Are we really going to re-open? Will our admissions counselors travel? How will growing financial uncertainty impact enrollments?
These are just a few of the concerns enrollment leaders have shared with me in recent months. After deploying new tactics to recruit and yield students at the bottom of the funnel this spring, we are heading into the busy fall recruitment cycle with many unanswered questions. But one thing is certain: this fall recruitment season is unlike any other.
Based on our survey of 200 enrollment leaders in June and ensuing conversations with hundreds of our Enrollment Services partners, here are four changes you can make now to bolster your fall recruitment strategy.
Use experiential marketing to create authentic relationships with students
Today’s recruitment environment feels almost like a return to the old admissions counseling days for those of us who have worked in enrollment for a long time. The algorithms we’ve grown accustomed to can’t account for the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Instead, enrollment leaders must rely on building deep, authentic relationships with prospective students in new and creative ways. And as my colleague Michael wrote, traditional media isn’t enough to recruit today’s students.
Campus tours have long been the gold standard of experiential marketing. Some enrollment leaders were initially skeptical that they could yield classes without in-person admitted student events, but engagement with virtual tours is proving that digital experiences can be just as valuable for building connections with students. And virtual tours may be here to stay: 68% of enrollment leaders say they are investing in new virtual engagement opportunities to support recruiting.
Regardless of how you engage students in this virtual environment, start to create personalized communications with students now rather than waiting until students apply to your institution. The earlier you can foster relationships with prospective students, the more likely they are to consider your school.
Get creative with admissions counselors’ time
When admissions counselors aren’t on the road, many teams will have the bandwidth to engage prospective students in new and unique ways. Consider tasking an admissions counselor to develop outreach to high school counselors and transfer coordinators at community colleges. Your admissions counselor could ask their high school and community college counterparts about the challenges they’re facing—and what your team can do to help. This might include partnering with a high school counselor to write a letter for the high school’s parent newsletter or hosting a virtual lunch for counselors to connect.
The virtual format also gives your team a chance to reimagine the admissions presentations you give at high schools and community colleges. Ask yourself, “What does this generation of students really need and want from my institution?” rather than, “What do I think I need to tell them?”
In a virtual environment, a current student or young alum may more easily be able to join you at an information session. Hearing firsthand from a member of your student community will help prospective students envision themselves as your institution. Immersive engagement means helping prospects see their path to success when they join your community.
Be full-time with social media
Without in-person high school visits or campus tours, social media has become an even more important platform for engaging students. When evaluating your social media strategy, think about whether you are taking full advantage of the channels Gen Z uses most, like Snapchat and TikTok. One of my former colleagues recently identified an admissions counselor on his team who is especially savvy with social media and gave him license to innovate.
Because social media best practices are evolving so quickly, the goal is not to be perfect. Experiment, iterate, and figure out which notes you’re hitting with students and parents are most successful.
Make admission decisions faster by prioritizing application review
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Whether we like it or not, research shows students are more likely to enroll at institutions that give them speedy admissions decisions. While it’s not always possible to be the first school to admit a prospect, your team should prioritize application review to avoid being last.
Think about deputizing an admissions counselor or member of your ops team with a knack for process improvement to map your current application completion and review process from start to finish. Use the student experience lens rather than internal structure and convenience to identify roadblocks. Then, build out and operationalize your streamlined application completion, review, and notification process. Your goal is to create student excitement and anticipation about the possibilities ahead!
As you work through the uncertainties of the upcoming recruitment season, remember that every college and university is navigating the same complexities for the first time. Consider my EAB colleagues and me as a sounding board as we recruit the class of 2025.
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