Need a Way to Differentiate Your College? Think Service.

Higher Education Marketing

Improve Yield by Creating an Engaging and Personalized Enrollment Experience!

At your university or college, who typically owns the student enrollment experience? Is it the Marketing/Communications department, is it the Admissions department, or is it unclear who owns the student experience?

Most of us would think the student journey is linear. Instead, a student’s enrollment journey is disjointed, with starts and stops all along the way. If your university pulled reports on how many people started financial aid to how many came out of financial aid, you may be surprised by the massive drop in applicants. 

This type of attrition happens all along the enrollment process from the inquiry through matriculation, the first course to about the fourth course where drops start to level off. 

In this article, we will walk through ways you can start to delight your prospective students to drive up yield, and your university’s tuition revenue. 

Student Journey Mapping

Higher Education Silos Contribute to Poor Student Experiences 

Many colleges and universities break up their departments, which can create silos. As an unintended consequence of these silos, your student enrollment process may suffer. I often say silos are where great prospective students’ experiences go to die. 

If you are able to align your communications and admissions departments around the idea of delighting prospective students with your enrollment experience, you should be able to grow your enrollments even in these turbulent times, without growing your budget and costs.

This article shows you how you can improve your enrollment experience and increase enrollments without increasing your budget.

Need more Enrollment Management Tips to drive up yield?

When is the last time your university updated its student personas, created student journey maps, or did student qualitative research? 

With costs rising, it’s more important than ever to learn more about what motivates and drives your students to want to enroll at your university. 

How Can Your College Adapt to Gen Z and Millenials’ Changing Preferences?

Millennials and Gen Zers crave authentic brand experiences: something tangible and tactile. They prefer experiential marketing. The oldest Gen Zers are almost 30 years old! 

Gen Z and younger Millennials select certain universities and businesses because of their authenticity and can stay because of the experience the business delivers.

They care more about the experience compared with every other cohort. Its become imperative for your service to meet your brand promise. 

Learn more about GenZ and how to best market to them

Improve Yield By Enhancing Your Experience

Enhancing your experience should take some of the pressure off of your Marketing or Communications team to drive more applicants. Your college may be able to finally crack the code to get more enrollments and improve tuition revenue by getting more of your inquiries or applicants to say yes to your college over another college.

By focusing on a more meaningful student enrollment experience, your college will be able to drastically drive up yield, increase referrals, and build an enduring legacy, supported by tuition revenue.

Creating a Baseline

As a first step, your school should consider doing a marketing and enrollment audit. This can help to find possible areas of friction in your enrollment process and then the next step is a to create a Student Journey Map. Also, consider doing a secret shop of your enrollment process and of a few of your top competitors. These activities will help you answer these questions:

  • Can your Counselors or Advisors clearly able to articulate why someone should enroll at your college? And, what makes your college special?
  • Are your Enrollment Advisors following up with prospective students enough?
  • Are your marketing messages and enrollment communications aligned?
  • Where can you identify friction points in the enrollment process?

Coining Our Own Term: Prospective Student Experience (PSX)

You’ve heard the term Customer Experience (CX) used across countless industries from sales to hospitality. This customer-centric approach focuses on the interaction and reception of an experience by the target audience.

For Higher Ed, we can harness the same CX approach, but we will coin our own industry term: Prospective Student Experience (PSX).

In this video, Professor Goutam Challagalla, Professor of Marketing and Strategy at the Institute for Management Development (IMD), breaks down the concept of Customer Experience into two questions:

  1. How do I feel?
  2. How hard is it to work with you?

In his EMBA lecture on The Customer Journey, Professor Challagalla illustrates how emotions and trust play a major role in customer experience and why colleges need to reduce effort and friction in their enrollment processes.  We started the video at 7:13, but it’s so good that we recommend you watch the entire lecture.

Effort is the biggest predictor of customer loyalty.”

Professor Challagalla

Professor Challagalla

That is a powerful statement!

Your College Enrollment Process Needs to Center Around Creating an Amazing Student Experience

Your enrollment process can create a positive or negative impression on prospective students and their families. If most of your students are more traditional 18-24, be sure to include parents in your communication strategy along with your prospective student communications.

We’ve worked with some large state university systems that receive applications in October and will communicate with students to get the necessary information for their application but then will go silent from October to sometime between February/ March when acceptance or rejection letters are sent out. 

