Difficult economic times have spurred record numbers of prospective graduate students to look for ways to enhance or change careers. In fact, graduate enrollment increased nearly 40 percent over the past decade. Prospective students searching for a way to advance or change their career through master's degrees are increasingly selective about their program and degree, meaning your institution needs to differentiate and position itself to remain competitive and successful in its marketing efforts.
GradSchools.com, an EducationDynamics web portal that has been connecting prospective graduate students with information about graduate education for more than a decade, recently surveyed prospective and active graduate students to identify current trends and emerging preferences within student recruitment. Based on the survey results, below are “dos and don'ts” that can help colleges and universities maximize the performance of their recruitment and marketing efforts. By understanding graduate students' expectations, schools can ensure their competitive edge through relevant and compelling outreach.
92 percent of students surveyed would be disappointed with a school or remove it entirely from consideration if they didn't find the information they needed on the school's website.
DO recognize that a helpful website is still your top recruitment tool. Create an information-rich website that gives prospects multiple opportunities to interact with your institution and learn about program offerings. Make sure details about financial aid, tuition and the admissions process are easy to find. Additionally, include program-specific details. For example, in our survey, 73 percent of prospective graduate students reported that the faculty ratio is somewhat or very important in their decision.
DON'T make prospects dig for information. Prospective students should be able to find the information they need in 3 clicks or less, especially when it comes to tuition and fees. These numbers are very important to prospective graduate students and nothing can kill a student's interest faster than burying the cost. Graduate students are more likely than undergraduates to finance the degree on their own and will want all of the tuition information upfront as they consider and compare programs.
Today's prospective students expect a swift response. Identify and prioritize high quality inquiries. You can best maximize resources by concentrating on prospective students most likely to enroll.
DO send students an automated response thanking them and acknowledging that the interest form was received. The most competitive schools make initial contact within 30 minutes of initial inquiry (if not faster). Send students a message to let them know you appreciate their interest, ensuring the form is not lost in cyberspace and reassuring them that someone will respond. Then send an email package within twenty-four hours. Don't be afraid to try new tactics like automated texts as well. The number on the form is most likely for a cell phone. Outreach should be creative and intelligent.
DON'T give up on your prospects. Our studies show that 60 percent of students enroll after the fifth contact. Unfortunately, many schools abandon prospects that have inquired but not applied, and this can be a missed opportunity. Differentiate your approach with multiple calls to action. If calls are not returned, send an email or vice versa. Additionally, just because a prospective graduate student is not ready to pull the trigger today, doesn't mean they will never be ready; 50 percent of disqualified inquiries become qualified after twelve months. Keep in touch.
Take advantage of the resources at your fingertips and get people talking about your school.
DO ask students to share their experiences with prospective students. The reputation of the program and faculty is important to prospective graduate students. Positive reviews from students can counteract complaints that may surface. Graduate prospects are turning to testimonials - word of mouth matters. Most applicants do a bit of reference checking; they talk to friends and current students, they read blogs and reviews. Would you buy something that was $20,000, $40,000 or $60,000 without hearing what others have to say about it first? Social media can serve as a great way to share positive reviews as well as monitor negative comments.
DON'T ignore great opportunities to create corporate partnerships and generate buzz within the local business community. Many companies have benefits that include tuition reimbursement for education. Make connections with employers and provide information for students about employer reimbursement. The number one reason for going back to school is a career change or advancement. Highlight your career focus in your marketing and provide detailed information about career opportunities and salary potential.
The most competitive schools will be open to innovative strategies and new technologies, will always be aware of prospects' preferences and will have tailored their outreach appropriately. Implemented properly, these dos and don'ts will better inform your marketing efforts. However, most importantly, be flexible, opportunistic and creative in the approaches you take to connect with your prospects.
Michael O'Hara is Executive Vice President of EducationDynamics, and his responsibilities include management of GradSchools.com, a web portal with more than 600,000 visitors per month. EducationDynamics is a higher-education marketing information and technology services company dedicated to helping colleges and universities find, enroll and retain students.