Volume 11: Recruiting Latin American Students the Power of 7

With COVID 19 posing more challenges than ever before within international student recruitment, there has never been a more important time for universities to go that extra mile and manage a tailored approach to attract students. From over 10 years´ experience working with student recruitment in Latin America, below are 7 important points to take into consideration to attract students from Latin America:

1) Having a clear summary of the institution´s key proposition is key and this should be communicated well

Unless the institution already has a strong brand name in Latin America, it can be hard to differentiate yourself from the competition. Universities that are successful have a clear understanding of their strengths and consistently play to these with clear communication.

Some of the strongest points to communicate when summarising your institution’s key strengths and advertising to Latin American students are:

  1. Strongest courses in your portfolio (think rankings) and how do they fit within Latin American markets (are there government sponsor bodies looking to sponsor a student to those programmes etc.)?
  2. What is attractive about the university location?
  3. Who are successful alumni from Latin America?
  4. What scholarships are offered?
  5. University awards /recognition
  6. Online options / blended learning during COVID 19 times.

Latin students like to be in the know and therefore 5 or 6 summarised points outlining the above points work best for most.

Aside from this, during this time of COVID-19, it is also important for institutions to clearly communicate their strategy regarding managing the virus and distribute this information to students on a regular basis digitally. Furthermore, it is also important to summarise how students will be studying (distance, blended, or fully on-campus) and update this as the pandemic progresses.

2) Use the right recruitment channels

It is important to get the recruitment channel mix correct. The following are the key recruitment channels used by universities to attract Latin American students: agencies, international schools, university partnerships, government and non-government scholarship organisations, social media, fairs and exhibitions, and clear marketing materials.

It is important to think about which of these channels or combinations of channels are going to elicit the best returns for you before tailoring a strategic plan? Who is going to manage each of these channels? Have you considered in-market management of your recruitment channels to support the coordination and execution of your recruitment channel mix?

Currently, due to COVID 19, physical fairs and exhibitions are non-existent. Therefore, it is ever more important to support local agents with marketing campaigns as they have a large database of students and are key to connecting directly with prospects. Although some of the large fair providers are running digital fairs, our experience so far has been very mixed, whilst agent fairs and webinars have proven more beneficial.

3) Don’t forget the face-to-face time (Zoom, Skype, etc.)

Whilst online marketing and social media are important forms of communication, nothing is as important as face to face time and relationship building with key stakeholders. Latin Americans are very social and whilst relationships can take time to develop, most business is done through networking. Due to the closeness of Latin American families, parents (especially Mums) are very involved in the student decision making and it’s a good idea to try and meet parents at an early stage of the enquiry process.

Although physical meetings can no longer take place, video calls are just as important and are a great alternative during the pandemic.

4) Follow up, follow up and follow up…

Whichever recruitment channel (or mix of) that you use, it is very important to follow up with potential students. Traditionally representatives from institutions normally take names of enquirers, send an email and then wait for a response or hand leads to a central team who then contact the student. A better conversion rate will occur in Latin America if you communicate with the enquirers through WhatsApp (preferred social media in Latin America) and/or Skype.

Potential students expect an instant response and will prefer to continue the process of admissions with a representative who they know and are comfortable with. As we know, the lead-in time for students to apply can range from a few weeks to a few years. Therefore, a contact management system should be used where regular contact is kept with enquirers. Don’t leave contact with students and miss the opportunity of more enrollments until you have a definitive response.

5) A three-year market development plan

Although the current COVID pandemic may make it harder to plan for the future, in order to succeed in Latin America it is still advised to put a minimum 3-year market development plan in place. Appointing agents, signing agreements with sponsors and developing links with schools and universities will usually take time in Latin America and patience is needed. The hierarchical and relationship building culture means that business agreements are signed off slower than in other markets.

However, do not be deterred as a strong cohort of Latin American students offer significant benefits to a university, including; studying a range of different subjects, adding to class diversity, participating in group discussions, providing important networking opportunities to their classmates and bringing proficient English levels.

For these reasons, it is worth investing for the medium to long term in Latin America and setting realistic expectations.

6) Use your networks

Amongst your biggest supporters in Latin America are current students and alumni. Share your marketing ideas and ask for help from both groups especially on webinars. The combination of a university representative and local current student or alumni supporting you is invaluable and will give you a point of differentiation. Similarly, video recordings in Spanish or Portuguese from students whilst studying at university can make a big impact on social media. Alumni also provide other contacts and networks especially when they are back from their studies. Some institutions offer referral fees for recommending students. However, in my experience students and alumni will usually help recruit for free but do appreciate a token amount when helping at exhibitions. Alumni can take on the official role of Ambassadors and/or head up the local Alumni association.

7) Tailoring marketing materials

University marketing materials invariably look very similar, without much differentiation from competitors.

To attract Latin American students, we would suggest designing a flyer in Spanish/Portuguese with 5 or 10 key selling points of your university so that students understand what the university offers up-front. Key contact information should be displayed across the suite of marketing materials you have so that students can instantly connect with the right person for their enquiry. Consider a Latin America email address if more than one person will be dealing with the enquiry. What do Latin American students look for when they are deciding on a university? The location, cost of tuition, subject-specific rankings, scholarships and testimonials of Latin American students are all important when comparing universities. It is amazing how difficult it is to find this information on many university websites.

About the Author

Simon Terrington

Simon Terrington is an International Education Marketing specialist with over 20 years’ experience of successfully working for Universities and private education companies within a range of different International marketing roles. Simon lives in Latin America where he co-founded, managed and then sold an education agency (MAS Education). He then worked as Recruitment Director, Latin America for INTO University Partnerships and has now launched EdCo LATAM Consulting, supporting International Universities in their recruitment efforts across Latin America.

Previously, Simon worked for City University, managing the marketing activities for an academic department and had similar experiences at Middlesex University Business School and the University of Westminster, where he developed innovative strategic marketing plans ensuring return on investment. Whilst working at Kaplan International Colleges and NAVITAS, he undertook senior marketing and student recruitment roles.

Simon thrives in dynamic and challenging environments and has successfully opened and developed new markets globally, managed overseas recruitment offices in Asia and South America, designed and implemented marketing plans for academic schools within a University setting, managed staff in different locations internationally, set up three Education businesses (a student recruitment agency, transnational foundation programme and EdCo) negotiated government sponsor contracts, worked closely with admissions teams, managed key relationships both internally and externally and consistently demonstrated strong financial acumen when managing budgets.