York in the World: University’s recruiters travel the globe

With close to 3,000 international students representing more than 155 countries studying at York, the University is a mirror of the diversity of Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in the world.

For a vast majority of York’s international students, the first face to welcome them to York, and sometimes to Canada, is that of an international recruiter.  

Above: International and domestic students involved in this year’s Scotiabank-York University Emerging Global Leaders Program (EGLP), held in Barrie, Ont., Jan. 23 an 24. The program gives full-time undergraduate students an opportunity to build their leadership skills. EGLP is open to full-time Canadian, exchange and international students. Photo courtesy of York International.

Each year, a team from the Office of Admissions travels the world to recruit the next class of first-year undergraduate international students. From August to November last year, the team visited approximately 35 countries across Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia, India, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East. The team speaks to more than 14,000 students during the recruitment period and then connects with as many applicants as possible during the conversion phase.

A typical recruitment tour, organized and executed by the team (or in consultation with a University touring partner), spans 14 days during which recruiters visit six to eight countries with one- to two-day stops in each city or country. Three to four top-ranked high-school visits are planned for each day. In the evening, recruiters may head to a university fair, parent reception, media briefing, guidance counsellor workshop, an event at the embassy or consulate, or to the airport to catch a flight to the next city of their whirlwind tour.

York’s international recruiters are trained to communicate their expertise in York’s program offerings and the admission requirements for the various curricula of the countries they visit. This may be as varied as the Tawjihi diploma in Jordan to the Bachillerato Académico in Colombia or the All India Senior School Certificate Examination in India. Recruiters must also advise students about the ways International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination results can affect transfer credits.

Right: International recruiter Amber Holliday (left) poses with a prospective student in Africa. Holliday brought back the photo to share with the student’s cousin, a current York student.

“One of the ways we differentiate ourselves from other universities is through the level of service we offer our prospective students,” says Elisa Tortola, manager of the international recruitment team. “From the moment they meet with us, come for a campus tour or attend one of our online chats, they become a member of the York community. We offer our prospective students a tremendous amount of personalized attention.”

Each admitted student is given a personal phone number and e-mail address where they can reach recruiters directly. “They want to know that they are connecting with an actual person and not a generic e-mail account,” says international recruitment officer Amber Holliday (Burkett), whose annual visits include a 15-day African tour of Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and several other countries.

Left: International recruiter Elisa Tortola (fourth from left) with students and counsellors in the Bahamas

The team remains in contact with students as far away as Pakistan or Russia via personalized e-appointments, e-parties, online chats, video e-mails (a York first), e-mails and in-person return visits, allowing them to field questions about scholarships, the admissions process, the academic curriculum or life in Toronto.

Fellow recruiter Neel Joshi agrees that online chats are a great way to connect with students on a more informal level. “Chats are informed conversations that give us the opportunity to answer questions as they pop into an applicant’s head while typing,” he explains. “It’s also a fantastic opportunity for an applicant to meet other international students who will be attending York at the same time and create those connections and sense of community ahead of their arrival.”

York’s international recruiters also arrange group chats when students are preparing for their arrival at York, encouraging students to connect with one another and start building their “home away from home.” It’s not uncommon to receive questions related to the usual myths about life in Canada – think year-round snow and polar bears in downtown Toronto – though, in recent years, the team has responded to more and more questions that reflect changing world politics, from 9-11 to the uncertainties of the global economy.

Left: Students in Trinidad review York’s International Admissions Handbook during a school presentation

As international counsellors are more involved than local counsellors in family decisions about which country and university students will attend, the recruiters also provide personalized follow-up to 3,000 counsellor contacts. “International counsellors tend to remain within the field but move countries, so a relationship that starts in one country may impact admissions to York when the counsellor relocates anew,” says Tortola. “It’s the personal touch that often makes the biggest difference.” For example, in 2008 Holliday took photos of a student group in Swaziland and returned in 2009, to the delight of the group, with copies for the students and counsellor.

Specialized international recruitment tactics also include:

  • International partnerships: In the past three years, York recruiters have developed partnership agreements with several key international schools in Canada.
  • Specialized recruitment pieces: York distributes an undergraduate admissions handbook for international students as well as a related CD with Faculty information and a guidance counsellor newsletter. In addition, fact sheets about York’s programs, tuition, scholarships and application process are translated into nine languages. A fact sheet about York’s Muslim student community, the supports and services available at York and from the surrounding region, is provided on specific tours.
  • Experience the world at York: Recruitment pioneered an online search site that shows prospective students how York is connected to their country through alumni, exchanges, research projects and more.
  • Video e-mail messages: Each student the team has met abroad receives a video e-mail that provides a video thanks for their participation in events and responses to the most popular questions from their region.
  • Annual international counsellor tour: In 2006, York launched a tour that brings approximately 40 counsellors from around the world to Canada each summer.
  • The Council of International Schools Canadian Higher Education Committee (CHEC): York is a founding member of CHEC, a 40-member group that brings Canadian universities together to advocate on behalf of universities for a Canadian brand abroad and to co-develop specialized recruitment visits.
  • Destination York: In cooperation with the York University English Language Institute (YUELI) selected students with high academic standing are given the opportunity to fast-track their English studies while studying with YUELI and then, once having completed the program, continue their studies in York’s undergraduate programs.
  • School board partners: York continues to foster partnerships with Toronto District School Board and York Region District School Board counsellors whose efforts focus on international high-school students currently studying in the region.
  • Language Testing supports: York provides specialized offerings of the York English Language Test for partner schools.

The recruiters know that families want to be assured that their student will be safe, secure and welcomed. While a student and their family may be interested in York, they will weigh many factors to determine both the country and university they would like to attend. Being in Toronto is a definite advantage, though trends within international recruitment can be influenced by external forces such as the rise or fall of the Canadian dollar, SARS and the York strike (the concept of a strike may have a different, even violent, connotation depending upon the part of the world in which you live).

“Students and parents alike are more concerned with personal safety as well as making sure they receive value for their earned dollar," says Tortola. "And as many countries are ratings-sensitive, we are often asked how York ranks in Times Higher Education, Maclean’s and other ranking surveys.

“We proudly point to our many centres of influence – business, law and fine arts – as a start,” she says, “and the achievements and reputation of our Faculties and internationally renowned researchers allow us to showcase strong examples of York’s global impact as well as the impressive opportunities students will have studying with us in all program areas.”

Right: Tortola speaks with a family during an international education fair in Trinidad

Students and counsellors from around the world also value York’s commitment to the principles of diversity and internationalization, which are not only enshrined in its mandate, but supported through prestigious scholarships available to international students, including the Global Leader of Tomorrow Award.

International undergraduate recruitment is supported by York’s strong network of international connections. Glendon supports the Office of Admissions with visits to Turkey, France and Switzerland. The Scotiabank-York University Emerging Global Leaders Program International, held in the Caribbean and supported by York International, continues to be an ideal venue to link future leaders with York.

Professors travelling to meet colleagues and to undertake research internationally also help to highlight York’s academic achievements and, as such, support recruiting efforts. Alumni are also encouraged to attend recruitment events in their region. Current international students at York can sign up for the Office of Admissions’ Take York Along program, which has been in operation for the past decade. Each year, approximately 25 international students return to their home country and speak about York and their campus experiences.

In concert with the efforts of the Faculties, professors, alumni, York International and others within the York community, the international recruitment team travels the extra mile (actually more than 220,000 of them each year) to ensure that the University’s reputation continues to grow internationally and to increase the number of international applicants who choose York as their postsecondary education destination.