How COVID-19 impacts the enrollment funnel, from awareness to decision


How COVID-19 impacts the enrollment funnel, from awareness to decision

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I’ve talked with more than 100 enrollment leaders this spring and most of those conversations were (understandably) focused on the immediate term—sometimes even just getting through the next week. Now that most fall 2020 commitment due dates have passed, enrollment managers are splitting their efforts between continuing to engage enrolling students and building the future enrollment pipeline.

Based on recent experience, we’ve reassessed what the college journey looks like from awareness to decision—and what enrollment leaders can do to address students’ and families’ concerns at every step of their path to enrollment.

Search: Make it easy for students and parents to learn about your institution

Enrollment managers have rightly been focused on current high school seniors and other recent graduates’ fall enrollment decisions, but we can’t overlook COVID-19’s impact on sophomores and juniors in the “awareness” stage of their enrollment journey. Many of those students are facing new challenges that may impact their path to college. Their family’s financial circumstances may have changed overnight, or they may want to (or feel pressure to) stay close to home.

Although enrollment leaders can’t assuage financial concerns and other anxieties resulting from the pandemic, they can prioritize sharing scholarship opportunities and financial aid information with students and parents early and often. Include links to financial aid resources in marketing emails and prominently on your website to ensure students and parents can find this information quickly and easily. For each of our Enrollment Services partners, our team reviewed every campaign and made quick adjustments to include new resources and reflect their changing policies. In all communications, we made sure that our messaging and tone were sensitive and respectful, acknowledging the unsettling circumstances high school students are experiencing.

Regular virtual information sessions allow students and parents to get the specific information they need and to build connections to your institution. Offer one-on-one virtual financial aid counseling appointments so that families can get specific about their situation. And don’t forget to include your prospective families in communications about what your campus is doing to support current students’ academic success as well as physical and mental health during COVID-19.


the amount of traffic to virtual experiences from May 2019 to May 2020
the amount of traffic to virtual experiences from May 2019 to May 2020

In an alternative universe, many students would have attended college fairs and visited campuses last spring. They would have met with their high school counselor and visiting admission reps to learn more about what colleges might be their best academic and personal fit. Instead, enrollment leaders leveraged virtual events and virtual campus tours to help students to “fall in love” with their institution from afar. In our early student search communications for our Enrollment Services partners, we called out virtual tours and other avenues to learn more about campus wherever possible. We continue to see a huge spike in traffic to and engagement with YouVisit virtual tours as students research colleges and universities in the absence of in-person visits. 

Application: Proactively communicate admissions requirements and reduce barriers

Despite the hard work of guidance counselors, rising seniors may have less information than normal about the application process due to missed in-person advising conversations. Students may not have grades for the second semester of their junior year or have been able to take the SAT or ACT due to canceled test dates.

Consider making test scores optional or allowing self-reported test scores and GPAs to eliminate unnecessary application completion barriers. Make sure any updated admissions requirements are clear on your website, on social media, and in email marketing.

Students may also worry that job or volunteer service loss and canceled high school extracurriculars might make them less competitive applicants. A simple message reassuring students and families that your admissions team understands their current challenges will go a long way. Our team reviewed the entire application experience from the student’s point of view to identify barriers and opportunities to reassure students through our partners’ communications.

Beyond your website, email, and social media communications, prioritize hosting live events to answer prospective student questions about academic and student life. Consider inviting current students (such as campus tour guides) to join admissions counselors in leading these events. One-on-one meetings with admissions counselors will also give students a platform to ask personal questions and build a stronger connection with your institution.

Yield: Keep engaging committed students to reduce summer melt

Students may keep their options open when so many aspects of their family life and college instruction plans are up in the air. Now more than ever, it’s critical that enrollment leaders listen to and understand the decision criteria each student and family is using.

Recruitment teams should use this information to personalize messages that address each student’s specific motivations and concerns. Connecting students virtually with faculty, current students, and alumni provides the opportunity to learn about academic and student life directly.

FAFSA completion is also down this year. As a result, enrollment leaders need to develop a strong plan that encourages families to file the FAFSA. In the near term, focus on addressing students’ and parents’ concerns about paying for college in the wake of COVID-19 and the recession. Develop an ongoing FAFSA completion campaign, including opportunities for students and parents to engage virtually with admissions and financial aid staff. Now more than ever, it’s important to send financial aid award information to students and parents in a timely manner—and to ensure that infamously complicated information is easy to understand.

While it remains to be seen whether or how COVID-19 alters the path to college long-term, these strategies provide the information and support students need throughout the funnel make their best enrollment decision.  

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