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All I Really Need to Know About Admission I Learned from International Recruitment
by Alison Herget
was four days into my first international recruitment trip to Asia. I’d slept a total of 10 hours in three
as a solution to budget woes. However, viewing these students as a means to an end—whether that’s financial stability, more diversity on campus or other outcomes—only provides a one-dimensional view of the impact of international student recruitment. For me, the impact from a professional development standpoint is hard to ignore. In a profession where burnout and the monotony of a repeating admission cycle can cause frequent attrition and subsequent investment in training new counselors, international recruitment has helped to keep my job fresh and has served as a reminder to me what admission should be about, regardless of geography: building relationships and making connections—with guidance counselors and students. In the international community, relationships are everything and many students will do anything to achieve their dream of studying in the US. I think this is wildly inspiring. Surely, international recruitment travel is not for the faint of heart. Translating directions into Mandarin, traveling at the whim of a taxi driver on the 13th hour of his 12-hour shift, and ordering food via a combination of finger pointing and exaggerated facial expressions is not some people’s idea of an exciting trip. Not much about international recruitment travel is relaxing, although parts are glamorous. In the little downtime that we had, while I was busy taking pictures of Tiananmen Square or gawking at the deep fried crickets at the Wangfujing food market in Beijing, Chinese passersby were busy staring at and taking
nights, contracted a relentless cold on the 14-hour plane ride to the other side of the world and spent so much time around exotic foods that I started to smell like “stinky tofu” (a local delicacy that, by the way, tastes better than it smells). As I embarked on yet another jetlag-induced sleepless night in Shanghai with three weeks left of my trip, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was getting myself into. All I really wanted at that moment was some chicken soup, a good night’s sleep, American-style amenities, and not to get accosted by mosquitoes every time I ventured outside. Truth be told, I did a fair bit of whining to myself during the first few days of my first international recruitment trip (itinerar y: Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Taipei), but a funny thing happened once I stopped complaining, began savoring the sensory overload and started visiting high schools to meet with prospective students: I enjoyed the trip. A lot. I was reminded of why I absolutely love what I do and how to do it better. Amid my fifth admission cycle, I am no stranger to the thrills and ills of domestic recruitment travel, but the international landscape, I have discovered, brings a whole new element of unknown to the already-taxing job of student recruitment. Increasingly in recent years, universities have turned to international students— full-pay and generally well-qualified—
I was reminded of why I absolutely love what I do and how to do it better. Amid my fifth admission cycle, I am no stranger to the thrills and ills of domestic recruitment travel, but the international landscape, I have discovered, brings a whole new element of unknown to the already-taxing job of student recruitment.
pictures of me. It was strange, I discovered, to be in a sea of people who find my looks unusual enough to be photo-worthy. Now I know what celebrities feel like! Kidding aside, there are days when I spent five times as much time in airports, train stations and on planes as I did in high schools. The days are long, the nights short—and the weekends mostly nonexistent. Family and friends are half a world away and even phone calling or Skyping can be difficult due to the time difference. It’s no secret that international recruitment can be expensive and intimidating, too. Fearing lack of expertise and efficiency, some institutions have turned to the use of agents or other third parties to do international recruitment for them. Planning international travel takes at least twice as long as domestic and is more likely to involve any random amount of unplanned brouhahas, including getting
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long after it is over. This is especially important internationally, where some schools receive more than 250 colleges visiting in one season. dedication matters. Af ter a school visit, follow up with the students and counselors. Send personalized emails to say thanks and include more information. Make it immediate. Talk about why rankings are not everything. This can be a tough sell in places like China, where many students and parents are only familiar with the Ivy Leagues. During high school visits, talk about what your institution does best stranded in a foreign airport for seven hours due to a flight cancelation or trying to communicate to a taxi driver—through a series of hand maneuvers that more closely resemble SOS signals than directions—that you are nowhere near your final destination. As an international traveler, you also quickly learn survival tactics. (Note to future travelers: School banner doubles as a blanket in cold taxi; never embark on an international flight without a change of clothes in your carryon; and pack granola bars in suitcase or boxes with materials that you ship in case you have to skip a meal amid your crazy travel schedule). A thoughtful and organized international recruitment strategy positively impacts not only the institution, but also admission staff. In fact, I would go as far as to say that my three-week trip to Asia has reinforced and taught me more about admission than can be learned in a season, or several, of domestic travel. Among the takeaways: Relationships with guidance counselors are key. These relationships start before the trip begins and should be maintained aLISOn Herget is assistant director of admissions at Brandeis University (MA). She holds a B.A. in journalism and international studies and a M.Ed. in higher education, both from the Pennsylvania State University (PA). and what makes it unique. Know your audience. Do your homework and know what institutions students have attended in the past, and where they are. What are they looking to get out of their higher education experience? don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues if you need help. I was fortunate enough to travel with an awesome group of experienced international counselors and also decided to reach out on LinkedIn to colleagues for advice before the trip. Work as a team and realize that whatever mayhem you face has been faced by your predecessors. I knew all this before embarking, but something about international students, coupled with the unpredictability and sheer excitement of international travel, helps to reinforce and remind me what admission is all about. The funny thing is that as intimidating and downright exhausting as international travel can be, it breeds thick skin. International recruitment has indelibly made me a better admission counselor. After years of piecing together international applicants on paper, meeting them in person has not only given me new respect for these students but also for our profession as a whole. International students are genuinely interesting students, who will do anything—including travel five hours by train to interview, demonstrate Chinese rope art and sing and dance— all for a chance at a US liberal-artsstyle education. We know that some go to great lengths to achieve the American dream, including some dubious practices, such as submitting false application credentials. But we should not let this small group overshadow the many accomplishments of their stellar, authentic peers, whose dedication to studying in the US is admirable. After all, how many domestic students do you know who would travel several hours, like Chinese students do in droves to take the SAT, since the test is not offered in their homeland? For many international students, this is the one and only chance they will have to leave their home country and pursue a flexible academic path. We can, and should, do anything we can to welcome them with open arms.
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