It is well known that COVID-19 has greatly disrupted students’ ability to take the SAT and ACT – and enrollment leaders’ ability to get prospective names from these traditional sources. Additionally, the rise in institutions adopting test-optional policies and in students opting out of submitting test scores raises questions about the future supply of purchasable names.
But what can universities and colleges do to diversify their sources of leads? Professional and Adult Education units and community colleges have long had to recruit students without the benefit of names from standardized tests. Read on to learn their savviest strategies and how to adapt them to bolster your supply of prospect names.
1. Give student ambassadors your social media megaphone
Prospects trust current students to candidly discuss the college experience on social media far more than they trust marketing materials. Provide a social media platform for student ambassadors, such as a dedicated Twitter account or weekly takeovers of the institution’s Instagram account, to share their experience and answer questions from prospective students.
However, it’s not enough for students to just share about their great experience. Student ambassadors also need to personally outline the steps prospects should take to inquire or apply. Equip your student ambassadors with social media training and the know-how to plug key recruitment information. Importantly, make it easy for student ambassadors to pass on the name and contact information of any interested prospects they connect with to enrollment leaders.
2. Double down on parents as prospects
It’s well-known that parents and guardians are key influencers of students’ college-decision making. But did you know that 71% of parents say that schools should communicate directly with them during recruitment? Treat parents like prospects to tap into their sphere of influence – EAB’s Enrollment Services generated an 8% increase in applications after expanding parent-first communications as compared to no parent marketing at all.
Our research shows parents and students aren’t always concerned about the same things, so parents need their own tailored communication plan. Here’s how to find parents and what to tell them:
Ask prospective students to share their parent’s or guardian’s contact information during inquiry. Among our Enrollment Services partners that conduct sophomore and junior searches, 41% or more of their student search responders share parent contact information. With this additional point of contact, students were 53% more likely to apply.
Institutions may be able to identify parents even without action from students themselves. Absent information from students, enrollment leaders can identify parent prospects through other avenues, such as alumni and donor lists, parent lists from feeder high schools, and geotargeted ads based on demographic data.
The 2020 EAB survey of 2,530 parents of college-bound students found that college cost, debt incurred, and scholarships ranked as three of the top four concerns that parents had about college. Students’ health was not as worrying to parents as college cost—a remarkable finding during a pandemic.
Parents also care a lot about student outcome, with “successful job placements after college” and “strong career preparation services” ranked in the top five things that parents would pay more for. Make sure parents know about the financial aid options and key ROI for your institution.
3. Times are changing: Your website isn’t the only site that matters
Students with strong intentions of attending college increasingly opt into the college search not through college websites, but through third-party search websites (e.g., Cappex, CollegeXpress, and Niche). These resources allow students to compare institutions against each other, find scholarships, and create a personal profile to get matched with colleges and scholarships. These sites not only promote an institution’s profile to high-intent students during the search process, but they also offer lists of interested students to institutions for purchase as an alternative to the College Board and ACT, Inc.
4. Students testimonials are all the rage, but many lack this crucial feature: An easy call-to-action
Without in-person campus tours or high school visits, testimonials from current students are more important than ever in providing social proof (proof from peers) that an institution or program is the right fit. And with “stealth shoppers,” or prospects who don’t offer any information before applying, student testimonials can grab their attention and persuade them to self-identify earlier in the search process.
But not all student testimonials are created alike. The most successful include clear next steps for stealth prospects to “raise their hand” and identify themselves, capturing their names for continued and more targeted outreach. These calls to action seem simple, but they’re often missing from many testimonials:
- Apply Now: Strong, action-oriented language that links to the application and decision-supporting information (e.g., application deadlines, financial aid options)
- Connect with an EAB University Student: Options to connect one-on-one with a student ambassador to make that interpersonal connection
- Learn More: An inquiry link immediately in view after watching a testimonial video
Social media ads for New York University’s Food Studies master’s program draw prospects in with “a day in the life” video of a current student. Shot by the student herself, the four-minute video views more like a personal vlog than explicit marketing content.
The Facebook ad uses a casual, unfiltered picture of a current student and inviting language (e.g., “Join us”) to pique prospects’ interest. After clicking on the ad, Facebook users access a version of the program webpage that has information on application and financial aid right below the video testimonial. The ad also prominently displays an “Apply Now” button for easy access to the webpage.
The student testimonial automatically starts playing when viewers come across it on Instagram, grabbing their attention more so than a static picture or text content. Most importantly, the “Apply Now” link is directly accessible below the video and prompts viewers to visit the program webpage after watching.
5. Geofence ads like you’ve never geofenced before
Geofenced and geotargeted ads allow enrollment leaders to target advertisements based on geographic, demographic, and even behavioral data (e.g., program search history). Consider placing ads in zip codes where your institution has had enrollment successes or gotten ACT and SAT names from in the past. Concentrating mobile ads in those areas can replace leads that otherwise would have come through test names.
While people generally aren’t moving around during the pandemic, it also means that they are spending even more time at home and in front of screens. After identifying zip codes of interest, place geofenced ads across residential areas in those zip codes to target prospects likely staying at home.
Want more on recruiting and serving students of the future?
Learn how key pandemic-era experiences will impact student behavior for years to come and how your institutions can respond to enroll and serve tomorrow's students.