9 creative ways to increase college enrollment

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9 creative ways to increase college enrollment

As application season closes, admissions teams are thinking about how to engage prospective students without hiring more staff or allocating additional funding—and without spamming students with more emails.

That’s why we’ve rounded up creative strategies to improve yield communications (and ultimately increase enrollments) that you can try today—”ideas that, due to their modest cost, short time frames for implementation, and light lift in terms of coordination, are best suited to rapid action,” writes Anika Olsen, a principal and consultant at EAB, in a blog post. What’s more, these strategies have been tried and tested by more than 25 diverse EAB partner institutions.

1. Text students to remind them to complete unfinished tasks

Text messages have a 98% open rate and a 45% response rate, compared to a 20% open rate and 6% response rate for emails, according to an AdmitHub blog post. Even more, in one study conducted by two University of Virginia and University of Pittsburgh professors, 86% of students reported that text messages prompted them to complete an unfinished task. And 85% of students reported that text messages informed them about a task they hadn’t realized they’d need to complete.

86%

of students say that text messages have prompted them to complete unfinished tasks
of students say that text messages have prompted them to complete unfinished tasks

85%

of students say that text messages informed them about a task they hadn’t realized they'd need to complete
of students say that text messages informed them about a task they hadn’t realized they’d need to complete

That’s why texting can be an effective channel for getting students’ attention, according to EAB research. “Texting works because text messages are basically impossible to ignore,” a dean of admissions at a small, selective college in the South told EAB. “But that’s also what makes it risky. Just like anyone else, students are going to be unhappy with you if you’re repeatedly grabbing their attention for no good reason.”

2. Create a Facebook group—for parents

53%

Students who provide parent contact information are 53% more likely to submit an application
Students who provide parent contact information are 53% more likely to submit an application

EAB data shows that parents are the top influencer when it comes to students’ enrollment decisions. For instance, students who provide parent contact information permitting schools to contact parents directly are 53% more likely to submit a college application.

After prospective students apply, colleges can continue to engage applicants by engaging their parents. For example, schools can copy parents on action-oriented emails to students or create a Facebook group for the parents of admitted students—keeping in mind that management of the group will be necessary to field parents’ questions.

3. Deliver student-centered messaging

In addition to emailing prospective students often, ensure that the messages you send focus on the students—not your college. Because while it’s common practice to use recruitment messaging to tell students what makes the campus unique and special, prospective students would rather hear how they will fit in and thrive at the institution. In fact, according to an EAB analysis of 1.5 billion annual student interactions, messaging that focused on the student saw a 50% increase in response rates.

4. Personalize acceptances

Customize communication with prospective students by adding a paragraph to your admit-offer letter that discusses details from the student’s application in a way that makes it clear that the acceptance was not automatically generated. Or send accepted students posters with school-related imagery and personalized text from their application.

5. Develop a mobile-first experience

61%

increase in the number of students who actively engaged in college search—and applied—with their mobile device between 2011 and 2017
increase in the number of students who actively engaged in college search—and applied—with their mobile device between 2011 and 2017

It’s no secret that today’s prospective students are more tech-savvy than ever before. In fact, between 2011 and 2017, the number of students who actively engaged in college search with their mobile device—and used their mobile device to apply—increased by 61%, writes Olsen. And underrepresented groups, including black and Hispanic students, engaged with colleges using their mobile devices at rates 11% and 7% higher, respectively.

Therefore, colleges should not only ensure that their website is optimized for use on mobile devices, but also implement mobile-first design to elevate the website for the entire student experience, from navigating from emails to landing pages to the application. These pages should also be “personalized, pre-populated with student information, easy to read, and lightning-fast,” writes Olsen.

6. Lead social media campus tours

To give prospective students a glimpse into campus life, ask student ambassadors to create and post short campus tour videos to Instagram or Snapchat. Or post “guides to campus life” explainer videos featuring current students.

7. Gather social proof

Social proof is an effective recruitment strategy because “it honors a basic priority of students in their search for information on the schools they’ve short-listed for consideration, namely, that they want to hear from their peers,” according to EAB research.

Similar to the “guides to campus life” videos, social proof may include student testimonials. For example, Augustana College features more than 70 student profiles on their website, curated by faculty and enrollment leadership and written by students. These profiles “offer admitted students a highly relatable vision of what they might do and become at Augustana” and give students “a vivid picture of the exceptional peer group they are being invited to join,” reads the research.

8. Launch an admitted-student website or webpage

An admitted-students website is arguably the most important channel for communicating with students across yield season, according to EAB research. “More than any other piece of your communications infrastructure, it serves as a go-to resource for students throughout yield season—the one place that aggregates information they might need from you as decision day approaches,” the research reads.

“More than any other piece of your communications infrastructure, [an admitted-students website] serves as a go-to resource for students throughout yield season—the one place that aggregates information they might need from you as decision day approaches.”

EAB Research

To give your admitted-student website a facelift, EAB research recommends first giving the pages a content audit. For instance, ensure that your site highlights key aspects of your institution’s value proposition and provides links for resources that answer prospective students’ most pressing questions. Next, give the site a format audit to ensure information is accessible, organized, and optimized for mobile use.

Similarly, EAB research recommends setting up a dedicated website or page for reposting or curating content from current students’ social media feeds to share with admitted students.

9. Host swag contests

Connect with prospective students via social media by running surprise trivia quizzes. Participants who respond with the correct answers have a chance to receive a free school sweatshirt, for example. Another option is to ask admitted students to post photos of them wearing school-branded swag to social media as part of a themed photo contest. Similarly, students who get the most votes are then awarded prizes.

Sources: EAB white paper, 3/28/18; Olsen, EAB, 7/13/18; Olsen, EAB, 11/7/18; Ruhlmann, AdmitHub blog, 10/29/16; Castleman/Page, Harvard Education press, October 2014

Learn more about engaging admitted students

Finding and enrolling right-fit students for your graduate and online programs is challenging in part because every adult learner has unique motivations, expectations, and timelines. Learn more about their unique journeys through this infographic.

Although applicant and admission pools have seen historic growth at schools nationwide, admission teams have not always grown at comparable rates. This gap has left many enrollment leaders struggling to remain responsive to admitted students and their parents. Learn innovative communication tactics to scale the challenge and increase yield.

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