Four-year institutions are at a crossroads when it comes to recruiting freshmen classes. The long-anticipated enrollment cliff is almost here, and institutions across the country are ill-prepared for the reality of increased competition over fewer quality applicants.
In addition, fewer students will rely on in-person campus visits to make their college decision, cutting off a key recruiting tool for higher ed administrators.
Instead, much of the prospective student journey now happens online. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising travel costs make on-campus visits less likely, while also conflicting with how high school students purchase in all other areas of life. Today’s purchasing process includes in-depth conversations with peers, researching, reading reviews and much more—all from the device and location of their choosing.
But rather than providing an experience closer to what a student finds on Amazon, institutions still send nurture campaigns that feel cold and distant. Considering the amount of personalization in every other buying experience, institutions need to stop treating students as a commodity and more like a valued (and unique) community member.
Creating personalized experiences requires an immense amount of data on prospective students coming to your website. Fortunately, modern student portals make it easy to collect valuable data on students from their very first touchpoint, integrating it directly into your CRM.
Here are six ways to leverage data for a more competitive recruiting advantage.
Improve content delivery with relevant information
Traditional higher ed marketing campaigns typically include sharing generalized brochures or FAQs. However, by pulling portal data into your CRM, you’ll better understand student interests and preferences that allow you to aggregate information to help your institution stand out.
For example, if a student from Ohio wanted to apply to the Engineering school, that student should receive a course catalog from the school, information on internship opportunities, relevant videos describing the program and even interact with alumni who have successfully landed jobs in his or her state.
Institutions wanting to remain competitive can’t rely on simply saying they have a major available and expect to attract the best students. Students want to go where they feel confident in the ROI stemming from their decision.
Encourage engagement with ambassadors
The days of prospective students finding your general marketing collateral persuasive are over. They don’t want shallow testimonial and professional-looking videos. Instead, they want to interact with current students in an informal setting and get their questions answered honestly.
Prospective students want to have authentic conversations with stakeholders who speak directly to the good and bad of attending an institution. This creates an opportunity for you to facilitate insightful and highly relevant discussions between prospective and current students based on topics that are important to the prospect.
Create personalized prospective student communities
Institutions historically offer little in terms of student communities in the early stages of the application process, missing a major opportunity to differentiate. In fact, it’s not until the prospective student commits to the institution that he or she connects with students with similar interests.
Giving prospective students access to these communities much earlier in the process will drive higher conversion rates. Given the increasing popularity in Discord communities, students value the ability to connect with other like-minded applicants in order to feel a sense of belonging before they submit their application.
Provide staff and faculty access on a self-service level
Over the last few years, high school students adjusted to a primarily asynchronous style of learning where classes and course review happen over Zoom. Therefore, students now prefer a self-service style of support for meeting with faculty and staff.
Allowing students to schedule meetings virtually promotes your institution as student-centric creating the sense of community they desire, showing a dedication to their success. In addition to helping your institution stand out, this also provides valuable insight to recruiters looking to create a better connection with students.
Instead of blasting out emails that provide no value to students, your campus recruiter should ask prospective students for follow up questions or offer other relevant faculty members to meet with them.
Historically, institutions tend to silo prospective and admitted students at different stages within their marketing funnel. In order to remain competitive in today’s environment, institutions must devote themselves to helping students get the resources they need on their own terms—all while removing barriers. Short-changing a student’s ability to acquire information and ask questions only dissuades them from attending your institution.
Bring campus to students and parents
There are few experiences like seeing the leaves change during a walk through Harvard Yard or looking up at the University of Oklahoma’s stunning architecture, but that doesn’t require campus visits to be exclusively in-person either.
As a result of the pandemic, institutions have turned virtual tours from providers like Concept3D into a valuable experience. They allow students and parents to view the campus on their own time using the device of their choice. This allows busy parents to better understand the campus atmosphere without devoting time or money flying around to various campuses.
Develop personalized nudge campaigns
Applying for college gets overwhelming for many students, and causes some to fall through the cracks when they forget various deadlines or miss paperwork. Layering data from your portal into your CRM helps communicate to both parents and students which parts of their application are missing—all while providing personalized support.
As institutions accept an increasing number of first-generation students, they often require more individualized attention including understanding how to fill out a form or getting basic questions answered. Student portals should help inform advisors on how to craft their message or loop in parents as necessary.
Competing for students requires a personalized, outside the box approach that treats them as unique individuals. As the student journey becomes increasingly digital, institutions need to act smarter in collecting prospective student data, while also creating an experience that reflects how people currently make big decisions. Those that do not evolve risk losing out on the best and brightest applicants.