For prospective students, the path to deciding where to go to college is lengthy, and your marketing strategies must reach people at every stage of their journey. Millennials and Gen Z are questioning the value of higher education. And those that do decide to pursue a two or four-year degree thoroughly research to find out which school is right for them. There are many steps people go through in their journey toward getting a degree, so marketers need to plan strategies along the higher education enrollment funnel.
It takes years for a prospective student to transition from wondering whether or not to go to college to enrolling in a college. They go through many emotions throughout that time, from excitement to being overwhelmed to hope. In addition, they are actively researching options by talking to people they know and researching online on their own and with their parents.
In order to get your institution in front of prospective students, no matter where they are in their journey, you need strategic planning and coordination to develop marketing strategies across the higher education enrollment funnel.
What is the higher education enrollment funnel?
When people refer to the enrollment funnel, the focus is frequently on the steps from when someone becomes an inquiry to enrolling as a student. But before they become an inquiry, prospective students go through a consumer journey or marketing funnel. Sometimes the two funnels are segmented between admissions activities and marketing activities, but they need to be looked at collectively. Marketing impacts every step of the funnel, from raising awareness of your institution to welcoming students when they are enrolled.
At each stage of this funnel, people's emotions go up and down while they seek answers to different questions about how their college selection will impact their futures. Therefore, in your marketing, you need to address the mindset of prospective students as their journeys progress.
Let's go through each phase of the higher education enrollment funnel with examples of marketing strategies along the way.
Marketing Strategy Examples Along the Higher Education Enrollment Funnel
At this beginning awareness stage, people realize they want to further their education. They may be considering a degree, online courses, a certificate, or an apprenticeship. They are enthusiastic and hopeful, thinking about how an education will make a difference in their lives and the fun they will have at college if looking at on-campus programs. They may start looking into the career they are considering, reviewing colleges' websites, and asking people about their experiences.
Therefore marketing strategies at the awareness stage should contribute to the excitement of college while providing helpful answers. For example, you can develop Q&A YouTube videos, or highlight student and alumni success stories in press outlets, on the college website, and social media.
At the consideration stage, people are researching colleges. They usually have some in mind to start with and will ask their friends or family for recommendations. At this point, they might be unclear about what they want to study or what kind of school they want to attend—online, on campus, local, or not.
They are eager to see what options are out there. They are actively seeking information and are open to advice. Marketing strategies at the consideration stage may entail search engine optimized blog posts about career paths, a user-friendly website, or social media posts that showcase the college experience at your institution.
People get more serious about their search when they reach the evaluation stage. At this point, they are more clear about what program they want to study and the type of college they want to go to. They have narrowed down their list of schools and are looking at more details about each. They're feeling a little more uncertain about their future and overwhelmed at this stage. Going to college is a big decision, and there are a lot of factors to weigh, from tuition costs to student life to outcomes.
Marketing strategies at the consideration stage should center around being transparent and helpful in providing information that will help prospective students compare you against other institutions. This is also the point in the enrollment funnel where prospective students are about to become inquiries. Invitations to events, like campus visits or virtual open houses, or checklists about the application process will drive people to request information from your school and get them ready to apply.
At the inquire stage, prospective students have expressed interest in your institution! They have attended an event, filled out a form to get more information, or reached out to admissions. At this stage, they feel hopeful and apprehensive about whether or not your college is the right fit.
Marketing strategies at this point need to be responsive and consistent. Keep in mind that prospective students inquired about multiple schools and are actively comparing their options. A strategic email and SMS plan is critical, automating a timely stream of communications that address any open questions or barriers while driving them to take the next step to apply. You will also want to coordinate communication efforts with the admissions team, who will also connect with inquiries on a more personalized 1-on-1 level.
When prospective students apply to colleges, they have many feelings, including excitement, anticipation, and nervousness about whether or not they will be accepted.
Your marketing should continue to students who applied because you're still in the enrollment funnel. People apply to five to six schools on average, so you should keep in touch with applicants through email, letting them know you received their application and informing them about the timeline and next steps.
The admit stage is a thrilling time for prospective students—it's the moment they have been waiting for! They will be overjoyed at being accepted, especially if your institution is their top choice.
Marketing continues to have a vital role at the admit stage. Prospective students applied to multiple schools and still need to decide where to enroll based on where they are accepted.
The admit stage is one of your last chances to stand out from the other schools on their list, so make a big deal out of letting them know they are accepted. Get creative by customizing a celebratory acceptance email and video. Also, follow up with the life-changing news by sending a packet in the mail, giving them some branded items so they feel accepted in your community, and including a letter to the parents, who are very influential at this step.
The final stage in the higher education enrollment funnel is when students choose to enroll in your school. Your marketing strategies in the enroll stage shift to generating loyalty and creating brand ambassadors who will recommend your institution to a new group of prospective students and come back to the college for more programs or donations after graduation.
Students' college experiences, professors, friends, and career opportunities will be the most significant contributors to their loyalty to your institution. However, marketing can contribute by sharing posts on social media that students will be proud to share or by hosting student events.
The path to choosing which college to go to is long, and so is the enrollment marketing journey. By understanding and planning for each stage of the higher education enrollment funnel, your marketing activities will connect your institution with students from their search to the final selection of the college they choose.