How cultivating fruitful and enduring relationships with recruiting agents can supercharge your enrollment efforts.
For some admissions officers, the idea of working with agents is taboo. Everyone’s heard horror stories about unethical actors, and the notion of paying someone to find students is anathema to the thinking of many CFOs and boards. “Isn’t that what you’re paid to do?” the admissions director who raises the idea might get asked.
While these concerns made sense when working with agents was like the wild west and the international recruiting process was less sophisticated, such thinking is shortsighted in today’s hypercompetitive marketplace. Furthermore, it’s now much easier to meet and vet agents thanks to networking events like the ones hosted by ICEF.
“We travel, but we can’t be everywhere,” says Patrick Fraser, Director of Admissions at Stanstead College. “We’ve got kids from thirty countries. Do we go to thirty countries every year? No. But we work with agents we trust who represent us. It’s a major reason why we’re so diverse.”
Increasing the diversity of a school’s international population is just one benefit of working with recruiting agents. They can also help establish a foothold in emerging markets, provide ongoing service to families, and offer strategic advice as admissions directors and school leaders calculate their long-term objectives.
TABS recently interviewed several veteran admissions officers about their experience interacting with agents. In these conversations, one word came up over and over again: partner. An agent, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “one who is authorized to act for or in the place of another.” When schools view agents through this lens, rather than a purely transactional one, they can build lasting relationships that are rewarding for both parties.
Read on to learn more about what an effective school-agent partnership looks like.
Discerning admissions officers take the time to learn how different agents operate.
“When I first meet an agent,” says Anna Parkhomenko of Ridley College, “I typically ask them how they work, what their methods are, and how they get their students.” She says it’s also useful to inquire about any connections they might have with junior schools, businesses, or various youth organizations.
Introductory meetings are critical for determining compatibility. “It’s about figuring out which agents and methods most align with your strategy and being a bit more intentional about forming those partnerships,” says Parkhomenko.
It’s important for admissions officers to sense that an agent has done their homework and is genuinely interested in building a relationship.
“I recently met an agent who was from a market I was looking forward to meeting,” says Felicia Neil of Lakefield College School. “We sat down, he opened his notebook, and it was filled with research on our school. I was so impressed. That’s what you want. Someone who’s as interested in your school as you are in their services.”
“I would also suggest you work with agents who want to know your school well and who believe in your school,” adds Andrea Chelsea, Director of Enrollment Management at Ross School. “I have agents who believe in Ross as much as I do. They might as well be at Ross working with me.”
Once a partnership is formed, it’s nurtured through an open dialogue. Schools can provide training so agents are up to date on the latest institutional messaging. Sharing newsletters and social media posts gives agents something tangible to reference when they’re speaking with families on a school’s behalf.
Communication is a two-way street. “Agents are our eyes, ears, and feet on the ground,” says Parkhomenko. “They inform our practices. Sometimes we might say, ‘We want to do an event in your country, what should we do?’ And they tell us what their markets respond to in terms of marketing strategies.”
This local expertise has been particularly valuable throughout the pandemic. Agents have assisted schools and families with navigating the complex, often volatile landscape of government policies. They’ve also helped schools maintain stable enrollments.
“During the pandemic, we weren’t able to travel and were relying on our partners to send us kids,” says Neil. “My expenditure hasn’t gone up, but I’ve still been able to maintain forty-six different countries at our school this year. There’s no way we could’ve done that without agents.”
Beyond the initial recruiting and enrollment phase, agents can play a valuable role in working with families throughout a student’s career. The best agents monitor a student’s progress closely, translating report cards as needed and facilitating communication between the school and the family.
“We’re learning to work together––schools and agents––because we understand that we can really help one another,” says Chelsea. “They can usher the family through the process. A really good agent helps with re-enrollment. That’s helpful to me. That’s worth paying for.”
Trust is the cornerstone of any enduring relationship, and it’s critical to every aspect of the school-agent partnership. An admissions officer needs to trust that an agent is acting in good faith and providing accurate information. Agents share similar expectations. The most effective partnerships are the ones where both sides put the best interests of the students––and the school’s ability to serve them––at the forefront of all interactions.
The value proposition of working with dependable agents is hard to dismiss. “We have students from sixty countries,” Parkhomenko says. “It’s not realistic for us to be everywhere. [Agents] are absolutely doing the heavy lifting for us. They’re the ones building trust with families.”
While families come to trust a school and agent based on their individual experiences, the bond between schools and agents is forged over a longer horizon. These partnerships take time to cultivate. Face-to-face meetings can go a long way in terms of jump starting the process. On the buzzing conference floor at ICEF Toronto this spring, Chelsea marveled at how networking events can make a difference.
“You’ll meet one or two [agents] and can end up having relationships forever. I met a Ukrainian agent at ICEF Berlin last November, and now we have three students enrolled from that meeting. If you meet one good agent at something like this, it’s worth it. It’s a relationship now. I might have students for a decade.”
ICEF invites you to visit us at TABS Conference in Washington DC, November 10–12