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Recruiting Intelligence

The Long and Winding Road Tracing the Student Journey: Part 1

Tracing the Student Journey Part 1

As we settle into 2022, we can't help but think about journeys – those we've been on and the ones we're embarking on now. Two important processes are staring us in the face right now. One for our prospective students and one for us. In reality, both are for us:

  • Application season
  • Budget planning

As enrollment management professionals, we know the elements of the student journey – from evaluation of the options, to defining the shortlist, applying, and then making the final selection – and all the small stops along the way that influence the student’s ultimate enrollment decision.

When we talk about the student journey, we think about everything we can do from a marketing and communications point of view to put the right information in front of prospective students at just the right time. What is our team doing well? What tools do we have in place? What are we missing? Our answers to these questions speak to both the application season and budget planning process.

If you’ve not yet downloaded our framework for budget planning (1-page chart), you’ll find some helpful insight there. Simple, straightforward steps to clarify your rationale for funding one recruitment project over another.

If you are attending the 2022 AIEA conference in New Orleans (Feb 20-23), be in touch and we’ll find time for a coffee and an exchange of ideas.

Read on for a helpful review of what the student journey is all about given the new twists and turns that the past two years have forced upon all of us.

Your goal in helping to guide the student journey: putting opportunities in front of your prospects to help them determine what is best for them. Think about:

  • What you want to tell them.
  • What you want them to tell you.
  • What they actually want to know.

The last one is where it all really starts. If you approach the journey from that point of view, you are much more likely to engage and connect.

Where, and when, does the journey begin?

Ask an international student when they first started thinking about university and the answers are as varied as autumn leaves on an oak tree. Some might have daydreamed about American college campuses all their lives. Others only realized that studying in the US was a viable option a few weeks before finding your institution.

This creates an enormous amount of pressure on higher education institutions to find creative ways to not only get their brand in front of prospective students and families as early as possible, but to hold their attention over the course of several months and years.

We’ve talked before about audience segmentation and the various marketing channels you’ll want to use throughout the student journey, so this time, let’s look closer at what might help or hinder your relationship with prospective students along the way.

What obstacles or negative experiences can cause us to lose a prospect?

We’re sure you can think of many ways to answer this question—especially after these past two years! But rather than dwell on external factors, let’s concentrate on the things you can control. Here’s a quick list of #instantregrets.

Slow response time (or worse, no response)

Loyal readers will recall a few of our mystery shopper exercises, which revealed that 25% of universities never responded to our student inquiries, and another 10% responded in a month. So, more than one-third of your colleagues were entirely ineffective at following up with the student leads they acquired.

We started conducting and reporting on those experiments in 2013, so by now we’d expect most have a pretty slick response system in place; however, it’s always worth running a few tests to see how quickly your initial response reaches that prospect – whether it’s by email, social media messenger, SMS, WhatsApp, WeChat, etc. (Let us know if you’d like some help with that).

It’s not just the speed that counts, either. What tone of voice are you using? Is it a stoic, info-led, matter-of-fact response? Or are you using a friendly tone and engaging content that invites the prospect to start a dialogue with you?

And we’re not finished yet, because your next pain point is right around the corner…

Crickets. Really?

Just when we thought we were getting somewhere, our prospect goes all quiet on us.

If you’ve nailed your initial response, chances are you’ve built in some follow-ups, but how often are those going out and what kind of content are you sharing?

Even if a prospect doesn’t open, click, or reply, don’t be too hasty in kicking them out of your funnel. The prospect journey is a long one, people are busy and time flies. And with ever-changing Covid factors, families often go offline for a stretch these days.

Rather than bombard them with two or three messages and then give up or rely on monthly auto-generated emails, consider switching up your approach. This can include experimenting with new subject lines or message openers, trying different days of the week or times of the day, and having a different messenger step in to re-engage the prospect, such as a student ambassador, a local agent, a professor, or an alum.

Holding back information or making things hard to find

“But it’s on our website!” cries the recruitment team.

Yes, we know the information the prospect asked for is probably on your site (and maybe prominently)… as well as in the email you sent that he or she didn’t open… and in your brochure for goodness sake! But let’s face it: for the average teenager (Bachelor prospect) or busy working professional (Postgrad prospect), they probably also know that it’s faster for them if they can simply ask you and have you send it.

Easier than searching for it in your maze of a website or in the depths of their inbox, right? Giving your recruitment team a chatbot on your website is going to bring them back to being your best friends (see our post “Using Chatbots for Student Recruitment”).

Rather than see this as a negative, questions from prospects can actually work in your favor. Questions demonstrate interest and give you the perfect “in” to kickstart a deeper conversation.

The art of marketing is finding the balance between making information easily accessible, yet holding back just enough to whet someone’s appetite and prompt them to engage with you to get to the juicy nugget of info they’re seeking. When they engage, you have more opportunity to take the conversation where you want it to go while making sure you answer their original question(s). You are building relationships over time.

If you've read this far, you'll also want to take a look at our 2020 post detailing some of the technical details of customer journey mapping.

And now that you’ve got your prospective students' attention, we need to talk about how to hold it. This is how students’ journeys lead to your institution. Stay tuned for that topic in Part 2 next week.

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