27 Mar 4 Creative Student Recruitment Strategies to Help Universities Overcome Reduced Student Applications
Reading the latest news in higher education, one could easily perceive that enrolling international students is a task easier said than done. With the recent fall of 5% in the number of student applications in the UK and 40% of US universities reporting a decline in international student applications, student recruitment in higher education is highly different and more complex compared to the past ten years. Adding to this the rise in tuition fees and a new generation of hyper-connected students, universities and HE marketing practitioners have therefore no choice but to adapt quickly to these new market dynamics and rethink their recruitment strategy. To do so, the proliferation of digital technology has paved the way to unparalleled opportunities, allowing universities to reinvent and distinguish themselves to engage with prospective students through many touch points. The ability for universities to provide a truly innovative, engaging and therefore memorable experience to prospective students is what will differentiate winning universities and make them stand out in a highly competitive and vitriolic market.
Making students feel special
Prospective students today have more information than ever before and are empowered to make optimal choices regarding the universities they want to engage with. This is a major game changer for universities and HE marketing leaders who are now forced to deliver prospective students with personalized messages through their preferred channels of communication and at the right time. Indeed, students are looking for relevance and simplicity. They want to choose a university that understands them as individuals rather than members of a category. As such, universities must adapt to the students’ journey to create relevant conversations and move them forward in their unique decision-making process. The example below illustrates how this can be implemented in the context of student recruitment and shows the power of timing and personalized messaging.
In this example, the university astutely referred to the passion of the student but more importantly offers a course that is very relevant. Combined together this created a highly personalized conversation, resulting in a new lead for the university and, above all, an experience where the university stood out. In using the right platform to reach best fit students and scale up the volume of personalized messages, universities can amplify the number of leads generated without comprising the quality of these leads.
Creating a seamless experience for all prospective students
With a new generation of students embracing mobile and social technologies, it’s now a critical moment for universities to lead that change and become empowered with omnichannel forces.
By taking prospective students from start to finish across all channels in one smooth line, students will remember universities they engage with for all the right reasons. Mapping and understanding the customer journey of your prospective students and setting goals accordingly is the right step to take. For each persona, universities must map the most common customer journey; detailing channels and types of interactions through those channels. Creating a seamless experience for prospective students is a strategic decision and to deliver a “wow” effect UK universities need to ask themselves:
What does the customer journey for our prospective students look like?
Which stage of the journey are prospective students dropping out at?
What’s missing in our strategy to make them choose our university?
Most importantly, what can our university deliver to create a stronger customer experience than our competitors and ultimately enrol more prospective students?
There’s little value in a prospective student having a highly personalized experience with your university over one channel, when if they connect over another channel your university treats them as a complete stranger
Connecting students with their peers to build trust
Confronted with a new generation of students making decisions based on reviews and opinions from their peers, universities need to connect prospective students with stories and discussions from current and past students. Universities can then prove their worth and student success through examples of job placements in top organizations, unique international opportunities, academic research excellence, exceptional student career support, etc.
The use of group chats represents an efficient way to create discussions with their peers and build trust. In using online student recruitment platform universities can implement this student engagement tactic and need to look at data accumulated from all different touch points to discern where students might be blocked in their journey. Themes can then be developed based on the data gathered, such as visa application, accommodation or course applications. For instance, for universities looking to attract more international students from Nigeria, there is a good chance that creating a group chat “Visa application for Nigerian students” hosted by a student that already experienced this process will be extremely relevant for Nigerian students looking to apply, especially if the application process is complex.
Similarly, if universities want to improve enrollment for particular courses, an astute way to generate valuable conversations with students would be to offer 30 minute chat sessions with recent graduates to receive advice on course preparation, assignments and ask questions regarding the quality of the course. In doing so, universities set the stage for a more human and engaging student recruitment process, whereby they can make an emotional yet fact-based decision. It is also an opportunity for universities to have a unique insight into the students’ decision-making process and use data generated from different channels to optimize the student recruitment journey and create content that moves them forward in their decision-making process.
Building a supportive online student community to foster retention
Many students leave their hometown to study and find they must make new friends as well as adapt to new values, norms and to the local culture. Due to all these changes, students may face emotional difficulties and this highlights the importance of developing a community that can support them to make the most of their university experience. Universities can help students develop a sense of belonging from the beginning of their academic experience by building supportive online communities.
To reinforce retention among students, universities should build their online communities on two key pillars. Firstly, base the community around a course to enable students to work together and answer each other’s questions, express their ideas and show their personality. In doing so, students have the opportunity to discover each other’s experiences and develop new long-term friendships. Secondly, dedicated representatives from the university should build and manage the community. Representatives have a crucial role in ensuring that the community drives a continuous flow of conversations and that students find the support they need. Although a community can be a very exciting and simple way to join conversations, it is also very easy for students to leave after finding the answers they are looking for. This helps identify students that have not engaged with the community and who may be experiencing difficulty during classes, importantly to engage in order to avoid drop out.
Using a creative recruitment strategy demands universities to engage with students at each stage of their decision journey. Integrating the recruitment processes, personalizing the outreach and developing strong online communities are key pillars whereby universities can innovatively start humanizing their recruitment strategy and build meaningful relationships with students in order to drive recruitment and improve retention in a highly crowded market.