Four Tips to Help Colleges Attract Prospective Students Through Community Building

Four Tips to Help Colleges Attract Prospective Students Through Community Building

How can your college stand out from the crowd of options? Check out these strategies to grab (and keep) the attention of prospective students.

The last few years have been difficult for college admissions personnel. Student admissions peaked in 2010 and took a nosedive during the pandemic. Colleges have struggled to fill their seats and are seeking innovative ways to reach potential students. Like any relationship in life, the key to effective student recruitment is communication.

It’s not all doom and gloom on the college admission front. For the first time since the pandemic, enrollment grew in 2023. The trend has continued into 2024. As of March 1, 2024, there has been an increase of over 70,000 applicants from 2023 numbers, a 6% increase. Despite the growth, undergraduate attendance fell by nearly three million: 18.1 million in 2010 to 15.2 million in 2023.  

The steep declines and shifts in the perceived value of a college education mean tough times for those in higher education enrollment marketing will persist. The question they must ask is, how can they build a better recruitment process to capture student interest and ultimately turn that into an application? 

Effective student recruitment strategies

Here are four ways to communicate and sustain prospective students’ interest – and convince them to take the next step in the college search process.

1. Diversify Communication Mediums

In the last decade or so, there’s been a great emphasis on social media. Makes sense. Many high school-aged students spend a great deal of time engaged in the medium.

Colleges should continue to engage on popular social media platforms and consistently deliver engaging content in their social media posts. They should even consider investing in social media advertising to ensure they’re getting in front of the right eyeballs at the right time (with the right content).

However, college recruiters need to reach beyond social media and recognize students’ preferences in consuming information vary. Just as learning styles vary, so too for receiving information. 

That makes it important to provide several ways for prospective students to learn about all aspects of the college. Those other mediums could include blogs, emails, texts, YouTube, and more. Reaching prospective students via multiple mediums is ideal. It keeps the school top-of-mind and is more likely to reach a wider audience. Note that according to sales experts, “it takes an average of 8 touches to get an initial meeting (or other conversion) with a new prospect.”

2. Foster Student Connections

College marketers can’t stop at generic advertising if they hope to be successful. The younger generation wants to connect to information and for it to be personalized. Therefore, colleges need to develop personalized experiences and connect with prospective students on a deeper level.

Advertising can and should be more personalized. Colleges can collect information about students via surveys, tracking clicks, etc., and build a persona to understand what’s driving the prospect. This information can help colleges hone their messages for each student.

The next step in fostering personal connections with prospective students is student ambassadors. Young people want genuine connections, and they more naturally connect with their peers. Student ambassadors, who are current students, can offer a perspective about the college that resonates with those still in high school. 

Colleges should strive to connect prospective students with the ‘right’ student ambassador – similar backgrounds, interests, etc. Ambassadors can forge a personal connection and give prospective students needed information to aid decision-making.

Student ambassadors can also moderate tours, webinars, and group chats. Besides answering questions, sharing their experiences, etc., the ambassador acts as a role model. Prospective students see/engage with someone at a similar stage in life. The contact helps prospective students imagine themselves following the same path.

3. Storytelling as an Engagement Tool

Storytelling has been around forever. Okay, maybe not, but there’s evidence storytelling was used when humankind dwelled in caves. Storytelling has stood the test of time because it’s a powerful medium. We hear stories and imagine ourselves in the story; it helps build community and creates a variety of emotions. 

Video is the preferred medium for many young people to get their stories. Half of today’s teens spend 1-5 hours watching YouTube.  Even video done in a low-fi way, i.e. not overproduced, which is costly and time-consuming can be a draw. To add accessibility, enabling speech to text captioning.

 Storytelling and video give college recruiters a great opportunity to reach prospective students. They can showcase real-life experiences through student generated content through video and other formats. What’s a day in the life like at X University? By painting this authentic picture with a story/video, prospective students get a clearer idea of what their college experience could be. 

Other potential stories/videos include alumni success stories, behind-the-scenes tours, etc. This can be delivered in various tones and personalities – practical/informative, fun, and more. 

If students tell the stories, it adds authenticity to the story. It’s also more likely to connect with prospective students. The videos should be shared in various mediums to increase the likelihood that prospective students will notice and view them.

4. Enhanced Virtual Tours and Events for Prospective students

People are busy these days, with many packing their schedules with activities. Even prospective students who face a big decision may be unable to make it to campus for events and tours. The challenge of being in-person is increased if students are out of state. 

Prospective students may prioritize being on campus for a college tour – presuming they can afford the travel. However, they may be unable to attend other events such as information sessions, speakers, game nights, etc., even though they would like to due to time/money.  

To increase the connection and nurture prospective students, colleges should embrace virtual/hybrid tours and events. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, the production of the events or tours should employ high-quality visuals and speakers who can engage those onsite and those at home. 

Creating an immersive experience where location does not lessen the experience helps colleges continue communicating with prospective students wherever they are.

Note this is especially important for Community Colleges even though students are local. By showing off their facilities, social and group opportunities, and academic offerings, they can overcome the stigma some people have regarding community colleges.

Xello Can Help

Maintaining communications with prospective students to sustain their interest is a must for college recruiting. The fierce competition for the smaller pool of students means those in higher education enrollment marketing need to find innovative techniques to reach prospective students.

Xello Communities provides a secure, focused space for your school and student ambassadors to interact with motivated prospective students as early as ninth grade. It gives colleges the ability to showcase campus life and academic offerings, as well join in active discussions with real students.

 With over 1 million students on the Xello platform, Xello Communities gives you the tools to create authentic connections with your best-fit students before inquiries are ever made. Contact us today for your personalized tour of Xello Communities.