Introducing International Student Hangouts for Schools

If you are like most schools that are looking to increase or diversify your international student population, you have looked at many different ways to reach and recruit them.  You have gotten up early, gotten on an airplane, literally flown to the other side of the world looking for students that are a good fit for your school.  You have done virtual student fairs, listed with portal sites and taken your international social media to a new level.  You have the agents that represent your school on speed dial.  But other than traveling across the globe, how else can you put a face to your school and your recruiting efforts?  We have thought long and hard about that as well. That is why we are pleased to introduce International Student Hangouts.

International Student Hangout - SUNY at Brockport

International Student Hangout – SUNY at Brockport

Our Turn-key International Student Hangout is the latest in our suite of online marketing products designed to give you a vehicle to connect with international students live on-air, engage them and answer their questions directly, all in a virtual environment powered by Google.  Google Hangouts can be a very effective way to reach and communicate with prospective international students and a great way for students to see if your institution is a fit for their interests and educational needs.

Your school will gain exposure leading up to the event, during the event and long after the event is over, as your Hangout will be permanently embedded on your school’s Featured Profile and promoted on YouTube. Your event will be marketed through our newsletter, social media, email marketing and banner advertisements.

The best part is that we do all the work! All you need to do is show up, talk about what your school offers and answer questions. We handle all the marketing, set up the event, drive attendance, provide technical support and generate the leads. We will even provide you with the computer, microphone and headset.

We have geared up to host and support the International Student Hangouts.  This year, we have built out a studio in our Neptune Beach headquarters, with lights, cameras and even a green screen.  We have tested and hosted dozens of Hangouts to ensure their success.  We recently hosted a Hangout for Hiram College and this is what Frank Bowman, the Director on International Admissions, had to say afterwards:

“I was impressed with the number of inquiries we got from the Hangout and associated marketing. We had close to 50 inquiries in a 3 day period and through our communications with those inquiries we’ve received applications for Spring and Fall, 2015.”

Do you want to have have an International Student Hangout?  Contact us for more information and to schedule an International Student Hangout for your school.

Posted in International Education Marketing, International Student Recruitment, Lead Generation, Online marketing, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment


Helping International Students Budget for College

482232973One of the biggest challenges any student faces when they go off to college is creating and sticking to a budget. Now, to that add currency fluctuations, unknown living costs, unforeseen circumstances with little support in the host country, and international travel, and it becomes an even more complicated issue.

We work with thousands of international students all trying to navigate their way through the complex web of financing their degree. Sixty-three percent of international students fund the majority of their education out of their own pocket, according to the latest Open Doors Report. In some cases, they are just scraping by. So the question becomes, how can you help your international students when it comes to budgeting?

We’ve identified important ways that you, in international higher ed, can help with the process:

Set Expectations
One of the most important decisions an international student will make is what school they enroll in. After all, this will set the course of their long-term career perspectives, and thus earning potential. In the short-term, however, they may not realize these financial gains, and instead they may break the bank, or go into debt to finance their degree. So, how can you help minimize this?

Set expectations. These financial expectations should be told to students before they enroll in their school. Will they need a car to get around? Does your city have a high cost of living? Do you have an insurance plan that costs upwards of $1,000? How much is your international student fee? These are just some of the questions that students should know the answer to prior to their enrollment.

By setting clearly defined expectations of how much things costs, students and their parents will know full-well how much they can expect to pay for their education, and budget appropriately. While this may seem straight forward, it directly improves the school’s retention rate. When students enroll in your school, they are also committing to covering these expenses as well. When financial surprises come up, this may mean that your phone is ringing off the hook, and students are knocking at your door, wondering how they are going to cover it all.

Add Transparency To The Mix
Now, add transparency to the mix, which is extremely important – and goes hand in hand with setting expectations. Many schools publish an estimated budget for their incoming students, which if accurate can be very helpful. But, what is accurate? Where do these numbers come from? Where does the I-20 proof of funds figure come from?

One school decided to poll their international students to see how much their education cost. They thought that this poll would help provide a more accurate, and more transparent, amount that they could then provide to incoming and prospective students. When they gathered up the data, they found that the numbers were all over the place. Instead of becoming clearer, it was just more confusing!

