How to support international students during a pandemic

“Showing empathy makes the whole consulting process smoother for the student”

Rather than having a massive overhaul on your current working habits, just making small changes can go a long way in terms of international student recruitment. What benefits can we offer our international students during this trying time? UK-based Fulbright Education CEO Afsana Ahmed explains.

Personal statement support

During the pandemic, I received personal statements of various lengths and topics. It is good practice to ask for a first draft from the student.

If you are an authorised university partner or pathway provider, you can ask for their guidance or templates so that you can share with students.

As I teach BTEC courses at a sixth form college, I am in the habit of providing writing frames for my students for their coursework. By default, I have created a writing frame for international students, with the content depending on the institution they are applying for.

I would advise you not be tempted to write it for them. Instead, insert questions when writing comments as feedback when you receive their first draft.

The task is daunting for students. It may take two to three drafts to perfect their personal statement.

I tend to go through their first draft with them over a zoom call, providing verbal feedback while they write down the points to further improve their writing.

Students appreciate this support as they form their ideas, motives and career aspirations in preparation for imminent university and visa interviews.

Empathy not sympathy

It has been frustrating for students who have been struggling to collect their certificates, transcripts and references from their educational institutions during the pandemic.

I tend to note the dates when they will be able to collect their documents and contact them after that day. In that way, students feel that I am supporting them through the process and I am also able to inform the university of their situation so that they are able to consider the student on a case by case basis.

As a consultant, showing empathy makes the whole consulting process smoother for the student.

Timely communication

During the pandemic a BBC article by Bryan Lufkin showed that the pandemic has affected sleeping patterns. As a consequence, students  text, email or DM outside office hours and wait for a response.

Once students know that their messages have been read and that you have not replied instantly, they reply with a ‘?’ if you have not responded yet.

Obviously with family and work commitments, it is not possible to reply instantly. But it is best to explain to the student that their message will be responded in due course.

Instant messaging is definitely the way forward as it is more personable, time efficient and Covid-19 friendly. Without texting, I would not be able to operate my services .

The only downside is that your communication is only as good as your internet.

Patience is a virtue

If student recruitment is your livelihood you will need buckets of patience. Students can be impatient, stressed out and feel helpless, which they may pass on to you.

The key to overcome this is through concise, honest and timely communication with the student.

Everybody is working from home and so the speed at which university admissions are working is much slower compared to pre-covid.

Students have found it reassuring when I notify what actions I have taken for them through the application process. In a nutshell, they like to be kept in the loop.

To conclude, the role of an international student recruitment consultant is multifaceted. You need to show more empathy, patience, communicate timely and support them through the writing of an effective personal statement. My skill set had to adapt and change due to the pandemic.

Also having a good rapport with the student makes the job easy for both parties, no matter what the outcome is.

As a small business, we have to be more customer focused, which means keeping the customer in mind when providing a service.

The old business saying ‘think from the customer point of view’ is so true. Our job as student consultants is to make the student journey during the pandemic worthwhile for the student to follow.

How do you support your students?


About the author: Afsana Ahmed is the CEO and Lead Educational Consultant for Fulbright Education, a British Council-certified agent and a UK college lecturer. She helps international students with UK university admissions.