Think back to when you were applying for college. You likely had a list of safety schools, “good fits” and reach schools. Perhaps you had your heart set on one particular school, for academic, social or familial reasons. Who did you discuss your school choices with during the application process? Your friends? Family? Teachers and guidance counselors? The same is true for today’s students. “It takes a village” is an adage for good reason – if you’re working in higher education recruitment, this is a fact you’ll have to keep in mind.
Spheres of Influence
To build your prospective student pipeline, you have to reach out to students in a number of ways, including social media, direct mail and through event marketing. However, reaching students means more than just extending a hand to the students themselves; there are lots of spheres of influence in a prospective student’s world.
A 2014 study by Eduventures, Inc confirmed that there are a number of outside influencers who make a difference in a student’s enrollment decision. Students tend to gather opinions from everyone from parents, to current students and alumni of their desired college, to guidance counselors, peers and coaches.
So how can you handle this gauntlet of influencers? For starters, use our tips to keep your university top of mind – this is good advice across the board for keeping your enrollment marketing competitive. Then, consider how you might tackle the different demographics that influence a single student’s decision. After all, it takes a village to enroll a student – and you just might be able to make a difference where it counts.
Here are our top ways to reach those influencers who are making an impact on students:
As some of the most influential people in students’ lives, it’s important that your marketing efforts prioritize winning over parents first and foremost.
There are a few ways you can reach out to this critical group, but the best ways are to make your university visible in the places that they look for information and guidance:
While you can – and should – still target highly read publications that already target parents, such as the Washington Post’s On Parenting column, it’s also important to search for what your ideal students’ parents are reading, specifically.
Create a manageable list of publications for your team to target, and coordinate your public relations effort with your marketing effort to ensure broad coverage. By appearing as native content as well as sponsored content, you’ll be able to get the most attention.
Parent Blogs and Resources
This is an extension of your effort to reach parents through the sources they already trust. In addition to reaching out to publications that your parents read, make sure to also target the blogs they are most likely to subscribe to. Whether you choose to write guest articles for these blogs or run advertisements alongside their organic content, you’ll be speaking to a powerful market.
Financial and Budgeting Blogs
Yes, these are read by a wide variety of people. It’s true, they aren’t targeted specifically to parents. But, with 88% of college applicants citing availability of financial aid and general affordability as a top factor in deciding their alma mater, blogs that cover financial aid, loans, budgeting and credit are very wise choices for marketing.
Everyone loves reading reviews, and they’re incredibly helpful to consult when making decisions. Who better to provide a “review” of your school experience than those who have been there, done that? Reach out to your alumni network and ask them to connect with parent communities to share their experiences. This can mean anything from appearing at college fairs to traveling to high schools to speak to PTAs and students about college and what to look for.
Give communities something to be excited about by hosting an event! These can be for students and parents, or even just for parents. A great example of this was College of Lake County’s event, Think HBCUs, which featured participation from over thirty institutions, and talks that walked participants through every step of applying and enrolling.
Current students can have a huge influence on prospective students – both in person and through online forums and interactions. Encourage current students to reach out to prospective students, their communities and those that have expressed interest in their majors in order to share their experience at your institution.
There are only a select few opportunities in which current students might be introduced to prospective students, but a key time is during high school or community college fairs, and on-campus tours.
Create a program in which current students are not only incentivized to participate, but trained on how to appropriately interact with nervous, excited teenagers and their parents. While it is important that they express their genuine opinions of the school, it’s equally important that they’re equipped with the social and professional tools to represent your institution properly.
In order to create organic meetings between current students and prospective students, consider hosting events that allow students and alumni to speak about their experience at your institution and provide important insights that will draw a diverse crowd. A coffeehouse chat or festival presence works great, but also consider hosting online events such as webinars for students and parents to tune into.
Make sure to list these events with an SEO-friendly calendar to ensure that your preoccupied audience can easily find and attend them!
Do you have students with exceptional stories? How about some that found ingenious ways to pay for their education? Any groundbreaking discoveries – or hilarious mishaps? Have any of your students secured a great internship or job offer before graduating?
Encourage them to publish an article about their story on your school’s blog or website. Not only does this help your school with visibility, but it also helps the student add to their portfolio and stand out as a more three-dimensional personality when they begin their professional career.
Social Media Contests
Aside from amassing a student ambassador group that is trained and enthusiastic, you can bolster your institution’s visibility with social media contests that demonstrate the pride and culture you have on campus.
Whether it’s posing with a mascot or simply capturing the beauty of your campus, your students can provide a massive amount of free content that will capture the imaginations of applicants around the world.
Guidance Counselors & High School Teachers
Targeting the other guiding adults in student’s lives, their school staff, is another highly effective tactic. These professionals are also much easier to pinpoint, as they’ll be referring to industry publications and mailers, as well as proactively searching for information online to assist them in their roles.
Ensure that you send a comprehensive direct mail packet to every school that is likely to produce candidates interested in your school. While this seems like a nebulous piece of advice, it will come down to your market research and message – especially geographical location and demographics of the majority of your students.
Once you’ve selected your target audience, make sure that you design the packet with staff – not parents – in mind. That means many copies of financial aid information, descriptions of popular majors, descriptions of campus life and other relevant data sheets that they’ll want to post on walls and hand out to students and parents.
Be present at professional development courses – many of which are required for most educational staff – or consider hosting your own course for teachers and counselors. By hosting classes and seminars that make their jobs easier, you’ll be able to promote your own institution with positive reinforcement and association.
Like many other industries, education professionals are continuously creating content and conversations on social media. Make sure to join in the conversation by utilizing the most popular education professional Twitter hashtags. One great way to get into the midst of things is to attend relevant Twitter chats – not as a marketer, but as an observer and participant. In this way, you can see what topics and concerns are of interest to this target audience of guidance counselors and high school teachers, and make sure your outreach is in line with their needs.
Prospective students have a lot of questions and concerns when it comes to picking the right college. They’re much more likely to turn to a trusted counselor, friend or other real-life confidant than they are to a brochure or marketing deck. Making sure your school’s enrollment marketing team has the ear of these influencers will go a long way towards increasing your prospective student pipeline and subsequent student satisfaction, and that’s a win for all involved.