That’s no surprise, though. Every international student lives differently, some living on Ramen noodles and pizza, and others enjoying the fine-dining eatery down the street. Students must be advised of this, as the cost of living will really depend on the student.

So if that’s the case, what assumptions are being made on your budget? Do you assume that the student will be living on campus, and getting around town by bus? Do you assume that students will go out once a week? Communicating what these numbers represent will help students better assess whether they are on the low-end or high-end of the budget.

Furthermore, I prefer to express estimated budget costs as a range instead of a flat figure. By providing a range, students have more variability and can better assess their life of luxury (or lack thereof). While the I-20 number is important, many schools I’ve spoken with have said that this is not accurate and representative, but it’s important for schools who are eager to get those international students who are looking for an affordable school. But if you set expectations, and are transparent, you will find that the right type of student is enrolling in your school.

Provide Resources

Once you’ve communicated this information to your students, the next step is to let them know what resources are available for them to get the best bang for their buck.

Orientation is a great time to reach out to your students and communicate what resources are available to them. While orientation is cram packed with just about everything, one of the most important things to communicate is budgeting for school, and how to make their dollar go farther once they arrive. Be sure to have a centralized place where students can access this, preferably online, so that they can always go back in case they forget (which is bound to happen).

I recommend getting your international student club on campus, or even current students, to help with a cheat sheet of tips and tricks they’ve learned. Have them come up with a list of ways they can make their dollar go farther, including:

  1. Shopping – Do you have a store that has good quality products, but is cheap?
  2. Buying Books – Is there a physical store or an online portal where you can get a good deal?
  3. Health Care – Where should students go for health care so they don’t break the bank?
  4. Working on Campus – Is working on campus available to your international students?
  5. Transportation – What’s the most affordable and most efficient way to get around town?
  6. Eating – What are a few easy to make, affordable recipes students can make at home?

Empower With Budgeting Tools

The next step is to give your students information on what they need to know when it comes to budgeting. I recommend discussing this at orientation, and providing them with resources that will help them make financially wise decisions. In addition to information on tips and tricks to find great deals and lower their costs, I would suggest providing them with an actual budget they can use.

1. Sample Budget
Check out this sample budget that students can use to help keep track of their expenses. This helps students prioritize their finances beginning with the important considerations, and then add further detail to make their budget even more concrete and personalized.

2. Discuss the Do’s and Don’ts – Or Use A Video
You can also go through the do’s and don’ts with students when it comes to budgeting. Don’t have time? We also have a budgeting video that outlines the steps to develop their own budget so that it works for them, in a quick and painless way.

3. Provide a check list on pre-arrive and post-arrival
Expenses come in many forms, and giving all the considerations at one time can be overwhelming. While it’s important to have it available to your students, you may find that breaking down the costs both pre-arrival and post-arrival can make this more digestible, and less overwhelming for your students.

4. Check in with your students
Once orientation is over and your international students disburse, you may consider checking in with them from time to time. Depending on your international student population, this may or may not be doable. Use social media, email and other technology to communicate your open door policy in case any financial hardship situations come up.

Share with us what budgeting tips you give your students and how you get the word out there!

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Helping Students Understand Insurance

When it comes to insurance, even the most well versed can sometimes struggle with their deductibles, copays, coinsurance, maximum out-of-pocket – and that is all before you start looking at the actual benefits. When you have students accustom to their healthcare system, that uses different health insurance terms, and add a language barrier to that, you have a situation that can be pretty complicated when trying to introduce students to the US healthcare system!

Video Content

Everything we do at ISI is designed to make things easier for students, from easy-to-understand benefit tables, our school requirements database so students can check if our plans will work for their school, and of course our multilingual customer support team.

However, in the summer of 2013, we embarked on a mission to make insurance even easier to understand and the first step was to integrate more visuals into what we do. Our “Overview of the US Healthcare System” was the first step, which is a short six minute video designed to educate student (in a fun way) about how the healthcare system in the USA works. It is perfect for student orientations and for school websites, where it can be embedded (at not cost).

We then set out to create four shorter videos which explain our main products – students can watch the videos to determine which plan is right for them. These videos are available on our homepage and respective product pages. All with the main goal to make insurance easier to understand.

Language Content

The next step in better understanding is to provide more of our content in the student’s native language. With students from all around the world, this is no easy task, but we are excited to announce that our US Healthcare video now has subtitles in seven different languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic. And, we expect more to come in the future.

