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Family Matters: How to Include Parents in International Student Recruitment

More and more parents are opting for their children to study abroad – HSBC's 2017 Value of Education survey reported that 41% of the 8,481 participating families said they would consider sending their children abroad to pursue post-secondary education. As the education sector finds itself looking increasingly outward, recruitment efforts must be designed to understand and appeal to not only student decision-makers but also the entire family.

Although it is easy to assume that students are heavily influenced by their peers, it is unwise to underestimate the sway of Mom and Dad: HSBC's 2015 survey of the same name found that parents proved to be more influential than friends and classmates, with more than 75% of students reporting that their parents were 'highly influential' in their decision-making. In China, this expands to include grandparents - in 2015, HSBC reported that 41% of Chinese parents expect their own parents to share in shouldering the financial burden of paying for post-secondary education.

In China, the demand for an international education remains high: in 2017, HSBC reported that 54% of parents in China would consider sending their children to pursue education abroad. As of HSBC's 2015 report, 38% of parents made the decision about what their students studied, and 37% decided where. With 94% of Chinese parents having a particular occupation in mind for their children, parents pulling the purse strings often have the final say.

While academics remain a top concern, parents are increasingly prioritizing campus atmosphere and the school’s value of their children as individuals. HSBC cites lack of safety and security as the top concern among Chinese parents sending their children abroad. In 2018, RSAcademics published its Ten Trends report that marked ‘leadership and management’ and ‘quality of teaching and learning’ as two of the top ten factors influencing parent satisfaction. With many parents being unable to visit their child’s campus, it is critical that schools communicate to parents that their needs are being met.

Successful recruitment means understanding and managing different expectations and needs of students and parents and designing marketing strategies accordingly:

  • Parent-Focused Communication: Create opportunities for parents to connect with their student's experience and lessen their reliance on outside sources of information by offering dedicated website pages targeting factors that are most likely to be of concern. The Ten Trends report noted that parents highly value communication and feedback, making it essential that schools understand the consumer behavior of the family as a whole.

  • Start at the Source: Talk to current students about their parent's involvement in their application process and crowd-source FAQs. This will help you understand and meet needs before they arise.

  • Highlight Student Outcomes: Successful graduate outcomes from the student's source countries will go a long way in influencing parental decision-making. Understanding market-specific needs is crucial in showing how your institution can solve student problems and encourage best outcomes.

  • Student Ambassadors: Using ambassadors from target countries will assure parents that their children too will be happy and successful on campus.

  • Use word-of-mouth: Word-of-mouth recommendations are hugely influential, especially in countries where your campus might not have a strong physical presence. Satisfied parents are ones who know the school well and are equipped to communicate their student’s and, by extension, the school’s, successes.

Parents want to see their students succeed: academically, socially and culturally, and parent satisfaction is a key factor in student outcomes. High levels of parent engagement ensures that parents are better equipped to offer support and guidance to their students, and help them make informed decisions through application processes and on campus. As more parents look to send their children to study abroad, anticipating and exceeding the needs of parents is the critical in ensuring your school attracts students who are equipped to succeed.

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