The webinar about university pathway support for international school students provided some excellent advice for international officers, who also asked a range of questions. Three members of the panel: Erika Toren, Director of College Counselling and Student Services at TASIS The American School in England, Michael Francis, Director of Careers and University Guidance at the British International School Cairo in Egypt, and Logan Westmoreland, University Counsellor at the American School of Milan in Italy respond to the questions here:
Question: If personal relationships are important, yet your inboxes so full, how can universities build a relationship with you? Is it best to engage on social media first, or to make contact on a certain day or at a certain time of year, or to start by networking at a conference or event?
Michael says: Send personalised messages which show understanding of the school’s context rather than emails which might appear mass market. Emails with a specific focus.
Erika answers: Share your contact details and allow us to contact you personally, please.
Question: How can we make sure we create a direct line of communication with college counsellors so that students don’t go through the stress of receiving ‘incomplete/follow-up’ emails, while also not bombarding and overwhelming counsellors with such emails? What have you seen is the best path to achieve this?
Erika answers: same as above; share your contact details and allow us to contact you personally. And please answer the students’ emails.
Logan says: I’m not sure how to resolve the email issue, I do like Erika’s idea. However, if there was a way to programme the computers to not put out an ‘incomplete file’ message to the students until the middle of January, that would allow the bottlenecked system to catch up and find all the missing school documents, and the students would be less stressed, and we would not have to do double the work – which means resending everything to you directly again. And sometimes it results in triple the work because I have to send the stressed parents a screenshot proving that I did my job and sent all the school documents in December, and another screenshot, proving that I resent the paperwork off again via email!
Question: If the model of hosting virtual college fairs has been working so well, do you believe you will want to go back to hosting in-person college fairs in the future?
Erika responds: Yes! My students do not attend virtual conferences or fairs. They do not talk to the reps. They do respond to in-person visits.
Logan says: I hope we continue to have in-person college fairs in the future. One thing that I added to our fair three years ago was having each college do a 20-minute presentation during the fair (if they wanted). We have the classroom space to spread out in, since our fair is held in the evening. It works beautifully and allows the admissions reps to switch gears for a few minutes and present to a larger group. I have about 10 colleges present at one time in different classrooms throughout the school while the other reps stay at their designated tables in the cafeteria and talk to the parents who don’t want to go to the presentations. Once one group of presenters is done, they go back to their tables and 10 more reps go and do their presentations. This continues throughout the evening. It’s a nice way to add some variety to a fair.
Our virtual fair was a huge success as well and maybe we could do a combination of both virtual and in-person in the same evening, for those colleges that can’t travel or don’t have the budget to travel.
Michael answers: What is the purpose of university fairs? The challenge is to allow students and parents to explore a variety of institutions and courses. We organised two online events during the pandemic and hosted more than 300 institutions. This scale would not have been possible face-to-face. The impact is immediate, the format proposed was flexible (speed dating type approach) allowing each HE institution to showcase. There is a place for in-person fairs, especially for popular institutions, however, virtual fairs allow students to get a taster of universities that they might not have encountered otherwise. University visits should be reviewed; our school community needs to know what HE institutions have to offer but it is also important for university representatives to know our students and their contexts.
Question: In the webinar, Erika mentioned smaller group meetings with universities as being helpful. We plan to send counsellors on our mailing list (roughly) quarterly emails with updates about our institution. Will counsellors find information presented in an email helpful? Or would they rather receive quarterly webinars/meetings where we can provide updates live and answer questions live?
Erika answers: The groups that did virtual sessions in August/September with a ‘draw name’ university, had much more attendance than a single small uni. Sorry, it is true. The students will visit your campus virtually as a single school if they are interested. That does not help answer the question of how to grab their attention in the first place. I think counsellor fly-ins might be more profitable in the future. If I see a university, I can bring it back to my office and describe it to the student. It also gives me a better idea of ‘fit’ on a student by student basis.
Question: Do counsellors ever use counsellor-specific webpages on university websites? How can we better promote these as resources for counsellors so we don’t necessarily have to bombard their inboxes with emails?
Logan replies: Yes, I do, if I can find it. I also like the colleges that post their international admissions representative contact information. However, sometimes the webpages and admissions reps emails are really tricky to find. Even when I search for them in the search bar. If they can be more visible or easier to find, that would be helpful.
Michael says: I spend a lot of time reading about universities and visiting their websites, however, too often university websites are a labyrinth of information and anyone can get lost. A university newsletter is something that I would read if it summarises information relevant to students, counsellors, and university events, and has the contact details of the university regional recruitment team. Direct connections and networking are the key to establish meaningful dialogue.
Question: Organising fairs etc. requires sending emails. How can we do this easily and effectively and what’s the best time to start planning these for best engagement with college counsellors?
Michael says: University consortia or group fairs work well. Collaborating is always a good idea. These could be a mixture of short university presentations combined with specific subject-focused, practical workshops (personal statement, essay writing, etc). Many institutions want to talk to our final year students but really by then it is too late. Universities need to establish that rapport with students and parents much earlier, proposing workshops and events that will allow universities and schools to exchange.
Erika replies: I think fairs work best in larger groups and timing is key. Fall is for everyone. Spring is for Juniors.
Question: In a lot of cases, it is the parents who are making the decisions on whether students will be deferring or studying abroad and not the students themselves. How can universities reassure parents as well as students? Have you/would you organise parent events also with universities?
Erika says: Unfortunately, yes. We used to have events at TASIS just for parents. I guess now the virtual events are for everyone. But… students don’t talk when parents are in the room, be it virtual or physical!
Logan says: We invite our parents to all of our college presentations, university fairs, and college visits.
Michael replies: Involving more university Student Ambassadors from the region helps. Knowing your students’ local links and diversity works a treat and can be used to engage prospective students and their parents. It can also provide reassurance to anxious families regarding all aspects of university life. We have organised student alumni events for parents and students and these are the most popular events. School alumni are trusted in a way that unknown students can never be.
Thanks go to our panel for their valuable feedback and solution suggestions here and during the webinar. Listen to the full webinar here
For more support with international school college counsellor and Higher Education institution engagement, contact ISC Research: [email protected]