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  • Higher Education
Three Admissions Challenges Facing Higher Ed Marketing Pros This Fall (and What to Do About Them)
Hadley Rosen

Higher ed marketers agree that enrollment pressures are higher than ever, according to a recent survey. Boosting yield is no longer the sole responsibility of the admissions team; your marketing department is likely being called upon to offer more time and talent to help fill seats.

So, as the busy fall admissions season gets underway, we're helping you prepare by revealing three of the top challenges higher ed marketers will likely face.

Empty Classroom

Challenge 1: Everyone applies to your school, but few attend.

Having just returned from the EduWeb conference in Boston, I heard this concern from several college marketers. If you're lucky enough to be located in an amazing city (like Boston!) or a have a big name, you may find yourself on seemingly every student's application list. To compound this challenge, the number of students applying to seven or more colleges has jumped dramatically the last decade, with some students applying to as many as 30 schools — something made easier by the Common App.

Whether you're at the top of their list, or a safety school, you can take some steps to get students out of the admitted pile and onto campus with a solid yield marketing strategy that hinges on personalization.

Once a student is admitted, the time is right to engage them on a personal level so that your school can stand out. A handwritten letter from a faculty member in a program that interests them, or a free return to campus for a tour are probably tactics you've tried before; the time may be right for you to invest in website personalization.

Personalization is nothing new in ecommerce; think of Amazon recommending based on past purchases, for example ( for me, it's always more shoes!). Forward-thinking colleges are jumping on this trend as a way to drive the right students to conversion quickly.

Personalizing your website could be as simple as adding location-specific fairs or events based on a simple site cookie, or a more comprehensive customization based on specific pages a student visits.

Getting budget pushback for this type of initiatives? We know that it costs far less-perhaps three to five times less-to retain the right students than to recruit new ones. So, while there are up-front costs to personalized engagement post-admission, your school will reap the savings of retaining the right students from the start.

The Ultimate Website Optimization Guide for Colleges and Universities

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Challenge 2: If you could just get students to campus, they'd apply!

Many of our country's 4,000+ colleges and universities, from the beautiful Colgate University to Bucknell, are a bit off the beaten path, but that shouldn't mean your yield should suffer if students can get there for an in-person tour.

One practical solution: investing in the ever-growing field of Virtual Reality. Oculus Rift and other providers are creating immersive experiences that leave their wearers swatting at imaginary insects or dodging animals on the savannah.

Brookline, Massachusetts-based 829 Studios' take on Google Cardboard for virtual tours is affordable and impressive. The firm used Google's lightweight, viewfinder-like wearable to create a very cool, mailable item that's the next best thing to touring campus. In fact, Stanford University now gives one away to every prospective summer student.

Google Cardboard Glasses

Bigger budget? Film a VR tour. More video companies are specializing in this type of filming to create a custom tour of classrooms and dorm rooms, and add in interviews with like-minded students or faculty. These tours are often viewable both on desktops or using VR goggles.

For Vanguard University, a bird's-eye view drone video showcases the school's enviable location on the California coast, while a 360 degree tour lets prospective students and their families "walk" around campus in a surprisingly realistic format.

Vanguard University Virtual Tour Online

Challenge 3: An increasingly distracted target market

It can be a hard sell to change the way your admissions team has always spent their hard-earned ad dollars. And while paper ads and mailers may have worked in the past, your target market is likely buried behind their screen, engaging with brands in a completely new way.

A happy medium: influencer marketing online.

"Influencer" marketing grew dramatically this year. Just look at your Instagram feed where sponsored posts of everything from detergent to jeans sift into and blend with organic content.

And while we tend to think we're independent decision makers when it comes to what we wear or buy, these types of posts can be very, ahem, influential.

Have you heard of The College Prepster? Her 200,000 Instagram followers see her as a tastemaker and purchase products she recommends through affiliate linking. Your target demographic is likely already engaging with and purchasing products this way-and might even be brand influencers themselves!

Finding a few "influencers" of your own on campus to post to your school's Instagram or Snapchat account to influence different types of future students can make prospects say, "Hey, there're students like me here," and is a very low-cost way get in the game.

Finalsite Feeds pulls in multiple social channels into one stream, and can bring influencer marketing right to key pages on your site. And don't forget to #hashtag. College of Coastal Georgia uses a hashtag with more than 4,000 images that are real "influencer marketing" in Instagram!

Interested in how Finalsite can help you reach your college's marketing or admissions goals this year? Check out our Resources for Higher Ed, or join us in person in Hickory, NC on October 4 at Lenoir-Rhyne University for a Free Digital Marketing Workshop!

The Ultimate Website Optimization Guide for Colleges and Universities


Sarah Van Tiem

Hadley is Finalsite's marketing and communication manager and is a former independent school teacher, fundraiser and marketing director with a passion for cooking, travel, and spending time outdoors with her growing family. She founded and produces the FinalsiteFM podcast network and enjoys meeting Finalsite clients from around the world.

  • Admissions
  • Marketing/Communications
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