Co-written with Pegi Anton
When enrollment managers and admissions directors ask us what makes a college student search program successful, they are usually wondering about things such as creative, offers, and mailing strategies. But while those elements are important, a student search program also requires a variety of institutional efforts to enhance its productivity and efficiency.
In our work with campuses using Noel-Levitz Direct for student search programs, we always advise campuses to have the following six strategies in place before they launch a student search program. These elements form a critical foundation that will support and strengthen the search itself.
1. Be prepared to follow up immediately with new inquiries.
When a student inquires, your institution or your student search firm should send an email fulfillment instantly and any paper fulfillment should be mailed within 24 hours of the inquiry. You also should have a specific plan for continuing communications with these prospective students.
You may already have a standard inquiry communications flow, but at the minimum we suggest that new search inquiries receive the following within the first 90 days:
- An introductory brochure about your institution.
- A series of emails (every other week is appropriate) that highlight your key marketing messages.
- An introductory letter to parents of the inquiry.
- A TUMAY (Tell Us More About You) card or electronic response mechanism that allows students to provide additional information about themselves for your CRM. A more sophisticated version of this strategy is to ask one or two self-disclosure questions at a time, providing multiple opportunities to engage with the inquiry.
- An invitation for a campus visit or to a campus event.
2. Make sure key pages on your website are optimized for content and interaction with students.
The pages most likely to be visited by search inquiries—or by targeted students who don’t inquire but are interested in “secret shopping” your institution—are academic programs, admissions, and financial aid. Our specific recommendations include:
- Make social media buttons large and highly visible. The links should connect to a social media dashboard featuring multiple feeds and venues, including specific sites for prospective students.
- Your online inquiry form should be simple and user-friendly. Some targeted search students may choose to inquire this way after visiting your website rather than through search channels.
- Have an effective net cost calculator in place that is easy to find and use. An online calculator that can match students with your institution’s scholarships without extensive data entry is most effective. (Noel-Levitz offers a net price calculator that is highly customizable.)
- Academic program pages should provide lively, engaging descriptions of your majors, not catalog-style copy that focuses on the details about major requirements instead of the benefits of pursuing it. For example, important content would include:
- Why study this major at your institution: 3 or 4 key differentiators or factors related to your institutional reputation;
- What your graduates are doing: five to ten examples of recent graduates that have secured strong graduate school placements and job placements;
- Interesting classes, facilities, and faculty;
- Quotes from faculty, current students, and/or recent graduates;
- Experiential learning opportunities in the program (for example, internships, study abroad opportunities, and student-faculty research);
- Admissions requirements, when different from your general criteria; and
- A concise online request-for-information form on every program/majors page, along with a link to your online application.
3. Arrange for search inquiries imported into your CRM to have their own unique source codes.
Consider structuring your source codes by character to support data analytics. For example, if your source codes are four-digit alpha/numeric, use the first character to indicate the type of search such as rising student or senior search, the second to track the timing of the search (spring, fall, or month), the third to track vendor list source, and the fourth to identify the response medium such as mail, email, or telephone.
By combining disciplined source-code tracking with other top-of-funnel data, you will create a way to track your student search results through the entire funnel. Those metrics are also crucial for making adjustments from campaign to campaign.
4. Tell your campus that you are conducting a campaign.
Children of faculty, staff, friends and neighbors of the institution, alumni, and others may see the mailings, so provide information campuswide about your general strategy and goals. Be prepared to answer the question: Why wasn’t my daughter/son on the list? Usually explaining where the mailing lists originate (e.g., College Board, ACT, NRCCUA) will help individuals understand why their student has not been included.
5. Implement a social media plan on your sites for prospective students that parallels student search.
The messages, promoted events, and content of your social media sites should supplement and enhance the messages that are contained in your student search communications. Create a social media calendar that is in sync with search. For instance, when an email that focuses on financial aid is being sent, provide supporting content on Facebook and Twitter. This ensures that students targeted in student search receive coherent, coordinated messages across search mediums.
6. Give admissions counselors access to the new inquiries in their assigned territories and encourage outreach.
In an era of mass and electronic communications, don’t forget that a personal touch can differentiate your institution. An affinity postcard from a current student from the same high school, home town, or co-curricular interest or major, or a hand-written card from a counselor, can make your institution stand out.
These students also should be targeted with personalized emails from a counselor and included on invitation lists for local and regional events. Telephone calls from counselors and student calling teams should be a priority as well—Noel-Levitz research shows that more than 60 percent of students indicated they wanted to have conversations with school representatives both before and after application. If you have a high volume of search inquiries, a predictive model can help you prioritize students for personal contact.
Regardless of follow-up tactics, get those new names to counselors and your student phone team within 48 hours.
Is this a lot of work? Absolutely. But if you want those student search inquiries to progress through the funnel to enrollment, your investment of time and resources will be well worth it.
Ask for an evaluation of your student search program
How can you better implement these strategies and execute a student search program that impacts your enrollment? Email Pegi Anton to arrange a time to conduct an evaluation of your current program. We can discuss ways to increase campuswide efficiency and communication, improve cross-channel communications, and engage students in a way that makes your campus stand out.
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