Opinions by Mackenzie Zak, Director of Operations LATAM at Ustudy Global
Attention all recruiters, universities, and admissions officers. Mackenzie here, with some first-hand perspective on recruiting students for Higher Education out of Mexico. As 2017 comes to a close, it’s time to be strategic about 2018 and our recruitment goals.
For those institutions tuning in from the US, I know it’s been a period of transition, post-Trump election. However, things are looking up! Our friends at Intead recently released their Fall 2017 Know your Neighborhood report, and according to their survey about the reaction to Donald Trump as president, numbers on ‘less likely to study in the US following the election of Donald Trump’ have improved! In 2016, 80% of Mexican respondents said they would be less likely to go to the United States to study, a figure that dropped to 61% in 2017. It’s our job as recruiters to change the narrative and put our student’s minds at ease. Things are looking up, my friends.
Now that we’ve addressed the bad-haired, orange-skinned elephant in the room, allow me to share some of my first-hand insights and recommendations after a whirl-wind year of working on-the-ground with prospective Mexican students.
Oh my, I could write an entire article solely on this topic. However, I’ll save you the headache! One of the top challenges I’ve faced in dealing with students in Mexico is communication. The majority of students I come in contact with are between 16-18 years old, and it’s been a game of trial-and-error in our office to see what works. We initially reached out to students through phone calls. Well, something important to keep in mind is that telemarketing in Mexico is HUGE, and extremely annoying. Therefore, a lot of our phone calls were being dodged, and really became a waste of time. Then, we went to our fallback, email. After being flooded with emails having the full message written in the ‘Subject’ box, and no content in the actual message, I realized that many of these kids have no clue how to write an email, let alone answer one properly. So, this led us to the glorious solution that is WhatsApp. For those of you who are not familiar, WhatsApp is a free messaging application you can download on your smart phone and even use from your desktop, and is widely used in Mexico and Latin America.
Sending a student you just met a text message may seem somewhat invasive, but it’s honestly the perfect solution. If they don’t want to talk to you, they’ll simply ignore your message (you’ll get 2 little blue check marks next to your message if they’ve read it), and you’ll know where you stand. I’ve found that approaching students through WhatsApp almost makes them feel more comfortable with me, I’m reaching out to them as a friend, not some intimidating adult. *DISCLAIMER* Be prepared to get random messages from students at all hours, weekends, etc. If you want to set boundaries, take one from their playbook, and simply do not open the message until you’re ready and available to respond. It’s a major faux-pa to give someone the blue check marks and not respond. “Me dejó en visto” (He/she read it and didn’t answer) is a sure-fire way to tarnish your already precarious relationship with the prospective student.
Side note: Mexico is a budget-sensitive market. Be clear and forthright with your tuition costs and scholarship opportunities from the beginning, to save time and assess the student’s realistic likelihood of enrolling in your institution. Involving parents from the beginning is the best way to go about doing this.
Going back to Know Your Neighborhood, 52% of prospective Mexican students find meeting an agent in their home country very helpful. But what about the other 48%? It’s important to find ways to reach students where they are… and that usually means online. Obviously all universities or colleges have their own websites, but honestly, they’re usually confusing and hard for international students to navigate. Many platforms are out there, designed to be either an index or a place for students to apply. We’ve recently launched our own, Findcourse.com, which serves as an all-in-one platform for students to see complete transparent costs and scholarship information, housing options, programs, and even apply right there. We’re removing the in-person aspect of working with an agent. However, little do they know, our experienced counselors are behind-the-scenes to provide any support they need to complete the admissions process! We give them an online experience so they don’t have to deal with pesky human interaction, but we’re there when they need us.
There are a few ways to establish trust, and if your school already has a strong presence and brand-recognition in the market, chances are you won’t have to work as hard to build it. But what about the smaller school, or the one that isn’t as well-known, or the one that is just starting out in international student recruitment? You must meet the students face-to-face. Boots on the ground, traditional recruitment is key. Typically, families in Mexico are very close-knit, which can make it difficult for some parents to accept sending their children to another country. Taking the time to travel and attend education fairs and recruitment events, where you meet school counselors, students and families directly, is a great way to build and maintain relationships or grow your brand in Mexico. Intead’s report also shows that 54% of prospective Mexican students find meeting an admissions officer in their home county as very helpful (see link to resource below).
All you need is one. Capitalize on that one. Word-of-mouth is something we have little control over, but it’s SO POWERFUL! A recommendation from a friend goes such a long way in Mexico. Go the extra mile to make sure international students have a great support system and resources on campus. Sharing testimonials from past or current Mexican students can also be very influential. Give your international students the support they need and the experience they desire, and you can sit back, relax, and watch the applications roll in.
In conclusion, Mexico is a huge market with even bigger potential, if you know how to approach it. You can’t rely on just one strategy if you are seeking maximum results. We recommend utilizing as many as possible, and Ustudy can offer a few different solutions (agency, events and digital strategy). There are so many cultural considerations to take into account, but I hope these tips are useful to you going into 2018! Happy Recruiting!
Know Your Neighborhood: Influencers, Interests, and Political Reactions in the International Student Population – Fall 2017, Intead