We have also been providing customer support in Chinese and Spanish for some time, and we have now extended this to our website! Students can view the whole website in either language – and then contact us for assistance in those languages.

You can learn more about our language capabilities in our recent press release on the subject.

With the complex nature of insurance, coupled with language barriers and background differences, it is really important to make sure students understand the products they are purchasing and what they cover so they can determine if it is right for them. Hopefully with the videos, and growing language capabilities, we will continue to be an industry leader in helping students understand insurance!

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Back to School Tech 2014

I’ve collected some of the cooler and more interesting tech gadgets that could ease you back into the drudgery of school.

chromecastChromecast – One of the smallest and easiest to use streaming media devices out there. For $35 you get a tiny stick computer that plugs straight into the HDMI port on your TV or Monitor, connect to your WiFi network and then control the device from your cell phone, tablet or computer. You can stream Google’s own movie and music to it, Netflix, HBO’s Go service, Hulu, YouTube and dozens more.

goproGoPro HERO camera – Tough, great video and audio, tons of accessories. You’d better be having fun in college and recording those great memories is something that the GoPro excels at. The HERO3 model adds WiFi connectivity and there is an amazing amount of accessories available for the camera, including waterproof housings, helmet mounts, bike mounts, etc. They are available locally at retailers like Best Buy and Walmart and from online vendors like Amazon. Search YouTube for “GoPro” for examples of great footage that a GoPro can capture.

google cardboardGoogle Cardboard – Cheap virtual reality (VR) with Android phone. One of the coolest things to come out of the Google I/O 2014 conference was Google’s ultra low-budget VR goggles made from a folder piece of cardboard and a few small lenses. Download the Cardboard app from the Play store to your Android phone, slip the the into the front of the device and enjoy VR on the cheap. Buy a kit online or go the DIY route with instructions from Google.

OontZ Angle Ultra bluetooth speakers – Take your party with you with these great sounding portable speakers. A typical charge will last up to 10 hours of playback and the sound is outstanding. Online prices are generally under $45 which makes these portable speakers a great value.

sony sw2Sony Smart Watch SW2 – Leave your Android smart phone in your jacket pocket or backpack but still stay on top of your Facebook feed, text messages, control Spotify, get navigation updates, plus literally hundreds of other apps, all on your bluetooth connected SmartWatch. And it tells time. There are dozens of different SmartWatche’s available and with a street price around $150, the Sony is in the middle of the price range. You can customize the display, from old-school analog clocks to multi-screen digital displays, change out the strap for different looks,

Google Chromebook – Small and lightweight netbooks running the Chrome OS, these tiny netbooks with screens ranging from 10-12″, are some of the smallest and lightest machines available. With the smaller screens and solid state drives instead of moving disk drives, getting 8-10 hours of use before the batteries run flat makes these great for mobile studies. By using cloud storage and online apps, these machines are designed to be online.

Kindle Fire – eBooks, movies, apps, social, email, etc. Amazon has created a line of solid tablets that runs on the Android OS (with some restrictions) and . Prices range from $129 to $199 depending on the screen size, storage size and connectivity options. Amazon also has a special deal for students that give you access to the unlimited instant streaming of movies, tv shows and music for $49 a year. Students can rent textbooks for only the time they need them and carry around a small tablet instead of lugging around a heavy backpack full of books. Save your money and your back.

If you’ve got any other suggestions for tech that would be useful for going back to school, leave me a comment!

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Hangout with Hiram College – Results from a Google Hangout

On July 30th, 2014, InternationalStudent.com held a Google Hangout with Hiram College. It was hosted by Victoria Troupe from International Student and featured Frank Bowman, the Director for International Recruiting at Hiram College and Jihyuk Yim (Estaban), an international student from Paraguay studying economics at Hiram. During the Hangout, prospective students from around the globe had the chance to learn what it is like to attend Hiram College and then to ask questions to Frank and Estaban, which were answered live during the hangout.

Hangout with Hiram

This was our first live Hangout that we hosted with multiple presenters from multiple locations. We ran it from our studios in Neptune Beach, while Frank and Estaban were on campus at Hiram College (Learn more about the technical aspects on our Tech Blog).

