How to improve the student journey in 2021

By Benjamin Boivin

It is no secret this past year was historically challenging for higher education recruitment professionals worldwide. Combine Zoom fatigue, social distancing restrictions, canceled travel plans, and limited on-campus event availability, and you’re stuck with fewer options than ever. While recruiters were forced to pivot from their regularly scheduled travel plans, enrollment marketing in the digital age allowed universities to remain competitive.

Keystone Academic Solutions’ 2020 State of Student Recruitment Report tells the story of the student journey during an unprecedented year. We surveyed over 20,000 students worldwide and found that 23% of them discovered their prospective institutions through an email, compared to 4% through a university or career fair. In addition, 21% of students found their future college through an online search, while 11% learned about their top choice through a family member, friend, or college advisor. Visits to campus were limited or non-existent, but high school seniors' resourcefulness is limitless. Not even COVID-19 could stop them from finding their ideal college experience. 

Download Keystone Academic Solutions’ 2020 State of Student Recruitment Report here.

Students took to the Internet not just to escape from the real world, but to learn more about the world of higher education. 

Email marketing is still highly effective, even though it may feel your communication is not being opened, clicked, or tapped. During the golden age of social media, 72% of students chose email and phone calls as the #1 and #2 preferred counselor communication methods. And while social media and digital advertising are powerful tools, nothing may ever replace the counselor-student relationship.  

Read Focus on the Inbox: Email Practices for Student Recruitment Professionals, a Keystone blog to help you improve your student email marketing. 

Get to know your brand

Work on your elevator pitch and stop memorizing the mission statement. In 30 seconds, are you able to tell a prospective student and their family the value of a four-year education at your university? With your plethora of knowledge about your school, the task may seem easy, but many admissions representatives may find it harder than it sounds. Today’s first-year college students want to know more about the benefits of pursuing an education at that specific institution, and less about your founding principles or school history.

Communicate your school’s history, mission, vision, and essence not as a historic college, but as a brand. On average, people living in suburban or urban settings are exposed to over 5,000 advertisements per day. Our human minds can’t possibly absorb all that information. hence they are looking for something to add value to our lives, personalized messaging soaks in like a sponge. Not every university has the financial resources to hire a branding agency, but it’s essential to start a conversation around marketing. Is your admissions staff communicating your brand value in the most modern and impactful way?

PRO TIP: Take a brand storytelling, advertising, or Gen Z marketing course through an online learning site like Udemy or Coursera. Not only are these professional development programs fun, up-to-date, and engaging, but also incredibly affordable. For about $50 per person, you can train your entire staff to think more about your university as a unique brand, clearly defining why you stand out from the competition. For reference, most branding agencies in larger markets will charge upwards of $500 per hour. 

Less is more 

Take a look at how Generation Z communicates. Text messaging is significantly more popular than a phone call or email, yet even texting takes too long these days. Emojis, gifs, bitmojis, short-form videos, and memes eliminate having to type, and allows imagery to tell these students' stories. One of the world’s most popular social media platforms, Instagram, saw a need for short-lived videos and developed Insta-stories in August 2016, with Live Stories added later that year. TikTok and Snapchat soon rapidly gained popularity following a similar format.  If your university has the budget for high-quality video, great! Keep in mind, it’s quantity over quality when it comes to social media marketing. If you can find relevant content and present it to your prospects without being redundant, you will find your sweet spot. 

PRO TIP: Get rid of the long search letter from the president of the college; they are viewed as outdated and don’t stick with most students today. Prospective students in 2021 are experts at filtering out non-authentic content, and chances are your university’s president is not writing a personalized letter to each and every student on your search list. Instead, ask the president to record a video message and monitor your engagement via email click rates, open rates, and social media engagement. 

There is no fool-proof plan in higher education enrollment marketing. Authentic communication blended with unwavering student support seems to be the best formula when engaging with prospective students and their families. Still, the overwhelming marketing channels and social media platforms can make your head spin as a recruitment professional. Our state of student recruitment survey tells us a traditional phone call or email can make all the difference at the end of the day, particularly in these challenging times.

Topics: Higher Education Marketing Student Recruitment

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