment consists of prior preparation (strategy, analytics, surveys, available assets, etc.) followed by execution of a marketing improvement. If you adopt this methodology correctly, you will better maximize on your existing resources, take advantage of available opportunities, find out faster if some ideas don’t work and create better results for your high school. You know you are on the right track if you run 1-2 improvements every month and start seeing results within the first 3 months.

How much does this cost?
Adopting my methodology does not cost you at all. You could try it on your own or if you would like some additional help, you may consider hiring my digital marketing agency on a temporary or more long-term basis. This methodology does not ask you to pay referral fees to external agencies or requires special software to run.

What are methodology steps?
Our methodology for increasing quality international students consists of 9 steps. So let’s examine each step in more detail:

Step 1. First, you need to set the rules of the game that will help you win.
In the marketing world, we call this clarifying goals and strategy. You will also need to learn how you will measure the success of your strategy. You need to find out which parts of your admissions process are underperforming and why. I found out that most of the high schools don’t have this figured out for international students. Simple strategic tools such as the goal grid and SWOT analysis will help you communicate visually to everyone on the team what you’re trying to accomplish.
Even if you are well established private school with a strong marketing funnel, you would still benefit by addressing the low hanging fruit first. For example, the biggest impact on results would include taking advantage of opportunities within the lowest part of your conversion funnel such as

  1. Ensuring that the most of those who get accepted actually start and finish your high school.
  2. Creating student profiles that your admissions office is able to convert efficiently (example: high school students with strong academics and are very good at skiing).
  3. Increasing the lifetime value of each family. Siblings, kids and even grandkids of your international alumni would convert easier than complete strangers.
  4. Using a more robust follow up process, web remarketing and similar audiences to attract people that fit your target international student profile.
  5. Increasing pricing of your programs so you could better fund future initiatives.
  6. Engaging your former international students to be your high school ambassadors.

Step 2. Learn how your potential students find out and interact with your high school.
The fastest way to understand what is happening with your international admissions process is to look at the stats on how they learn about your school and navigate your admissions process.
You need to map out the entire process and understand the entire conversion funnel from the moment potential international students learn about your school to the moment of being accepted at the high school. You need to understand the biggest obstacles in the process and broken steps of the process. I recommend that you work in areas that will create the biggest impact and be the easiest to change.
Here are a few specific examples:

  • Providing the minimum necessary amount of info to the first time international students in exchange for their email address.
  • Turning a complicated step for students into a multi-step process.
  • Adding a well-placed “Refer-a-Friend” program.
  • Adding an effective email autoresponder sequence.
  • Using social media to reach out to former international students.

Step 3. Learn who your potential international student applicants are and why they are not applying.
Don’t guess why your potential international students are not applying. If you did not grow up abroad and are not part of the millennial culture, it’s better not to guess why your target students are not interested in your high school. Even when you see from stats what’s happening, you still need to understand why it’s happening. Assuming any process that you have, international students will respond differently based on their type and intentions. For example, it does not matter how great your school program is if you’re asking the wrong people at the wrong time.
To better understand a target audience, we use 2 popular techniques: 15 min usability studies and quick 1 to 5 question surveys. With usability studies, you’re able to find out if international students understand what’s being presented to them and if they know how to complete certain tasks asked of them. With surveys, you would be able to ask specific questions. We recommend that you survey the following 3 groups separately:

  • recently accepted international students
  • students who expressed an interest but will not attend
  • students who are actively researching private boarding high schools.

Step 4. Understand the marketplace for the US international students and where you fit in.
Your high school is not the only private boarding high school in the US. International students have more options than in the past. New foreign policy, media or the president can overnight create a more positive or negative perception of attending a high school in the US. You should devote some time with each improvement to understand what relevant conversations are taking place in the marketplace and how you could position yourself the best by focusing on your high school core strengths.

Step 5. Gather persuasive assets that make you stand out in the eyes of your target international students.
You probably already have many persuasive assets that you’re underutilizing. Your former students who are back in their home country may be willing to write a testimonial, share their story or even be happy to do a meet and greet with your prospective high school students worldwide. Finding and reconnecting with alumni has never been easier with Facebook and other social media platforms that have over 2 billion active users.

Step 6. Design your improvements.
Now that you have done necessary research it’s the time to execute your improvement. You should prioritize changes that will results in the biggest and fastest potential results. Bigger, bolder improvements should be given a higher priority, small tweaks need to be demoted. You should take into account also how easy is it to execute the improvement. Faster wins that have a bigger impact should be prioritized.
As you design your improvement, think about some of the following questions:

  • Are you attracting motivated and independent international students?
  • Are you presenting your unique value proposition clearly?
  • Are you reducing the process resistance for students and your admissions office team?
  • Are you offering an incentive for students to complete the next step?
  • Are you removing anxiety about providing information?

Step 7. Create bold and engaging test pages.
You live in a great new world where it is much easier to test new ideas. When I was applying for admission in high school, the process was completely paper based and all information sharing was still done via brochures. Those times are long gone. Here are a few quick tips as you are creating test pages:

  • Do A/B testing of web pages in real time and get results within days.
  • Record a sample of your visitor traffic and watch it later.
  • Make sure your designs load correctly on both mobile and desktop.
  • Use a CMS that allows for fast experimentation (example: WordPress or Drupal).
  • Make sure to do proper testing of test pages before going live.

Step 8. Execute your improvement.
Finally it’s time to execute your improvement. Ideally you would be in a position to execute 1-2 improvements every month.
Pay close attention at the experiment execution and write down ideas and comments for the following experiments.
Explain everyone on your team again:

  • Why you’re running the improvement
  • How it fits into your admissions process
  • How it aligns with the overall goal
  • How you will measure the success.

Step 9. Summarize the improvement results and prepare for a new run.
Your ultimate goal is to increase the number of quality international students. However sometimes you will have to rely on smaller wins along the way that will help you achieve your main metric. Examples would include email signups and initial interest form submissions.

Final thoughts: 

  • You will not be able to do everything at once. You should do 1 improvement at a time and focus on what’s the most important.
  • Rely on the experience from each improvement and add additional ideas to the idea pool. We recommend having at least 50 ideas at any time but executing only the one of the highest priority.
  • After you have reached enough quality international students, you may consider applying the same methodology to the rest of your admissions department.
  • I welcome questions about this methodology and hope you use it to attract many more qualfied international students. 

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