In an increasingly competitive enrollment climate, campuses must create personalized digital experiences.

by Dustin Ramsdell

In our most recent podcast collaboration with Enrollify, we explored how digital tools help personalize prospective student journeys. This three-part podcast series explored the tactics and impacts of this strategy, offering insight into the various stages prospective students experience. We wanted to distill the insights from this series down and share them with our audience as they develop their plans for the academic year ahead.

A Noisy Landscape

There is an overwhelming amount of “noise” in the higher education space right now. With ⅓ of applicants applying to 20+ schools (source), institutions compete for prospective students’ attention through various digital advertising channels (like social media, streaming platforms or search engines). This experience makes it hard for students to make informed decisions and dilutes the uniqueness of institutions. To address this, higher education marketers must convey clear and compelling messaging about what makes their institution distinct, unique and the right fit for prospective students.

Digital experience platforms (DXPs) also play a critical role in helping students navigate this noisy landscape.  Instead of relying on traditional, one-size-fits-all websites, institutions embracing DXPs offer more personalized, informative prospective student journeys. By tailoring content and engagement based on individual interests and needs (for first-generation students, by region, area of interest, etc.), DXPs significantly improve the information-gathering and decision-making processes, quelling anxieties and promoting engagement and belonging. 

A significant detail to consider here is the psychological aspects of decision-making. DXPs assist in harnessing social proof, where students are influenced by others’ actions, to attract prospects. By nurturing a sense of belonging, community and encouraging positive word-of-mouth, institutions create a positive cycle of social proof.

Fostering Early Community Connections

As prospective students move through their decision journey, it’s crucial to foster a sense of belonging. Digitally connecting them to clubs, peer groups, and campus culture facilitates a more personable, accessible and informative experience, ensuring students feel seen and valued.

Understanding, anticipating and addressing questions and concerns at this stage also facilitates a sense of belonging. These include practical concerns like cost and amenities to more nuanced inquiries about student life and academic pathways. Ensuring a tailored digital experience with specific answers, information and resources builds confidence and converts interest into commitment.

Tools like AI-powered chatbots, virtual tours, and peer-to-peer engagement platforms offer immediate, empathetic and comprehensive support, alleviating anxiety and reducing administrative burden, allowing staff to build better, more meaningful relationships.

Beyond Admission: Preparing Students for Success

This strategy must extend beyond post-admission tasks to the broader student engagement and retention journey. Despite a time of excitement and anticipation, students get overwhelmed and simply need support knowing what should get done, when and for whom. With a myriad of tasks awaiting new students — understanding financial aid and scholarship options, selecting housing and exploring clubs, to name a few — enrollment leaders must methodically and proactively guide students through these steps.

Personalized and scalable high-touch experiences build community and confidence, offering support for groups like first-generation or non-traditional students. Preemptively informing and engaging these students alleviates anxieties and breaks down intimidation factors.

But effort and engagement shouldn’t stop there. We often see massive drop-offs in outreach and engagement after the first month of a semester — creating an ongoing, dynamic orientation process sustaining the initial excitement and community feel better empowers staff in addressing student retention and persistence challenges. In addition, using a robust DXP helps to provide more data on student behavior, which can inform support strategies moving forward.

For today’s college students, a cohesive and personalized digital experience is an essential prerequisite when considering where to study. For institutions, investing in a scalable, integrated tech stack allows them to stand out in a competitive, noisy marketplace. Early adopters of a robust digital experience platform — used by students, faculty and staff — can benefit from setting themselves apart from their counterparts and positioning their institution for success in the future.