How to Recruit, Communicate With and Counsel International Undergraduate Students and their Parents

G. John Cole 13/09/17 06:00

A recent report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) suggests that counselors at US colleges and universities will benefit from multicultural competency training and other forms of professional development to more sensitively respond to the needs of the growing international student population.

Many international students progress to higher education directly from US high schools, where some enroll in order to improve their prospects of getting into a top university. However, these students’ continued use of the same third party agents who oversaw their high school enrollment can be a barrier to communication with the institutions to which they aspire.


Three-quarters of US counselors report that their students work with such agents, while none of those schools covered by the report have a written strategy in place on how an institution’s counselors should collaborate with these external advisors. Alongside other language and cultural barriers, this means that, on the whole, counselors may tend to apply the same approaches to communicating with international students as they do with domestic students. 

While the benefits of improved levels of understanding and empathy are apparent, it is the implementation of more concrete strategies that will lead to the development of these soft skills.

As with all relationships, the first impression can be crucial in fostering trust and facilitating an open dialogue. This process actually begins in-house, with the adoption of more efficient inquiry management strategies to enable a department to respond in a timely and appropriate manner. An auto-response containing links to information resources should be generated if a reply will take more than 24 hours. When that full response is sent it should preferably be personalized, be written in the student’s native language, and flag up connections to the school’s social networks. But while email is a cheap, versatile and usable medium, it is important to remain open to more appropriate forms of communication depending on the circumstances.

Working with a reliable solutions specialist is a great way to streamline these processes, by establishing a medium between the prospective student and the school. Aim to make your programs available to students and their parents discover programs and schools through organic search results and on trusted, highly-ranked pages. This confirms legitimacy and develops a strong brand presence to universities and programs that may not have the clout of big-name schools or household names. Higher education marketing specialists can also help you gather, and filter, information about prospective students, giving you the tools and confidence to connect with students using appropriate, personalized, effective outreach strategies. Remember, a great first impression is the best tools for a successful follow-up.


Social media is another area in which counselors and marketers alike can connect with, learn from, and develop relationships with existing and potential students and their parents. There has been a 21% increase in social media users since 2015, and an incredible 83% of prospective students are using social media to research universities. A similar proportion of international students report using social media before making contact with a university, and 42% reckon they would like to use WhatsApp as their mode of communication. But social media is not just about one-to-one communication: it is a place to tell and observe stories, to understand the way that international students think and feel, and to respond proactively.

Parents have other concerns. Reassuring them – or being ready for tough questions – on subjects like cost, safety, the legitimacy of the school, and administrative processes, can all help to foster productive relationships. Their kids are leaving for foreign shores, often with little life experience behind them: figuring out how to communicate with parents will strengthen your chances of attracting overseas talent to a school, as well as smoothing the process when problems arise.

It's a big moment for students and their parents, and some worries are inevitable. As a counselor with more experience than the client, the best thing to do is to stay positive. Sometimes a college or a course just isn’t right for a particular student; instead, building relationships and providing students with a fuller set of decision-making tools are valuable steps for all involved. When a student finds the right ‘fit,' communication and problem-solving are issues which all parties can take in their stride.