The quest to find the right university is one that today’s high school students take seriously. The question, "Where should I go to college?” has changed to “How should I go to college?” This evolution has many universities scrambling to find ways to influence these searching students.
This guide will outline four steps that universities can use to connect with students, highlight relevant information and influence the decision-making process.
The State of Affairs
Students nearing the end of their high school careers face more options than ever regarding how they’d like to approach higher education. Their options include four-year universities, community colleges, technical schools and countless more. Additionally, with the increasing flexibility and accessibility of online courses, students can now participate with universities almost entirely virtually.
If these options didn’t make the decision process difficult enough, external factors like the increasing cost of college tuition have created a competitive environment between universities and trade schools. Considering all of this, how can universities influence prospective students to choose their institutions over others? The answer is lead nurturing.
1. Know Your Audience
Within the audience of high school students exists a variety of personas—all of whom consider their own factors when making decisions. It then becomes a challenge to universities to understand what those factors are. In a survey from Encoura, the company received 90,000 responses from college-bound high school seniors in an attempt to provide universities with a better understanding of students' decision-making processes.
The study found that more than 70 percent of students consider one of six factors when deciding where to go to college. These factors include:
- Reputation/Academic Quality
- Value of Education vs. Cost of Attendance
- Availability of Desired Program
- Career Outcomes/Job Opportunities for Grads
- Feeling or Fit
The first step for a university should be to identify which of these factors an individual is considering when weighing attendance there. In addition, other identifying criteria can be used to create an accurate persona. Consider the age, gender and geography of your target students to create a personalized message.
2. Communicate Helpful Information
Once a university has identified the decision factors on which it wants to focus, it then becomes time for the institution to create helpful content that speaks to those students. This is why the next step in this process is to create a content strategy. The elements that make up an effective content strategy are designed to put valuable information in front of a target audience. These elements include:
- What type of content will be created?
- Who will be responsible for creating the content?
- Where will the content be distributed?
- How frequently can we create this type of content?
By answering these four questions, a university will be able to not only create helpful information for all of its prospective students, but also communicate it in such a way that those students will engage with the material.
Case in Point
Let’s say that a university decides that one of the major decision factors prospective students consider when looking at its programs is "Career Outcomes/Job Opportunities for Grads." With this in mind, we should first consider what type of content those individuals would find engaging. A HubSpot report identified that 54 percent of individuals want to see videos from brands that they support.
Based on this data, let’s say that we decide to create a series of videos interviewing professors and graduates having them talk about career opportunities after graduation—that's our content type. Once we’ve made that decision, the content-development team creates the videos with an expectation of one- to three-minute lengths, once per month for six months—that's the content responsibility and frequency.
Finally, we decide that these videos will be published on a specific page on our university website where students can consume the content and browse information about university programs—that's our distribution plan.
3. Hold Their Hands
Once a university has influenced a prospective student to learn more about it, the next step is to open the lines of communication. Visitor attention is a valuable thing—universities should reward their visitors when they spend time with any school material.
Create opportunities for conversations—some great examples of this include downloadable material, such as pricing guides, PDFs or e-books. In order to download the material, a visitor would fill out a form and enter his or her name and email address. This opens the possibilities of furthered communication via email with the student.
And use automation when possible—technology such as chatbots or email automation have removed the work of having someone constantly monitoring questions and replies. Technology such as this can be used to maintain communication between students, as well. In a recent HubSpot report, the company identified that 66 percent of buyers indicate that consistent and relevant communication is a key influence in the decision-making processes.
4. Celebrate Together
The final step in reaching potential students comes after an application. Once a student fills out an application and is accepted, take this as a major step in the decision-making process. Try taking the celebration a step further and let the student know that not only should he or she be excited about the decision made, but that the university is also excited.
Consider personalized video content or other forms of customized communication for the one-to-one touch. A small personalization can celebrate a student's decision in a unique and fun way. An important thing to realize in this step is that communication should not stop. Ask yourself, “Once students are accepted, what will they have to do next?” In this case, you could send information about registering for classes, how to apply for housing or information regarding their meal plans.—all of which are important documents that maintain communication with the student.