Attracting Chinese Students to Universities [A COVID guide]

attract chinese students to your university
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    Each year, around 660,000 students leave China to study abroad. 

    This number is rapidly rising, and makes China the largest country of origin for international students in the world — particularly in the UK, where over 40% of Chinese students consider studying. 

    chinese students study abroad programs

    But how can international universities recruit students from China?

    In this article, we’ll be answering that question and more, as we cover everything there is to know about marketing to Chinese students. 

    So, let’s get started. 

    What Chinese students (and their parents) want to know before applying to a foreign university 

    Here are five questions your student recruitment strategy should aim to answer: 

    1. Which university is best for me?

    To answer this, your marketing materials should provide data on: 

    • Your university’s international and national ranking 
    • Individual course rankings 
    • Course fees and information 
    • Rate of post-graduate employment 

    Data like this will help Chinese students make informed decisions as to whether your university is right for them. 

    2. Am I qualified to apply? 

    Countries like the UK and US have very different assessment systems to China, which can leave international students not knowing where they stand. 

    • Can I apply? 
    • Do I have the right qualifications to apply? 
    • How do international qualifications compare to Chinese qualifications? 

    These are just some of the questions Chinese students will have — and to answer them, clarity and transparency are key. 

    A Chinese ‘Student Eligibility’ guide, for example, is a great way of breaking down all your entry requirements in one, simple resource that can be accessed via your website, social media and other channels. 

    3. How easy is it to apply? 

    There’s a lot that goes into making a university application, and even more to consider for students that are applying from overseas. That’s why it’s so important to dispel any concerns a Chinese student might have. 

    For example, you’ll need to inform your applicants of alternative processes for international students, such as remote interviews and virtual assessments. A Chinese admissions agent will be able to help you with this, which we’ll be touching on a little later. 

    4. Which course will help me secure the kind of career I want? 

    If a student is looking to leave China for their education, it’s clear that they are extremely motivated and determined to build a successful future for themselves. 

    To attract these students, you’ll need to be clear about what you can offer them. This means:

    • Providing data on job prospects and student employment 
    • Sharing alumni success stories relevant to specific courses
    • Showing off your international rankings and reputation

    5. Is it possible to stay in the country after graduation?

    Studying in a foreign country is one thing — but Chinese students will also want to know whether they can live and work in that country after graduating. 

    Your marketing materials will need to be clear about how your country handles work visas, and what percent of your international students are able to secure full-time citizenship

    How can western universities reach Chinese students to address these concerns?

    Once you understand what information Chinese students need, you then need to decide on how best to communicate it to them. Here are three ideas worth considering:  

    1. Partnering up with an education agency

    Many Chinese students use private agencies to help guide their journey when deciding to study abroad. By partnering up with one of these, you’ll be able to channel all the necessary information straight to potential students via their agents. 

    You can learn more about education agents in China by checking out this comprehensive directory of popular agents in the country. 

    2. Hosting in-person (or virtual) events 

    If you have the budget to target Chinese students directly, an in-person or virtual event is a great way of getting in front of Chinese students and answering their questions face to face.

    Most schools in China host education fairs, for example, where you’ll be able to present your university to students interested in studying abroad. You could also create your own virtual event, and invite students via advertisements on popular Chinese channels. 

    3. Creating a Chinese prospectus 

    No matter what channel you choose to reach Chinese students, a Chinese prospectus is a must. Fill it with everything a potential student will need, and it’ll become an invaluable resource to share in person, via your website, an education agent, and all other channels you invest in. 

    How to recruit students from China with a Chinese university website

    More than any other channel, your website will be the go-to for any Chinese student interested in your university. That’s why it’s so important it ticks all the right boxes. To make sure that’s the case, you’ll need to: 

    Create a Chinese version of your website 

    If potential students can’t find a Chinese version of your site, you’ll immediately be sending out the wrong message. After all, how can Chinese students (and their parents) learn about your university, if your website can only be accessed in Western countries? 

