When you look at the attributes of successful faculty-led study abroad programs, they are either led by popular professors or heading to popular places. We’ve seen popular professors taking lots of students to unpopular places, unpopular professors taking lots of students to popular places, and popular professors going to popular study abroad destinations (doubly whammy). Survey information gathered from past study abroad participants suggests that the most effective recruitment tool for faculty-led study abroad programming is a motivated, energetic faculty director! The most effective form of promotion is word of mouth.
Marketing is not advertising or selling your faculty-led study abroad program; it’s creating and delivering value to your target population. If you are directing a study abroad program for the first time, please keep in mind that successful programs require a considerable amount of time and effort spent marketing. While your study abroad office can advertise your program, good marketing can really only come from you. This is because you are your program, and it is only through you that students can see the full range of benefits and detriments in considering the study abroad option.
If you’re depending on the study abroad office to do all your marketing, then your program will probably not attract the number of students (or the kind of students) that you want or need. This is because it takes the professor to seal the deal. Students are smart… they aren’t going to commit to travel abroad with a professor they don’t know and maybe don’t even like. It’s always a better approach when you analyze the program’s situation (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), formulate objectives (i.e. I want 15 students), and develop/apply a plan to meet those objectives for your faculty-led program.
Let’s face it, students sign up because they like you and your ideas, not because your study abroad program is their only option. If you’re not willing to spend the time to talk to students about your program, then you’re probably not going to enjoy leading a study abroad program where you will be with the students 24-7. Assuming your faculty-led program acquires enough students and runs, you should continue to strive for excellence by meeting student needs and expectations, reviewing student evaluations, fixing what’s not working, and continually striving for improvement. The key to a sustainable faculty-led program is customer satisfaction.
Think about the following recruitment strategy when developing your marketing plan, and allow yourself plenty of time to begin. You should begin marketing your faculty-led study abroad program at least one year in advance.
Meeting Needs – College students don’t always know what they need; you have to help them figure it out and convince them to take the steps necessary to meet those needs. Note, a “want” and a “need” are different things (see Maslow’s Hierachy of esteemed needs). How much will you do to make it easier for students? (i.e. help with passport, etc.). Can your courses fulfill academic requirements? Is your faculty-led study abroad program too challenging or not challenging enough?
Creating Benefits – More than credit, how will your study abroad program give students a cutting edge or set them apart from other students? Note, study abroad is harder to sell because it’s intangible. You have to define the features, benefits, and quality of your faculty-led program. What is your professional reputation? What is your institution’s reputation? What do students associate with you and your higher education institution?
Creating Exchanges – What are students getting, but also what are they giving up to participate in your faculty-led study abroad program? All customers need to think they are getting more than they are giving up (benefit vs. detriment). Students are no different. They choose to pay a lot of money to get a college degree because they believe that the outcome will be far greater than what they are currently giving up (time and money). This is true of your faculty-led study abroad program, also.
- Create a website with detailed, clear information about your faculty-led study abroad program and pictures. You may wish to include a continuously updated FAQ with items such as a study abroad program itinerary to answer questions from both students and parents, as well as a blog.
- Make sure your faculty-led study abroad program is featured on your department’s website and in communications and publications (e.g. bulletins, newsletters, magazines), as well as on the Office of Study Abroad’s website.
- Create promotional materials which provide a comprehensive overview of the faculty-led study abroad program. IMPORTANT: Ensure that wording is the same as that posted on the website, particularly in regards to cost, deadlines, etc.
- Create bulletin boards or other displays about your faculty-led study abroad program that are visible by your target student population. Also, create attractive flyers to post around campus.
- If you would like to attract students outside of your college/university, then post your faculty-led study abroad program for free on AbroadScout.com.
- Hold at least two informational meetings for students, to generate interest in your faculty-led study abroad program. Meetings before breaks are especially effective so students can bring fresh information home to discuss with their parents.
- If/when you hold informational meetings, email the details to your study abroad office at least two weeks in advance so that they can post it on their events calendar. Also, post the faculty-led study abroad program in your institution’s local newspapers and online newsletters.
- Involve students who have previously participated in the faculty-led study abroad program, especially at information meetings (i.e. panels, etc.). Peer-to-peer advising and marketing is usually the most effective.
- Promote the faculty-led study abroad program in your classes. Ask colleagues if you can speak to their classes (when appropriate) or if they will share information with their students. Consider targeting feeder courses, or large courses that all students go through.
- Inform academic advisors who work with your target student population about your faculty-led study abroad program and see if you can get involved in freshmen orientation.
- Attend special campus events, especially the study abroad fair and anything sponsored by your department or college, to promote your faculty-led study abroad program.
- Target specific student organizations that might benefit from your faculty-led study abroad program.
- Consider using photos that you already have to promote the faculty-led study abroad program. Put these photos on your website and other promotional materials (if people are recognizable, then you must have photo releases).
- Stress the benefits of studying abroad, such as academic, intellectual, professional, intercultural, and personal growth in your promotional efforts. Don’t forget about career/employment prospects.
- Make yourself available for e-mail and phone contact with students and/or parents.
- Become familiar with study abroad processes and procedures so that you can answer questions.
- Maintain a list (name, address, phone number, e-mail) of interested students, including any who have inquired by phone or in person. Follow up with them at a later date.
- Create a promotional video with interviews from students who have participated in your program and use it through all your promotional venues.
- Strongly consider a blog and/or podcast in addition to your website. Unlike a website, this interactive content gives life to your program that static pages cannot.
- Use Facebook and Twitter, either through your profile or through a group or fan page that you create. Groups are good for email, while fan pages are good for status feeds.
- Write articles for popular study abroad blogs to build credibility for you and your program, and subsequently attract students.