We began to market the event on Monday, July 28th through an email that we sent to our newsletter subscription list, reaching roughly 200,000 subscribers. We also sent a reminder the day of the event.

Email

We also complimented the email with social media marketing through Google+,Facebook and Twitter as well as a blog. This was all done in a effort to drive students to attend the hangout and learn more about attending Hiram College.

The great thing about a Hangout is that it lives on forever on the internet. It is on their Featured School profile, in the Hangout section on InternationalStudent.com and on our YouTube channel. So the stats will continue to grow. Here are some of the initial results from Monday, July 28th through the live event on July 30th:

    • Hiram’s Featured School Profile views increased over 800% from the previous month receiving over 2,200 views for the month with 2,100 over the three day period.
    • Hiram College received over 45 inquiries from their Featured School profile as a direct result of the Hangout and the marketing around it. That is a 400% increase.
    • 183 international Students attended the event with over 300 saying they were going to attend.
    • 220 people have viewed the event on YouTube since the event ended.

 

All early indications say this event was quite a success. Do you use Google Hangouts to reach and recruit international students? Contact us if you are interested in learning more about how we can host a Google Hangout for your school.

 

Posted in Email Marketing, Facebook Marketing, International Education, International Education Marketing, Lead Generation, Online marketing, Social Media Marketing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


New NAFSA Data Reveals International Student, Advisor Disconnect

Cartoon businessman shoulder debt box488222725Thanks to new survey data that made its debut at the recent NAFSA conference there was something more concrete for the assembled academics to talk about than usual. The new data gave clear form to the motivations behind international student retention and what it reveals will alternately confirm and confound the expectations of their advisors.

Same Page

The survey, which asked both students and their advisors about the main sources of dissatisfaction for international students, revealed that both parties cited financial concerns as the most pressing concern. 36% of the international students polled in the survey, for example, cited affordability and another 34% cited the availability of scholarships as their main sources of dissatisfaction. A parallel survey indicates that, by and large, international educators and advisors are on the same page: 64% cited “financial difficulties” as the main reason for student attrition – and, again, the student data seems to bear this out. The student survey separated students by “transfer status”* and found that those who do not plan to transfer were twice as likely to report that institutional aid or scholarships are their two principal sources of funding than are students who plan to transfer.

Money Better Spent?

What does all this mean? In a nutshell, it means that the single greatest contributor to international student retention would appear to be the flipside of their greatest reason for dissatisfaction: funding. Unfortunately, despite their aforementioned awareness of this concern, the educators surveyed did not put this issue on the forefront of their list of student retention best practices. Instead international education advisors put far more emphasis on international student life activities, orientations, and academic tracking. This would suggest that they money spent to improve such programs could be better spent by helping students financial. Indeed, correcting such a disparity might go a long way toward increasing international student retention far more effectively than anyone in administration might have expected.

* That is, already transferred, plans to transfer, will not transfer.

Posted in International Education, International Financial Aid, International Scholarships, International Student Loans, International Student Recruitment | Leave a comment


Hangouts On Air with multiple presenters

This year we’ve started using Google’s Hangout On Air (HOA) tool to connect to our student visitors and help them find the information that they are looking for. We’ve done Hangouts for finding scholarships, using your contacts to find a job after school, how international student can build credit, choosing the right health insurance plan, among others.

hoa

One of the challenges to doing a HOA with multiple presenters is making the technology easy to use and robust enough to work almost anywhere. We decided that the easiest solution to implement would be to ship a Chromebook computer directly to the remote location, along with a headset, so that the remote presenter only needs to login to Google with our pre-configured account. Other than connecting to the local WiFi network and plugging in the USB microphone, there is almost no other configuration needed on the remote side.

New software and hardware to improve the quality and features of the presentations:

  • Acer C720 Chromebook – inexpensive yet powerful Chromebook netbook with built-in webcam. This is the computer that we ship to the remote presenter, along with the mic and headsets. We ended up purchasing the 16GB model as we knew local storage would not be required and it fit nicely into our budget.
  • vMix – Video mixing software that we use on our end to help create the Hangout. With this tool we are able to add chromakey effects, do high-quality screen shares, integrate PowerPoint presentations, display pre-recorded videos and more.
  • Sparkocam – I’ve talked about this software in a previous post but it’s the software we use to create a virtual webcam with our Canon t3i DSLR.
  • Green Screen – Bright green fabric that’s clipped to the wall. You want make your talent look like they’re on a sandy beach, the moon or the other side of the world? This is the stuff you need. Our needs are a little more mundane, we display the company logo and the logo of the school we’re working with.
  • Listen only earpiece headset w/3.5mm plug – This headset allows the on-air presenter on our side to hear the remote presenters. We use headsets in our studio to reduce echo and feedback into our studio microphone. It also has the added bonus of making the presenter feel like a secret service agent.

