With more applications than ever, but a shrinking number of applicants and commitments, admissions and recruiting teams at colleges and universities are facing greater competition and challenges than ever before. Shrinking numbers of students are sending out applications to more schools, and they're relying heavily on virtual college tours and the creativity of recruiting departments to draw their commitment.
As recruiting teams at colleges and universities are challenged to do more with less staff and resources, how can technology and automation help your department thrive? What are a few modern market strategies to increase student enrollment?
Across the US, the number of high school graduates in each state has leveled-off or decreased in recent years, yet there are more applicants to four-year colleges and universities. This is due to a greater percentage of high school graduates applying to colleges and universities. Meanwhile, the pressure is on for recruiting departments to maintain high achievement standards for their respective institutions.
Additionally, many students attempt to cover their bases by using technology to help them apply to large numbers of colleges. Applications to seven or more colleges and universities is now the norm! This means that recruiting teams are in greater competition than ever. While nationally known colleges and universities may fare well in their admissions, many regional public and private colleges will struggle to fill their incoming class well into the summer.
If this sounds like your team, here are a few simple-but-impactful things you can still accomplish. Use the below market strategies to increase student enrollment and help you attract the right-fit applicants to your institution, even if you have less help.
1. Share Authentic Student Stories
Host a social media contest on your campus and ask current students to talk to their friends. Record their answers to common questions prospective students have like, "Why did you choose this school?," "What do you love about campus?," "Where is your favorite spot to hang on campus?," "What is your favorite on-campus meal?," and "What is your favorite part about being a member of this community?" This way, you have an easy way to create a connection between current and prospective students.
Student-shot footage may not be extremely high quality, but it gives a "real" feel to the information shared, and does not require the time of your staff during filming. It also engages your current population of students and allows them to be invested in recruiting their peers. By hosting a contest, you should be able to build a good deal of content for future use. It is, however, important to ensure the video is put together by a professional who understands storytelling and can combine all of the student clips in a meaningful way. This can also be a great way to showcase on-campus clubs and majors and Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook stories are great places to share this content. Consider having current students do "day-in-the-life" takeovers with social media stories leading up to application deadlines. You may be shocked to find that you already have some of the greatest social media "influencers" already residing on your campus.
2. Effectively Showcase Your Campus
No one sees your campus more fully and authentically than your students. They interact with your campus in a natural way, finding the spots where they love to spend time and spaces they find important. Why not use their perspective?
User generated content is crucial for authenticity and nothing shows authenticity like a student-shot film. Current students love to show off their school. Let student tour guides film their favorite places on campus and tell stories about different experiences they have had in these places. Use this content in a weekly social media series to highlight a different area of campus each week that could appeal to prospective students.
Who are your students? Give prospective students a window into the diversity of your student population. Designate a day on campus for celebrating the diversity of your school. Give out sidewalk chalk and let your students run wild with their drawings of what they love about your campus. Set up designated photo-opportunity points around your campus. These can have backgrounds for students to use to strike a pose or for an impromptu post to their own social media of choice. Make sure you have hashtags for the students to use so that these posts get categorized in a way that allows your college to collect them for recruiting.
A self-guided virtual campus tour is perfect for when campus tours are overbooked or limited because of staffing shortages. Visitors can use it after a tour to explore areas of campus that a guided tour doesn't have time to cover, or if they are visiting during off hours. These virtual guided tours are much more effective than traditional map PDFs, especially for the average Gen-Z prospective student who is used to navigating with GPS.
3. Create a Robust Online Experience
Your social media may be the first place prospective students visit, but your website is most likely a close second where students will go to gather information about your institution. A majority of prospective students have indicated that college and university websites need to be easier to navigate and the information provided on them needs to be clearer. Go through your website and make sure that all of the questions you most commonly get in emails and phone calls can be answered with just one or two clicks. It may take some time up front, but will allow your limited staff to complete other necessary tasks rather than answering the same questions over and over. Also, ensure that your site is as mobile-friendly as possible. The next generation of students rarely looks at a website from a computer. More often than not, prospective students click through directly from a social media account to a site on their mobile device. Your web presence needs to be as direct and easy to navigate as possible from a phone or tablet.
Your content should be enticing and eye-catching. Prospective students love video and interact instantly and effortlessly with the storytelling a video brings. The most-used social media apps among Gen-Z are largely video based, like TikTok, Youtube, and Snapchat. This indicates that video is much more effective at catching prospective student attention than text or images. Sort through your existing video content to find the best and most relevant videos to place in strategic locations on your website. Video is the most effective way to capture attention and make your institution stand out.
You should maintain some hope for your department to hire again soon and for a return to normal staffing levels. Enrollment numbers and staffing budgets could very well bounce back in a post-Covid environment. However, trends are indicating in every industry that this worker shortage and budget decreases are not going to disappear any time soon. Start thinking about reshaping your team and redistributing your work for this new normal. Use these market strategies to increase student enrollment, relieve your understaffed team, and shape the image of your institution and incoming freshman class.