The process students undertake to research college programs has changed drastically in the past couple decades. Students no longer rely exclusively on print advertisements, US News & World Reports, and word-of-mouth.
The digital landscape has broadened the competitive set of options available to prospective students. Online, brick-and-mortar, or a blend? Specialty or general education?
The internet is leveling the field, and small programs have an opportunity to compete against large universities. Now it’s about the race to attract prospective students by capturing their attention and conveying the value of your program… before your competition can.
The average “short list�? for prospective students is three schools. LinkedIn recently conducted research based on 1600 students on LinkedIn and found that nearly 75% of the time, prospective students don’t reach out to an institution for information until they’ve already placed them on the shortlist.
In fact, 93% of students end up choosing one of the schools they identified early on during their independent research.
Whoa. This means that if you want to increase enrollment, you can’t wait for prospective students to come to you. You have to do whatever you can to make their short list – without even talking to them. This requires a new type of strategy.
In fact, in “Building The Pipeline For A University? A Case Study In Increasing Enrollment�?, we discussed how universities can increase enrollment by digging into how different segments of students make the choice to enroll.
Before a student decides where to enroll, a potential applicant goes through a journey that the higher-ed community is diligent in tracking and evaluating. More specifically, students move from
- becoming aware of a program by doing their own research and being exposed to different schools by potentially visiting a variety of programs’ websites to
- gaining interest in a select number of programs by joining webinars or requesting information to
- considering a specific number of schools and submitting applications down to
- choosing where to enroll.
This decision journey can last for years, and students make choices along the way.
They make the choice to become more aware about certain schools or programs.
They make the choice to obtain more information about a select number of schools.
They make the choice to then apply to an even more select list of schools.
And, ultimately, they make the choice to enroll in one school.
One choice leads to another choice. To complicate matters further, different students make these choices differently.
For example, the LinkedIn research found that Gen Xers were 58% more likely to desire online options whereas Millennials desired face-to-face learning. However, Millennials were 34% more likely to look for part-time options.
So, higher education marketers have to increase brand awareness to reach prospective students before these students are even searching for them (psychic?) AND they have to tailor their strategy to different segments of students in order to be effective.
This means you need data to make decisions. Data about how your prospective students make these choices.
Vennli has been fortunate to partner with a variety of schools and programs to impact each part of this journey. These engagements have been diverse – here are a few examples:
- Understand how student decisions vary across different degree programs in order to effectively create messaging for the broader university.
- Identify which new degree programs to offer based on unmet needs in the market.
- Learn how to best position, market, and message new programs in a crowded market.
- Figure out how to increase enrollment for targeted degree programs within nursing, economics, theology, accounting, business, and others.
Across all of these, our clients – deans, assistant deans, program directors, leaders of marketing, enrollment, or admissions – are ultimately looking to increase enrollment by getting on the short list for prospective students.
With all programs looking to do the same, those that understand the drivers of their student choice the best and are able to tailor their go-to-market strategy based on this understanding will win.
What will you do differently in 2016 to win the students’ choice?