Applying to college can be a complex process. This is especially true for first-generation students, who often don’t have family members to look to for guidance.
Students who lack a college-educated network are also often unaware of the college options available to them or feel constrained by their financial situations. Some simply undervalue their potential. And as a result, several qualified applicants fail to apply and enroll.
So I’ve rounded up a few tactics colleges and universities are using to proactively reach out to first-gen students and help them navigate the college application process from start to finish:
1: Social media
An EAB survey of 5,580 prospective students suggests that underrepresented students are more likely to turn to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to learn about and interact with colleges, writes Emily Bauer for EAB’s Enrollment Blog.
For instance, 27% of first-gen students initially encountered a favorite school via social media, compared with just 17% of non-first-gen students, writes Bauer.
So even before the application process, colleges and universities can garner interest among prospective first-gen students through targeted social media messaging. Bauer recommends analyzing the effectiveness of your current social media campaigns, then “your staff can optimize your messages and give underrepresented students the information they need where, when, and how they are looking for it.” And “[r]emember, social media is inherently interactive—a dynamic that helps to sustain students’ use and enthusiasm,” adds Bauer.
2: In-person and online nudges
It’s one thing to encourage prospective students to apply. But it’s another to ensure they submit their applications with all of the necessary materials—like the FAFSA—by the deadline.
That’s why several institutions nudge students to submit their application materials.
For instance,the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) not only holds FAFSA and application drives at local high schools and around the community, they also send applicants virtual nudges.
Enrollment managers at UTRGV connect with prospective students’ high school counselors to alert counselors of their students’ progress on applications, according to a white paper from EAB’s Enrollment Management Forum. The online platform flags missing documents for high school counselors, so that they can nudge students to complete them. The high school counselors can even request in-person assistance from UTRGV to ensure a quicker and smoother application process.
3: Virtual advisors
First-gen applicants are more than twice as likely as non-first-gen applicants to report having “major” concerns about financing college, according to research from the Higher Education Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.
But virtual advisors can help first-gen applicants better understand the true cost of college and act as a sounding board during the application process.
For instance, CollegePoint, a program funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, connects high-achieving, low-income students with virtual advisors though computers or cellphones. The advisors answer students’ questions and dispel common college myths at no cost.
Perhaps most importantly, the virtual advisors help students parse their financial aid awards. Financial aid award letters have jargon that’s notoriously hard to understand, so a virtual advisor may compile an applicant’s financial aid award letters along with a breakdown of her college expenses to help her make the most informed enrollment decision.
Virtual advisors also help prospective students avoid undermatching by ensuring they understand that financial aid doesn’t necessarily dictate which school will ultimately be the best fit.
4: Dedicated concierges
Once students submit their applications, there are still several barriers they must overcome before matriculating. And if students don’t receive the support they need, they’re more likely to “melt.”
But institutions often struggle to effectively answer all of the questions students have during this timeframe.
“As a result, colleges and universities commonly send all admitted students the same communications,” according to the Enrollment Management Forum white paper. “This standardization fails to account for students who could still use extra support.”
That’s why the University of California, Santa Barbara pairs admissions counselors with students who may need additional assistance once admitted, such as first-gen and low-income students. Students receive the contact information for their dedicated concierge, who acts as their main point of contact to answer any questions they have from the time they are admitted to the time they matriculate.
To enroll more underrepresented students, enrollment managers must alleviate student concerns and minimize process barriers. Explore the nine best practices to craft an application process tailored to the needs of each underrepresented applicant.
Learn how to support first-gen students through the application process
For low-income and first-gen students, applying to college can be a complex process. Virtual advisors make the process a little easier.