Best Practices for Engaging Prospective Students From Awareness Through Admissions

October 14, 2019

“I was thinking about going back to school. But it was a big decision, and I wasn’t sure it was the right time. Could I afford it? Would it be worth it? I was curious enough to press a button.

I immediately got a text. Then a phone call. Then another text, expressing regret at not reaching me via phone. I wasn’t ready to be contacted. I just wanted to check out some more information.”

Many prospective students are inundated with calls, messages and other forms of outreach too quickly because Higher Education marketers are focused on their own schedules and goals.

As an Account Executive at LinkedIn, I often share my thoughts with Higher Education marketers on how they can better use digital marketing to achieve their objectives. We recently conducted a survey with our partners at Carnegie Dartlet, a full-lifecycle marketing communications and independent research firm, to better understand how prospective students are making decisions and where to best reach them. We surveyed hundreds of LinkedIn members in North America who qualify as Bachelor’s completion, Graduate prospects, and current students. In this post, I share ways you can engage students in line with their timelines, goals, and decision-making process.

Find the Sweet Spot During the Research Phase

Higher Education marketers expect people to search for their school and programs, but prospective students aren’t always at that point of hitting “search” so early in the process. Our research revealed that 84% of prospects consider themselves at an early stage and 36% of Grad prospects have not even started their research.

That means Higher Education marketers can’t rely on prospective students to find them via search engines — or to reach out to their schools proactively. In fact, only 10% of these prospective students want to text or call during the research phase.

So, when and how should you engage prospective students? First, it’s essential to align with where students are in their process by providing a range of engagement points. With that in mind, figure out the story for all prospective students, from those who know nothing about your school to those seriously considering you.

Don’t just focus on facts – convey value.

Clearly articulate why they should care about your school versus just what you are offering. Along those lines, anticipate the questions prospective students will ask of admissions. According to our research, the top three concerns are:

  • It won’t help my career
  • I don’t have time
  • It’s too expensive

Allay those concerns in your messaging while using a consistent tone, perspective, and look and feel to cement awareness.

Drive Inquiries and Applications

If you’re not nurturing your leads post-capture, you’re missing out: 70% of un-nurtured leads enroll elsewhere. On the other hand, schools see 2X the enrollment rate when they message a prospective student 3+ times after generating the lead on LinkedIn.

You can join their ranks and boost the number of applicants by adopting an always-on content approach that surrounds prospective students with messages and information about your program. Continuing to expose highly interested students to your story and messages is how you capture interest, raise awareness and keep them close.

Specifically, promote open houses, student testimonials, webinars, information sessions, and application deadlines. And retarget prospective students so they see your messages repeatedly. Repetition keeps you top of mind!

Keep your headline copy short — think fewer than 150 characters — and offer a clear value proposition for your content. Once you grab attention, ensure a payoff between your message and landing page. In other words, don’t promise one thing in your ad and then deliver something completely different.

Set clear expectations — are you asking them to view a one-page infographic, listen to a 3-minute podcast, or download and read a 5-page report?

Higher Ed Marketing Doesn’t Stop at Admissions

90% of admissions directors say they are concerned about reaching their institution’s enrollment goals this year, according to a 2018 admissions survey by Inside Higher Ed.

You can ease that worry by orchestrating the experience for prospective students and embracing a partnership with admissions.

We’ve long known that people use LinkedIn over other social platforms for research, but we now know they want to use LinkedIn for admissions conversations as well. Our research with Carnegie Dartlet showed the preference for professional networks for admission conversations is 3.5x higher for Bachelors completion prospects. That rises to almost 4x for Graduate school prospects. And while email and phone are still the preferred modes for final decisions, LinkedIn is close behind.

This implies the line between marketing and admissions is blurred for prospects. They want to start their research on LinkedIn and they want LinkedIn to enable their admissions conversations.

You can pave the way by presenting the competitive advantages and concepts of your program. Doing so preps prospective students so admissions can continue the conversation.

Just be sure your messaging is in tune with what the admissions team is sharing with each prospective student. To that end, align your organic communications and paid advertising.

Align With the Prospective Student’s Journey

As you develop your strategy for driving more applicants, always keep in mind the student’s perspective. Align with a prospective student’s journey by calling upon the best practices I shared here to engage and convert them to applicants. Combined, these will set you apart from the competition and draw the attention of prospective students.

You can’t control when prospects start their decision-making process, but you can be there in the right place when they do and help guide that decision each step of the way.

Download the Carnegie Dartlet research. 

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