Students aren’t typically thought of as customers. There’s clearly a lot more at stake for someone committing to higher education than someone deciding to purchase a new vacuum cleaner. That said, there are some key similarities between a prospective student and a potential buyer. They both travel a distinct path that begins with lack of brand awareness and ends with them (hopefully) becoming a loyal supporter.
The student journey is a bit different than the typical buyer journey – it’s much lengthier. This means there’s more risk that students could lose interest, but also more opportunities for you to engage and support them throughout their entire higher education experience.
So, how do you determine the best way to reach those prospects at each stage? You can start by better understanding what students are doing and thinking. The graphic below should help. It can give you a better sense of the student mindset and how that affects which outreach methods are most likely to be effective.
Visualizing the college student journey
How you connect with students during every stage can make a huge difference for your institution. It’s not enough to get them through the door – you also need to ensure they stay. This means you need to guide prospects through every step of their eight-stage student journey.
A detailed look at the 8 stages of the college student journey
Keep reading to learn more about each stage and what you can be doing to engage with students as they advance through the process.
1. Identifying what they want and need
During this initial phase, students aren’t really thinking about college or their eventual career goals. They may be busy with school, or they could be working adults. This isn’t the time to tell students about your academic success center or a new program specialization. Instead, your goal is simply to plant the seed. Try high-funnel tactics like running brand awareness video ads to help introduce your institution to prospective students.
2. Beginning their preliminary research
Students eventually realize they have specific professional goals. As they begin to research different roles, you have the opportunity to help them solidify their decision. One great example of this is creating and promoting optimized blog content that profiles different careers and the how to pursue those positions. Students will soon recognize that they’ll likely need the proper training and education to achieve their goals.
3. Comparing their educational options
Now that students have started researching different degree programs, they realize there are a lot of choices. They’re likely visiting numerous college websites and seeking additional information. As students start doing more online research for specific degree programs, making use of paid-search ads can help them recognize that you have offerings relevant to them.
4. Narrowing their choices
This critical phase is when students formulate their final list of schools and begin submitting applications. To make the final cut, you’ll need to clearly articulate what makes your institution different from the competition. Short message service (SMS) marketing can be very effective at this point. Consider crafting brief text messages that speak to student concerns like affordability and how to complete the application process.
5. Selecting a specific school
It’s not uncommon for students to gain acceptance to multiple institutions – some evidence suggests 35 percent of first-time college freshman apply to seven or more schools. After reviewing every offer of acceptance, students at this phase have determined your institution is the best fit for them. But that doesn’t mean your job is finished. You’ll need to make use of things like direct phone calls to make sure students are completing all the necessary final steps like submitting their deposit and completing health forms.
6. Enrolling and attending class
This is the phase during which students attend orientation, purchase textbooks and begin to attend their classes. Your focus should be on retention. It’s important to make sure students have access to all the resources they may need. You could, for instance, make use of owned social media channels to make sure students know about on-campus support services and networking events.
7. Obtaining their degree
Now that students have reached the end of their educational journey, they’re getting ready to graduate and step into the working world. Schools can actually play an instrumental role in making sure this transition goes as smoothly as possible. Making sure soon-to-be and recent graduates are informed about career fairs and resume workshops through email communications is one example.
8. Becoming a loyal and supportive alumni
Once they graduate from your institution, alumni will continue to build upon their foundational skills and grow in their careers. If they had a positive experience, they could become important advocates and encourage the next generation of students to consider your school. They may even consider returning to obtain additional credentials in the future. You can continue to engage with these graduates through direct mail, which can include event notifications as well as alumni newsletters.
Help prospective students achieve postgraduate success
The better you understand students, the greater your chances of engaging with them throughout their entire college experience. Everything from a video ad driving awareness to a personalized text message can have a huge impact on the student journey. But getting the timing and messaging right is essential.
Recognizing what students are seeking becomes more critical as they progress to the later stages. This is when your admissions team can really make a difference. Find out how you can ensure a seamless experience for prospects by downloading our complimentary guide, “Nine Ways to Improve the Student Experience and Grow Enrollment.”