    Just because a Chinese student wants to study in your country doesn’t mean that they won’t want to read about it in their native language. And remember, Chinese parents might not be able to read English, so it’s important to not exclude them from the decision process.

    And then, make sure it covers all the facts

    A Chinese website is a great start but for it to really do its job, it needs to feature content that covers all the facts about your university. 

    We’re talking… 

    • Q&As (to address common concerns)  
    • E-books and guides (to provide thorough breakdowns of your university) 
    • Information on ROI (such as employment prospects and successful alumni stories)
    • Course information (including content, fees, duration and employment prospects) 
    • Financial information (including available scholarships and bursaries) 
    • Videos from current Chinese students sharing their experiences 
    • Information on current Chinese student intake 
    • And everything else relevant to studying at your university 

    A great way to cover all that information is to include a downloadable prospectus on your website. That way, any student or parent who visits it will be able to instantly access all the information they need in just one click. 

    How to attract Chinese college students — the Chinese channels you need to know about

    Aside from having a Chinese website, universities looking to target Chinese students should also build a marketing strategy for student recruitment in China. This means understanding the relevant channels, and using them to reach students. 

    Here are six of the best channels in China to do just that:

    1. WeChat

    WeChat is China’s biggest mobile app, serving as a multi-purpose platform for communication, entertainment and shopping. It’s used by over 900 million users a day, and is the ideal platform to reach young Chinese students wanting to study abroad. 

    Check out our guide to learn more about the powerful advertising options available on WeChat, and how to master them. 

    2. Baidu SEM 

    Baidu is the biggest search engine in China and if you’re wanting to target students searching for foreign universities, it’s the place to be. With an effective search engine marketing strategy for Baidu, you’ll be able to target relevant keywords and generate new leads as quickly as possible. 

    3. Toutiao 

    Want to reach educated youngsters in China? Look no further than Toutiao — the No.1 news app in China with over 700 million registered users. The platform offers a wide variety of advertising formats, all of which can be laser-targeted to local students. 

    4. Weibo 

    Weibo (also known as Sina Weibo) is a popular micro-blogging platform in China similar to Twitter and Instagram. It has over 241 daily users, and has a very young user base that’s ideal for universities to target with its powerful advertising options.

    5. QQ

    QQ is one of the biggest social media sites in the world, reaching a huge 860 million active users. 50% of its users are born post-2000s, too, which makes it one of the best platforms in China to reach young people.

    6. KOLs (or Key Opinion Leaders) 

    Each of the main social media sites in China has their own KOLs, who have millions of followers and social authority. These are trusted by young people in China, who value word of mouth promotions more than any other demographic in the world.

    Teaming up with an educational KOL could be a great way to attract potential Chinese students in a way that feels organic and authentic. 

    Check out our guide to learn more about building a KOL strategy that converts. 

    What are the most common mistakes Western universities make when marketing to Chinese students?

    Here are three of the most common mistakes you’ll need to avoid when building your marketing strategy for student recruitment in China. 

    1. Leaning too heavily on education agents

    Agents can be great for securing a direct line to Chinese students, but it’s important to build a complete marketing strategy alongside this. Without it, you’ll find yourself relying too heavily on an external partner for generating new leads, which is both expensive and unsustainable. 

    2. Failing to address the key concerns in your marketing

    Remember the concerns we covered earlier in this guide? It’s really important to address these, as if you don’t, you risk alienating Chinese students as well as parents and missing out on an increased intake because of ineffective messaging. 

    advertising message for chinese students and parents

    3. Not optimizing your digital presence for China 

    Most Chinese students will use the internet to learn about what options are available to them. If you don’t have a Chinese website and aren’t optimized for Chinese audiences (particularly in terms of having a mobile-friendly website) — you’re going to struggle to convert all that interest into new students. 

    What makes a successful digital strategy for international student recruitment in China? 

    Since a digital presence is so important in marketing to Chinese students — how should you go about building one, exactly?

