Historically, college and university marketing and recruiting teams relied on student search lists compiled by ACT and the College Board to identify and start engaging their prospective students. For decades, higher ed had little competition when using these lists. The size of the prospective higher ed student pool outnumbered college enrollment goals, and the burden of matching a college to a student was mostly on the student.
But now more schools are vying for fewer students as the number of high school graduates decreases, technology is shifting the way students research schools and society is questioning the value of higher ed in general. This means that the traditional, “top-of-funnel” approach that relies on search lists is no longer helping schools meet their enrollment goals – especially as more colleges employ a test-optional approach in their admissions models. It’s time to reinvent the enrollment funnel for today’s reality.
What is the enrollment funnel?
Sometimes called “the admissions funnel,” the enrollment funnel is a marketing concept used to define a sequence of events a prospective student goes through before reaching an enrollment decision. The enrollment funnel is typically separated into several stages: awareness, consideration, yield and enrollment.
It’s called a “funnel” because the audience size shrinks as prospective students make their decisions to either leave or move closer to the final stage – enrollment. In higher ed terms, schools want to build awareness among many prospective students, convince some of them to engage and then finally drive the right-fit students to enroll.
Key considerations for restructuring the admissions funnel
In this article, we look at how to restructure the admissions funnel, outlining key considerations and changes schools must consider. Our goal is to help colleges and universities better nurture prospective students and prioritize their marketing and recruitment efforts to get them to the enrollment stage of the funnel – as inexpensively as possible.
Refocus marketing and recruiting efforts on middle-of-the-funnel prospects
As more schools realize that the traditional methods used to drive top-of-funnel awareness are no longer delivering results, many are beginning to switch their focus to those prospective students who are already aware of the school. In the past, prospects used to leap from awareness to enrollment after little more than a campus visit. However, today they’re taking their time and doing their due diligence.
Today’s prospects are carefully weighing their options. They are looking closely at cost and how they’ll finance their educations. They are considering practical realities, such as which programs are likely to result in stable job opportunities later. And many are forgoing their top college choices in lieu of less expensive options. All of which happens during the consideration phase of the enrollment funnel.
Colleges that nurture their relationships with prospects who are in the consideration phase often have greater success in meeting enrollment goals because those prospects have already expressed interest. An added benefit is that because the prospects get to know more about them (and vice versa), they are more likely to enroll “right-fit” students. These goals are achieved through integrating the college’s marketing and admissions teams to create a multi-layered activity approach.
On the marketing side, schools should leverage technology channels to reach and engage with prospective students. This includes the use of web-based channels such as social media, email, search engines, livestreaming, online advertising, web content and more to support how people research information online today. Notably, every outbound message on these channels also creates an opportunity to listen and learn more about prospects. When these insights are shared with the admissions team, staff can be better prepared to respond to prospects with the information they seek.
Types of supporting digital marketing activities include:
- Paid search (PPC)
- Paid and organic social media
- Website strategy (includes search engine optimization and conversion rate optimization)
- Referral strategy
- Content marketing
Ways digital marketing can move prospective students through the enrollment funnel
There are a number of benefits to using digital marketing, but here are our top three:
1. It fits with your Gen Z and Millennial audience
Generation Z lives with a mobile-first mindset. They use their smartphones to carry out all kinds of daily activities, including searches for colleges and visits to higher education websites. And many of them probably never even think of checking a physical mailbox for brochures.
In addition, prospective students now often turn to social media pages to get a sense of a school’s culture – and how others view (and review) it. The school with the “best” online presence is more likely to generate the most interest and move from just another school on the list to a school worth considering.
2. It strengthens your potential to build relationships
With so many educational options, institutions that prioritize listening, problem solving and relationship building in their marketing and recruitment strategies are more likely to stand out.
Through digital marketing, prospective students can also reach out to schools and let them know they’re interested. In fact, they do this every time they search for an academic program that matches a school’s offerings. Digital marketing can be as simple as running a marketing campaign focused on strategic search terms, such as “RN to BSN,” but it also means being responsive to your audience and listening to what they need.
One layer of “digital listening” might be found in how quickly a school responds to a student who completes a request-for-information form on their website. Digital marketing provides a great tool for preparing admissions teams to do what they do best: engage in friendly, welcoming conversation that encourages each prospect to continue to the next step in the admissions process.
3. It allows you to mine valuable analytics
Digital marketing involves online channels that have analytics dashboards. These dashboards can be reviewed in real time, allowing college marketers to see how well their campaigns are performing and make adjustments almost immediately.
When you’re talking about being responsive to your prospects’ needs, it can also mean checking your website’s analytics and optimizing the most-visited areas to give your audience what they are looking for – not just what you think they need. When trying to attract digital natives, the faster you can get them what they’re looking for the faster they’ll move through the funnel.
Moving prospective students to the next stage of the admissions funnel
The consideration phase of the admissions funnel is where schools have the greatest chance of finding their right-fit future enrollees. And for many schools, a significant number of these students live right in their own backyard
Your institution must make sure it’s engaging with the prospective students who are already aware of your existence but are also shopping around through search engines and social media. The more engaged a college is with these mediums, the more likely they are to move students who are “just looking” to “just enrolled”.
em, too. The more engaged your college is with these mediums, the more likely you are to rise to the top of your right-fit prospects’ choices.