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Why universities shouldn’t underestimate student recruitment events

Universities should make use of university fairs to increase student engagement. Source: Shutterstock

We are moving towards an increasingly digital world with the growth of AI and robotics, but there are still several areas where human interaction is important and takes precedence over technology.

An example lies in student recruitment events, where universities can connect with students on a personal level, allowing them to learn more about how that particular university could be a good fit for them.

A recent report by QS highlighted the need for universities to maximise their potential at student recruitment events, as they are still a highly-effective marketing tool.

Universities should not underestimate the level of engagement they can receive from student recruitment events, commonly known as university fairs or expos.

Katerina Kederova, Head of Operations at QS and expert in student recruitment events, said, “Nothing can replace…face-to-face interaction. Higher education is a massive investment and psychologically people want to “see” what they are signing up to, and to whom they are giving their money.”

It’s also a great way to engage international students as many would not have considered a particular university if they had not had the opportunity to meet representatives face-to-face.

University fairs abroad are an excellent way to show international students what they can expect from a school, as well as how inclusive and diverse they are.

According to Chris Parr, journalist for Times Higher Education, international student recruitment fairs take place all over the world every year, and they offer the chance for students to speak to representatives from universities far and wide.

He wrote, “students can meet with peers considering overseas study, and also hear from experts on a range of practical issues such as applying for visas, accessing scholarships, and comparing tuition fee costs.”

A personalised experience

Student recruitment events offer the chance for students to have face-to-face interaction with university representatives. Source: @isnexpoinc/Facebook

When a student and/or their parents meet a school rep at a recruitment event, they gain a ‘contact’ who they can reach out to in the future when it comes to preparing an application or refining their choice of schools.

According to the report, “Prospective students worldwide often express intense frustration with the application process, which they attribute to a lack of clarity on university websites and even, in some cases, to dropped applications.”

This is especially true for international students, where time differences and geographical divides can make it difficult for them to contact universities abroad.

If they have a contact they can get in touch with for support later on, this can reduce the impact of a frustrating experience.

Katerina equates this experience to buying a house, where people typically won’t buy a house on the internet without talking to the seller and seeing the property first.

Aled Owens, Vice President of Business Development & Strategy, and Graduate Management Education expert at QS, said, ““I have seen institutions focus heavily on stand-alone web and email content, but candidates tell us that the in-person meeting has actually become more important with the increase of information being delivered to them virtually.

“While the university experts on hand at the stands are, of course, equipped with information about the different degrees available, and how much you can expect to pay, speaking to representatives (and often alumni) face-to-face can give potential students the chance to ask questions that cannot be answered by a website or prospectus,” he notes.

Connecting with as many candidates as possible

Universities should spread the word about their involvement in a particular event to engage as many students as possible. Source: @isnexpoinc/Facebook

Student recruitment events allow universities to engage and make contact with a large number of potential candidates.

The report writes, “Rather than being a single occurrence that begins – and ends – when exhibitors arrive, recruitment fairs should be viewed as a longer-term investment that requires thorough preparation, marketing and post-event strategizing.”

Therefore, universities must make good use of these events to maximise attendance and connect with as many students as possible.

How can they do so?

One simple yet effective solution to increase attendance is to spread the word by creating a buzz on social media and advertising on local platforms and through their own channels, such as websites and newsletters.

Aled suggests, ““Try to engage with candidates pre-event in a way that other institutions aren’t – think about your email communication and how it can stand out in terms of things like content and timing and integrate content strategies into your outreach.”

They can also recruit alumni groups and local partner institutions such as high schools and employers to get the word out.

Katerina advised, “Event organizers usually provide a database of registrants before the event
which can be harnessed to send a message out, highlighting the benefits of attending and meeting face-to-face.”

A good branding opportunity 

Student recruitment events are a great way for universities to brand themselves in new markets. Source: University or Toronto

In today’s higher education landscape, branding is increasingly important. Aled explains how an effective brand strategy can improve and maximise attendance results at recruitment events, especially in markets where it’s tough competition.

“If you are recruiting in markets for the first time, or in places that you feel your brand flies under the radar, think about paid advertising opportunities to get in front of prospective event attendees – a small amount of ad spend can significantly increase the value you take from an expensive event trip.”

The report stated, “Some institutions need to focus their efforts on branding in certain markets if competition is high. Investment in raising the profile of an institution, in cases such as this, is extremely worthwhile.”

Katerina says that it’s also a good opportunity for universities to show students what their unique selling points are, and it can make a huge difference to attendance at these events. For example, highlighting that the university offers “scholarships for Mexican students”, if attending an event in Mexico.

The higher education industry is highly competitive, and universities would be wise to take advantage of student recruitment fairs to attract more international students.

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