    1. Use the right channels

    First things first, you need to build a presence on the right channels — and by that, we mean the ones with the largest reach and the most relevant users. We’ve already covered this, but check out our guide for a full breakdown of the best advertising channels in China.  

    2. Create laser-targeted advertising campaigns

    As well as running ads on the right channels, you also need to target the right people — specifically, young people who have a proven interest in education and foreign universities. You should also target users according to where they live, as Tier 2 and 3 cities, in particular, could offer a great opportunity to beat your competition. 

    3. Lean on local expertise 

    A true understanding of China (and how to target it) can only come from local experts who understand the market, first-hand. Here at AdChina.io, we’ve built a team of Chinese experts who know exactly how to target Chinese students — and how not to. Create a free account to learn how we can help you strike the right tone, and generate the results you need. 

    4. Address COVID-19 

    Right now, Chinese students will be wondering if they can even travel abroad — let alone study abroad in the current climate. Address this head on, and use your marketing materials to promote your COVID-19 policies, including support for international students, online learning opportunities, and access to healthcare professionals. 

    How AdChina.io helps universities in the west target Chinese students

    AdChina.io is the one-stop-shop for Chinese advertising — we make it easier, more affordable, and more successful for a wide range of industries… including universities!

    But how?

    By giving them access to an all-in-one platform where they can run campaigns in China across each of the main advertising channels without all the hassle. 

    We also offer targeting options for each channel, allowing universities to instantly reach educated young people looking to study abroad. 

    Take a look at some of our targeting capabilities below:

    WeChat targeting options
    toutiao targeting options
    Baidu targeting options


    Mini Case Study: How an International University hosted a sold-out virtual student fair with AdChina.io

    A year ago, AdChina.io teamed up with an international university looking to increase its Chinese student enrollment. To do that, it wanted to launch a virtual fair in China to promote its courses to potential students. 

    And that’s where AdChina.io came in. 

    With our platform, the university was able to overcome its lack of experience in Chinese advertising and build a successful strategy that targeted Chinese students online and ensured its virtual fair was fully booked — despite not having a big presence in China. 

    We achieved this by…  

    • Conducting extensive keyword research 
    • Building a content strategy for WeChat 
    • Running display ads on WeChat 
    • Launching a SEM campaign on Baidu 
    • Targeting local students 

    Want to achieve similar success?

    Get in touch today to discover how AdChina.io can connect you to the Chinese students your university needs. 

    An example of a western university successfully attracting Chinese students

    To bring together everything we’ve covered today, take a look at how the University of Aberdeen successfully targets Chinese students:

    university of aberdeen chinese website

    This advert ticks all the right boxes, as it:

    • Includes the relevant statistics to sell itself to potential students
    • Has a direct link to the university’s Chinese website 
    • Clearly positions the university as open to Chinese students 
    • Provides evidence on ROI (which is very important to Chinese families) 

    International student recruitment in China — FAQs 

    To end on, here are three commonly asked questions you might have about building a marketing strategy for student recruitment in China:

    1. What attracts Chinese students to higher education abroad?

    A higher quality of education and a better career in the future are the main reasons why Chinese students look to study abroad. They also might want to experience a new way of life in countries that are very different from China. 

    2. Which UK universities have the most Chinese students?

    Research has shown that the following UK universities have the highest intake of Chinese students: 

    • The University of Liverpool
    • The University of Manchester
    • University College London
    • The University of Birmingham 

    3. What attracts Chinese students to Aussie universities?

    In comparison to the UK, university fees and living expenses are far more affordable in Australia, which makes it a popular destination for Chinese students. 

    Ready to boost your international student recruitment in China?

    Book your free AdChina.io demo today to unlock the world’s biggest market of international student recruitment in China. 

    We’ll help you:

    • Build student-targeted campaigns in China 
    • Optimize your budgets 
    • Increase your brand awareness in China
    • Overcome the challenges of Chinese advertising

    And so much more!

    AdChina.io has helped hundreds of brands reach the China market. To see how AdChina.io can help you get started with advertising on top channels hassle-free create a free account today.
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