Step 2: Attract and Connect, Using Creative Ways to Engage Your Prospective Student Identifying prospective students who are the ideal match for your institution is only part of the challenge in driving enrollment. Perhaps the biggest challenge is making an authentic connection with prospects, in order to demonstrate how you can fulfill their needs as a higher education partner. In Step 1 of our series on streamlining the enrollment funnel, we talked about how to identify Key Market Opportunities worth maximizing. In Step 2, we’ll discuss how to create a clear path of inquiry for the prospective students you’ve discovered: a path that emphasizes ease, relevancy, and personal touches.
Improving the Path of Inquiry
Think of the student’s path to decision-making as a series of opportunities for you to wow them, provide spot-on information, and tailor the experience to their unique needs. Chances are, the journey will start at your website, or at a partner site. Review your website for clarity, ease of navigation, and visibility of the form visitors will use to request info. And don’t forget to review and optimize each program page you are highlighting. Think of creative callouts that highlight major selling points for the program, like:
- Potential outcomes
- Standout features of the program
- Accessibility features, such as evening or online courses
- Relevant community/employer partnerships
- Graduate successes
Next, review what the next step will be once a student requests information online. When we “mystery shopped” schools, we found that initial contacts to interested students varied from a personal phone call to an unexciting email template. And in some cases, prospects received no response at all to their inquiries! In order to have the most influence on a prospective student during the path of inquiry, it’s important to have a plan not just for the first contact, but for each subsequent step until the student reaches a decision.
Setting the Tone
Each time a student interacts with a representative of your institution, they are developing an impression that will determine their ultimate decision: whether or not your school is the perfect fit. When students research higher education partners, their frustrations may range from distaste for the format or manner of contact, to their inability to get the answers to all their questions at one time. Here are just a few roadblocks we observed when we “mystery shopped” 24 schools:
- We had successful voice-to-voice contact with only 11 out of 24 schools.
- 21 out of 24 schools could not provide clear tuition and fees or residency requirements without a transcript evaluation.
- Only 3 out of 24 schools were able to completely answer all of our questions.
- In most cases, the student had to research and reach out to multiple representatives in various departments (Program Director, Student Services, Financial Services) to get answers. There was rarely a single point of contact who could answer questions from all categories of inquiry.
Any one of these frustrations may be a deal-breaker for someone who is considering several institutions with similar programs. So, fine-tuning your first and subsequent contacts will be key to keeping prospective students on board during their discovery process.
Our Plan for an Amazing First Call
A successful first contact can leave students feeling positive, engaged, and ready to learn more about your institution. But oftentimes, first calls just aren’t that wonderful. For example, we found that college representatives often forgot to introduce themselves to the students they were talking to, missing a key first step in rapport-building. Improving your calls may require you think outside of the box a bit. Beyond simply gathering information, representatives should consider how to personalize the interaction, draw out the student, and foster a dynamic conversation. Here, we break down the recipe for a successful call:
Step 1. Introduction. Introduce yourself and your role to the student. Get or confirm their contact information and program of interest.
Step 2. Transition into the Conversation. Ask an open-ended question that allows the student to tell you what they’re looking for. This will help you determine the best path for steering the conversation.
Step 3. Engage, Empathize, Inform (repeat). The goal of this step is to encourage students to talk about themselves and their educational goals, as well as to empathize with the student’s current situation. You can show your understanding by repeating what they’ve said back to them, along with relevant program information. For example, you might say something like, “It sounds like you’re concerned about balancing work with your studies. We offer many of our required general ed courses online, which could give you some flexibility.”
Step 4. Customize and Build Plan. Ultimately, your goal is to schedule the student for a campus visit, or get them to submit an application. Walk the student through the process of applying, and confirm when they plan to proceed to the next step. If they are not ready to apply, schedule a visit to campus if possible, or encourage the student to commit to an alternative next step.
Step 5. Summarize Call. Review what you’ve covered in the call, and state what the next steps will be for both you and the student. Let them know you will be sending an email with follow-up info and further instructions, if applicable.
Every step of a prospect’s path to inquiry is a chance to highlight your institution’s value and unique attributes. And even more importantly, every contact is an opportunity to make a meaningful connection with potential students. As you develop your strategy, you may find it helpful to consider the following questions:
- What is the tone you wish to set with the student during the first impression and subsequent contacts?
- Put yourself in the student’s shoes – what approach would feel effective to you as a potential student/consumer?
- What benchmarks can be used to measure success, e.g. higher application counts or increased numbers of scheduled campus visits?
- What is your follow-up strategy for monitoring progress and analytics?
For Steps 3 and 4 in our series on optimizing the enrollment funnel, sign up for our free, live webinar! The webinar will cover:
- Optimizing your enrollment management process
- Closing gaps in the student experience, from inquiry through graduation
- And other topics key to maximizing enrollment and retention!