The Educated Marketer


4 Risks of Not Tracking Prospective Student Online Behavior

by C. Grant & Company | Sep 25, 2015

 |  college recruitment


The vast majority of today’s prospective students -- a whopping 97%! -- are reaching out to the college or university they’re interested in first -- and do much of their own research about the school online and on their own time.


Just 3% of students in this study said that they waited for a college to contact them before getting in touch for more information or to apply.

This means that your institution’s strategy for student recruitment has got to be nimble -- you can’t rely exclusively on old strategies, such as cold-calling and direct mailing. And your admissions team needs to be up-to-the-minute on how today’s college-bound students use the Internet.

The stakes for being out of touch are high. If you’re not up on how rising juniors and seniors are using the web…

1. You’ll get a poor ROI (return on investment) by using marketing strategies that simply don’t connect

Phone consultations and glossy viewbooks may still have a place in the marketing toolbox, but for many schools, a robust content marketing strategy offers the best ROI. And taking content marketing a step further and implementing an optimally designed inbound strategy helps prospective students move through the new admissions funnel -- on their terms, at their pace, and, often as not, on their smartphone. (Most students have them!) Relying on student recruitment strategies that depend on phone consults and sending cards back via snail mail risks allocating your department’s resources in ways that aren’t likely to offer a great return on your marketing investment.

2. You’ll alienate them with a poorly designed and badly optimized virtual experience

As noted above, most students -- three quarters of them! -- have smartphones -- and use those mobile devices to research their higher education options. An institutional website that’s not optimized for mobile is a disaster from that point of view. Additionally, college admissions professionals should be attentive to ways that they can connect with prospective students via their mobile devices. For example, is there a way for students to opt-in to mobile messaging related to the admissions process?

More important than the nitty-gritty details of what, exactly, your institution’s marketing strategy looks like, though, is this fact: college students, and people approaching college age, are generally early adopters of new Internet tools and apps. If you don’t know what they’re doing online, you’ll run the risk of seeming -- and perhaps actually being -- hopelessly out of date.

Having optimized social media profiles and leveraging the potential influence of students, alumni, and faculty is a great way to get started -- high school students today spend a tremendous amount of time using platforms like Facebook, Twitter -- and the hottest apps of the moment!

3. You won’t reach the right students with the right message at the right time

It’s just not enough to have a beautiful, mobile-optimized website: to draw the students who are likely to fit well with your institution, you’ve got to master the art and science of SEO -- search engine optimization.

To do that you need to have a clear idea of what your institution is all about. Are your academic offerings unique in your geographical area? Do your programs combine classroom instruction with practical experience in a way that’s different from comparable schools? Whatever your distinctives are, it’s important to communicate them clearly -- using the kind of natural language and varied keywords your prospective students are likely to be searching for.

And once they land on your website, it’s important that you know the best practices for keeping them there, or else

4. You’ll miss out on the opportunity to connect with students who are already interested in your institution

It’s essential to create optimized pages for prospective students to land on -- your institutional website’s homepage probably isn’t ideal. In the best of cases, students (or their parents) will land on a page that features remarkable, high-quality content, focused around the questions and problems that your ideal student (and their parents) are looking to have answered at their particular stage in their buyer’s journey. Remember that choosing a college is a major decision with a long lead time. Focusing content around the stages in a college decision-making process -- awareness, consideration, decision -- will help you connect with the right people with the right message at the right time.

When you do that, you’ll want to make sure to offer a clear and appealing call-to-action, so that once you’ve reached the prospective student, you can stay in touch as the college search continues.

To sum up:

The college admissions funnel looks drastically different than it used to, and staying up-to-date on how prospective students use the Internet in their college search process is essential for student recruitment.

Learn how to beef up your college recruitment with our free Inbound Marketing checklist.

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