Pro-Tips

  • Create a script for everyone to work from. Get everyone involved the script. The on-air talent needs to know what to say and the producer will need to know what shots and elements will need to be broadcast. Even an informal Hangout will need some structure and the end results will be better with a plan in place.
  • Rehearse the script you just wrote. Don’t wait until 5 minutes before the show starts.
  • Test, test, test everything. Cables break, batteries die, drivers fail to load, lights fall over, things happen. Test everything multiple times till it runs like clockwork.

Results

From our small sample set of completed HOA’s with remote presenters, the results have been very impressive. For our first HOA, the featured school profile for Hiram College received 10x the visitors and leads as a regular day. HOA’s have become a very effective tool for us to connect to students and with a little planning and a reasonable investment in tech resources, you can achieve impressive results.

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The Envisage International Video Series has Launched

As promised, the Envisage International video series has launched. Back in June, we blogged about a new video series that we would be starting in July that would be tailored towards best practices for schools that are marketing their institutions and programs online. Since then, we have introduced our first in a series that we hope will serve as a true resource to any school that is currently using online marketing as a recruiting tool or those that are considering it. In our video series, the videos will be produced by us, but will be case studies of how our partner schools are effectively marketing themselves online and will show you how they are following through with their marketing efforts to establish effective campaigns. If done right, an online marketing campaign can be a very effective way to cast a large net across the globe to find the students that are a good fit for your school. However, it takes more than just putting your school on the web.

Picture1

In our first video of the series, “Turning Inquiries Into Real College Enrollments”, we highlighted our Featured School partner, Felician College, and explained how they take inquiries through the enrollment funnel and turn them into completed applications. This does not come without challenges. Felician is a small, private Catholic college, located in New Jersey. They are looking for a very specific student. One that wants to study in the NE US and is comfortable studying at a small school. While they don’t need to be Catholic, they must be comfortable studying at a religious school. Being a smaller school, Felician’s international recruiting team is also faced with limited resources to manage the inquiries that come in through their online marketing efforts.

Take a look at the video and see how Felician does a great job finding the right prospects, turns them into inquiries and then into applications. The Envisage International video series has launched. Stay tuned as we continue to show how our school partners are successful marketing their schools online. Does your school do a good job with online marketing and the follow through?

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Bringing our Blogs to Life – New Video Series

I recently got evicted from my office. The last time that happened… Well, never mind. This time is different. I was evicted from my office because we transformed it into a video recording studio. We are now able to produce high quality white board presentations, hangouts and videos all from the comfort of my old office. We are now going to bring our blogs to life, starting with a new video series tailored towards the best practices for managing student inquiries.

Envisage International's Studio

Envisage International’s Studio

Our new video series will start next week with our first in the series, “Best Practices for Managing Student Inquiries.” It will be followed by “Timely Follow up is a Must” and “Putting Together and Effective Communications Plan.” These videos will be tailored to our current Featured School partners that we are generating inquiries for through their Featured School profiles on InternationalStudent.com. They will also benefit anyone that is currently receiving student inquiries from their own efforts or through third parties, like us.

The new video series is part of our new initiative to assign a dedicated account consultant to all of our Featured School partners. The account consultant is to act as a resource to ensure the success of each campaign, from developing effective marketing via our online resources, generating quality student inquiries, and nurturing those leads into enrollments. We believe that the success stories of our partner schools can help other schools be successful. This is what we are hoping to accomplish with our new video series.

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Internationalization & Content in Multiple Languages

One of our big focuses this year is the internationalization of our content, allowing it to be understood natively in multiple languages and appeal to a wider audience. There are many factors to consider when creating internationalized content, from choosing a URL strategy to ensuring that your SEO is protected from duplicate content issues. If you do it right, you’ll be able to provide an excellent service to your user base and still keep all the search engines on board.
Continue reading

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