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How to attract international students to online degrees

We live in a world that is becoming more and more interconnected every day. This has never been more apparent than in the business education sector.

Now more than ever before, students are willing to travel all over the world to study on the best programmes at the best business schools.

This makes the business education sector well-and-truly a global marketplace. And with that, it makes it an incredibly competitive marketplace!


Business schools now have to compete with other institutions all over the globe if they want to secure the best applicants for their programmes. It’s becoming harder to stand-out amongst the crowd and secure those top students.

What makes things even more challenging are external factors that can impact potential applicants’ decisions.

Take, for example, the COVID-19 global health pandemic. People are suffering with the coronavirus globally, and it feels like the entire world is on lockdown.

Business schools everywhere have done amazing jobs to react and adapt to the challenging circumstances, embracing the technology available in order to keep delivering the highest standard of education to their students.

Needless to say, while pandemics pose many challenges to the business education sector, it’s highlighted the value of online learning.

Now is the time for business schools to really focus on attracting students, both within their own country and internationally, to online courses.

So, how can business schools attract international students to online programmes?

Well, for starters, it’s all about targeting new markets.

Whether it’s a region of the world that remains rather untapped, or a particular sector that you don’t typically get applicants from, business schools need to be targeting new markets if they’re to attract a greater diversity of students.

When reaching out to new geographical markets, it’s key that your school really looks to engage with that region. Publications in that city or country won’t publish your content if you don’t give them a good reason as to why their readers should be interested.

One of the most effective hooks for securing applicants from relatively untapped markets is a student story.

Prospective candidates want to know what they’re in for when they apply to your school. The best way to show them is to ask a current or former student. Alumni have no obligation to offer an amazing review of your school, and so when they do it exists as a legitimate third-party endorsement.

When it comes to online programmes, these endorsements are all the more important as applicants want to know the money they’re potentially going to spend isn’t going to be wasted. People tend to treat concepts that are unfamiliar to them – like the idea of an MBA being 100% online – with a healthy level of scepticism, and so a former student offering sharing their experiences studying an online course will go a long way!

That leads me on to my next point…

Set yourself apart

When looking to attract international students to online courses, your business school needs to make sure that it does everything it can to make its online programs stand out from the rest.

What makes your school or programme special? Is it the technology involved? Is it the freedom of choice in modules that you just can’t get anywhere else?

Whatever it may be, you need to make sure your school is sharing with potential candidates.

For example, Imperial College Business School boasts of being able to offer its students on the online MBA program access to modules from seven other business schools.

Imperial is a partner within the FOME Alliance – made up of eight leading business schools. Students are able to choose online modules from any of the member schools in order to best fit their preferences.

This allows students to access programmes offered by faculty in different regions of the world, like an exchange programme.

Another example is the UCL School of Management, who recently launched its very first online MBA programme. However, unlike other online MBAs, UCL doesn’t market their new programme as an online course, but rather as a ‘classroom-based MBA delivered online’.

Students are still expected to attend classes for all their modules. However, the content is all delivered online, ensuring that students still receive the discussion and debate of a classroom environment, while ensuring the participation of an online course.

At Durham University Business School, students on the online MBA programme are able to take part in the Virtual Case Competition, in which they are faced with a challenging dilemma to solve. In teams of three or four, students work together to overcome a challenge that emulates the challenges of the real business world – all from different locations in the world.

In all three cases, these schools have worked to demonstrate how their online MBA programme stands out from the rest, whether it’s through offering greater choice in modules, having that face-to-face time that really gives the student the opportunity to discuss their ideas and thoughts, or the chance to overcome, what feel like, real-world challenges. In each case, students are made to feel that they have invested their time and money into a meaningful online course that will genuinely benefit them. It’s these messages that will attract students from all over the globe to enrol on your online courses.

If you’d like support in attracting students to your online degrees, contact  BlueSky PR today.

Author: Jonny Stone

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