COVID-19 has upended the normal way of doing things in nearly all areas of higher education, including college recruitment and enrollment. Many institutions have pushed acceptance deadlines forward, and without the typical college decision day events and campus tours, higher ed marketers are struggling to meet yield rate targets and keep incoming students engaged.
The American Council on Education has predicted a 15% drop in college enrollment nationwide for the 2020-21 academic year. Among high school seniors, 58% are reconsidering the schools on their college list and 7% are considering not enrolling or deferring admission for a year, according to a recent survey of thousands of students by Niche, an educational research group.
During this unprecedented crisis, communication is key to earning commitments from the students you’ve accepted, and getting them to enroll for fall. Here are four things you can do to guide students from “accepted” to “enrolled”:
1. Ramp Up Your Digital Marketing
Your incoming freshmen were already getting most of their information online before this crisis. Social distancing guidelines are bound to increase their time spent online, so it’s more important than ever that you have a strong, frequent presence on their social media, in their inboxes, and on their web browsers.
Your competitors are vying for their attention too, so your content must not only be plentiful, but also creative. Repurpose content you already have so that it can be used on your website, on social media, and in emails, and create new content that duplicates in-person experiences as much as possible. This can include virtual tours, town halls, trivia contests, scavenger hunts, and social media campaigns that get prospective students excited about your school and welcome them into your community.
2. Share Stories from Students, Faculty, and Alumni
When prospective students make connections with current members of your community, it creates an attachment to your school that increases the chance they’ll enroll. Those connections aren’t being made in person anymore, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be made.
Articles, videos, and social posts featuring current students, faculty, and alumni can help the students you’re courting see themselves as part of your community.
Instagram takeovers from current students allow prospective students to ask questions and imagine the interesting people they’ll meet in class. Stories from community members (like long-married couples who met on campus, and successful businesspeople whose million-dollar ideas came to them when they were students) that emphasize the lifelong benefits of attending your school can be especially impactful.
Virtual events that allow community members to shine, from at-home concerts featuring performing arts majors to professors demonstrating science experiments, can also get incoming students excited about attending.
3. Speak to Students’ Changing Priorities
The class of 2024 has money on their minds. In the Niche survey, 89% of high school seniors said they are more concerned about being able to pay for their education now than they were back when they sent in their college applications. Incoming freshmen want to feel confident that their money will be well-spent at your institution and that they’ll get a stable, high-paying job after graduation. Clearly communicating your school’s value proposition, highlighting your affordability, and creating content with the help of your career services staff can give accepted students the confidence they need to overcome their worries.
The Niche survey also found that 37% of high school seniors are planning to choose a college closer to home than they were going to originally. This creates an opportunity to promote the benefits of being near home to accepted students who live closer to campus. It could also create an opportunity to connect accepted students who live far from campus with alumni from their area who are willing to share their experiences, or to highlight the good they can do back home with the skills they learn at your school.
4. Show You Can Handle a Crisis
College-bound students are paying attention to how the institutions they’re considering attending are responding to COVID-19. In the Niche survey, 59% of high school students reported that how a college handles the current situation will affect their college decision. That means that the work you’re doing to serve current students is essential to recruiting your next class of students as well.
Incoming students want to see that you’re providing your current students with the resources they need to continue their educations from home, that you’re responding to students’ concerns in a timely fashion, that you’re helping the class of 2020 celebrate their achievements, and that you’re helping your college community stay connected, even when they have to be apart.
By highlighting and repurposing your best existing content and developing new content in collaboration with members of your college community, Lightstream can help you continue to engage, create excitement, and ease uncertainty with prospective students.
Contact us to learn how we can help you meet your yield rate target and keep your incoming students engaged.