Student recruitment: targeting the schools that matter

Why should universities look to the world’s internationals schools as a reliable source for undergraduates?

The international private schools market is becoming recognised by universities and colleges around the world as a reliable source for good quality international undergraduates. Two experts within their fields explain why 

The college counsellor

Elisabeth Marksteiner is a college counsellor at the International School of Zug and Luzern in Switzerland. She has presented at NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counselling) and OACAC (Overseas Association for College Admission Counselling) conferences and the Council of International Schools Forum on international admissions and guidance. Elisabeth explains why international school students make good recruiting sense for universities:

“The International School of Zug and Luzern has over 1,200 students from around 45 different nationalities and a cohort of about 100 students each year heading to university. On average, 95% of our grade 12 (year 13) students go on to higher education in many countries of the world. Although each cohort varies, on average 60% of the students end up applying to universities in the UK, 25% to the US, and some in The Netherlands, Canada and elsewhere.

Trends that I am seeing today are that more international school students are concerned with the university costs and course sizes in the UK, and students are no longer automatically considering the US, UK and Canada but looking at English-medium higher education options globally and searching out best value. Notably an increasing number are selecting The Netherlands as a study destination. These students talk about the benefits of smaller class sizes and more contact time and this is making others seriously consider where they are going on to higher education and what they will get out of it.

Recruiting undergraduates from international schools

So why should universities look to the world’s internationals schools as a reliable source for undergraduates? In international schools you will find students of all nationalities who have a good standard of English, who are learning recognised curricula and gaining such qualifications as A levels, the International Baccalaureate Diploma or Advanced Placement, who are willing and able to pay the university fees, and who are well advised by dedicated college counselling staff.  These students are looking for good standard international university opportunities, and many are used to being independent and transient and know that university is the same.

Aiming for student retention

My priority as a college counsellor is to help my students find the right course in the right university where they will be happy and successful. A good fit is the key to student retention. I help the students to consider all details to ensure they know exactly what to expect. I encourage them to ask such questions as: how big will the lectures be? Are they supported by tutorials? How many contact hours will I have each week? Am I getting value for money?”

The international undergraduate recruiter

One of the university officers who Elisabeth has worked very closely with for several years is Marie-Anne Martin. Marie-Anne has spent the last eleven years working in higher education student recruitment, specialising in schools relationship marketing at Regent’s University London and now as Head of European Recruitment at New College of the Humanities in London.

Marie-Anne explains why she believes the English-medium international private schools market is an important target market for her: “International schools have a very strong profile. They provide a credible and diverse cohort, many have a tradition of sending students to the UK, their parents are investing in secondary level education with the goal of a good university experience, and most international schools have one or more guidance counsellor or careers adviser who supports the students with their university choices and applications. The counsellor is my conduit to students and this helps me to expand my student reach. So developing a relationship with the counsellor is vital.

Direct connections

Good relationships for me require face-to-face communication and so I spend a lot of time on the road visiting highly targeted international schools; those that provide A levels or A level equivalents such as the IB Diploma and APs, that have small class sizes, are accessible to me and that welcome university visits.

I work with around 450 international schools across 25 countries in Europe and each year visit about 120 of them. This is an affordable route to reaching good calibre students compared to fairs and agents; I’ve never been charged for a school visit; costs are simply my travel and subsistence. The concentration of international schools in Europe means that I can visit many schools rapidly, often two or three schools in one day.

School visits mean that I can focus on both short-term targets of enquiry and application generation and conversion and, importantly, on longer term investment as a result of building genuine relationships with the college counsellors. Relationships really do make a difference. Once I have established a good working relationship with a college counsellor, that’s my competitive advantage. So, when I make a school visit, in addition to presenting to students, I always try to schedule one-to-one time with the school counsellor. This means that I can make sure that they are advising their students about my university and our courses in the most informed way.

Extending the reach

In addition to school visits, we utilise direct mail campaigns to maintain communication. This includes a monthly college counsellors newsletter and a poster campaign which has helped continue the visibility of the university name and brand in the schools following my visits.

To date, New College of the Humanities has had four cohorts of admissions and our work with the international schools has yielded very high quality candidates including targeted applications resulting in high conversion rates. My visits have seen immediate gain in the form of student applications and successful recruitment, as well as longer term gain of school and counsellor relationships. We are now adapting and replicating the same marketing efforts in other markets, specifically the Middle East and Asia.”

Advice from the experts

Elisabeth and Marie-Anne offer their advice to universities looking to develop their international student admissions:

Elisabeth says:

  • Detailed information and transparency on all courses is very important so that students know what to expect. This will help to avoid any surprises and will reduce the likelihood of students dropping out of a course that isn’t right for them.
  • Get to know the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme and Advanced Placement qualifications well. Know what is expected of students working towards these qualifications and make sure you are offering fair, comparable course requirements.
  • Face-to-face visits to international schools are highly valuable. The likelihood of an application being made is so much greater if a university visits and connects directly with students and the college counsellor.
  • My students have found it very beneficial when a university comes and holds a taster lecture; it presents not only the institution but the faculty. It’s a great way of marketing your university. For practical purposes, this can also be offered online or via a webinar. Maybe deliver a lecture that supports the A level, IB or AP syllabus so that it has immediate as well as long-term value.
  • Almost all of our students use Connecting with students through social media is a great way forward for universities; it’s the way young people choose to find out about what matters to them. Some universities employ a team of their students to answer student enquiries via social media. When that works well, it is very effective.

Marie-Anne Martin says:

  • Every university has a beautiful website and printed materials but face-to-face communication provides a two-way process between the recruiter and the student. It provides the chance to tailor the message to the priorities of the student. The same applies for the college counsellors.
  • The international private schools market is a growing market and it’s a good time to develop relationships now as new schools are emerging.
  • ISC Online from The International School Consultancy, the leading provider of data on the international schools market, allows you to identify all possible target schools effectively.
  • Focus your efforts on international schools in targeted regions.  Remember that you will be competing for time with many other student recruiters from universities all over the world.  This is a marketing approach that is particularly popular with the American and Dutch as well as an increasing number of British universities, so get planning early to maximise your visits.
  • In addition to the school visits you might want to consider attendance at international school college fairs. These are typically low cost or free and many schools will open up their fairs to all the other local schools within the area.

More information and data about the international schools market is available from The International School Consultancy You can contact Marie-Anne Martin at and Elisabeth Marksteiner at

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