Delivering a cumbersome and frustrating experience can impact a student’s trust and confidence in your college’s ability to meet their needs.

Enhancing the Prospective Student Experience (PSX)

Improve Yield and Enrollment Find out How

Have you considered reimaging your enrollment process? This can be a perfect inflection point to layer in PSX processes and get different departments focusing on improving the enrollment experience, reducing friction, and delighting incoming students from day one.  

We want to get everyone at your university to align around the student with the goal to improve yield with metrics tied to this goal.

If your college can delight prospective students with superior customer service throughout the enrollment process, then your college should see an increase in referrals, social media mentions, and, most importantly, enrollment yield.

In Who Gets in and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, award-winning journalist and higher education expert, Jeffrey J. Selingo, observes a major increase in college applications, with students applying to as many as 10 colleges.

This trend makes enrollment competition even more intense. We propose a much larger focus on enhancing your college’s Prospective Student Experience, so your college can become the top choice for many of these students. And, your college doesn’t need to be Harvard or Yale. With so many students submitting 10 or more applications, your college has an opportunity to compete when it comes to the student’s experience.

Using a Mix of Strategic Technology Automations and Human Touch

Your college needs to consider using text messaging (SMS/MMS) throughout its enrollment process to keep prospective students engaged in the enrollment process and to know what is coming up next (setting expectations).  Keep reading to learn how to use text messaging can be used in your enrollment strategy.

Enrollment Strategy Text Message Statistics

Gen Z students unlock their phones an average of 79 times a day. Digital engagement should be at the foundation of your strategic approach to recruitment and conversion throughout the funnel.

Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Group, one of the largest and most renowned advertising agencies in the world, shares this sentiment. In My Advertising Is So Efficient It No Longer Works, Sutherland explores using strategic communications and a mix of technology and human touchpoints to remove uncertainty from the advertising process.

In Higher Ed, the goal for this initiative is to remove as much friction and uncertainty as possible for a more personalized enrollment process that will “feel like a service and not like a transaction.”

We have worked with schools for over 20 years and help universities with their value propositions, along with the best ways to move towards digital transformations. Schedule a free marketing assessment to discuss how we can help with your digital transformation. 

This video clip shows the power of removing uncertainty from the [enrollment] process. We can do this with strategic communications and a mixture of technology and human touchpoints.

I started this clip at 15:54 minutes, and you can stop at 18:29—less than 3 minutes.

At 18:20 in this video, Rory speaks about how Uber has already created a frictionless payment experience. 

The entire video is wonderful, and I recommend watching the whole thing when you have an hour to spare.

The Need to Remove Friction in Your Enrollment Process

The goal is to reimagine your enrollment process to “feel like a service and not like a transaction.” It helps to remove as much friction and uncertainty in your enrollment process by proactively communicating and setting appropriate expectations.

At the moment your college accepts a student, I recommend creating a moment of elevation. 

In the book, The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, the authors share the importance of building moments of elevation into your business process.  Check out this great blog post for a helpful summary of the book, The Power of Moments.

how to improve enrollment yield with personalized enrollment experience

Enrollment: Create a Self-Service Enrollment Experience

Last year, 28% of students said that they did not visit any college prior to enrolling. 

For the class of 2022, only 45% of students said they are very likely to visit a college campus this academic year. 

If your school is relying on in-person tours to do the heavy lifting in your enrollment journey, you may need to rethink your strategy

Instead of relying on tours, start building out more engaging self-service enrollment experiences online. Data supports the idea that today’s students (between Covid and the explosion of all things digital ) are starting to favor a comprehensive online enrollment journey. 

And the self-service aspect of an online enrollment experience is absolutely key — today’s students want to get the job done while encountering as few hurdles as possible. 

For example, 70% of people would rather choose a “Message Us” button over a “Call Us” button when looking for support. How does this tie into higher education? Prospective students don’t want to commit to too much, too fast with your school. 

Give prospective students options to get the answers they need at their own pace. Meaning: filling out an application shouldn’t be your school’s main call-to-action. Develop and clearly display other low commitment calls to action that give prospective students a chance to provide you with their email and phone number so you can begin the process of nurturing them.

Service Matters 

Research indicates that 72% of students who do not re-enroll give customer service as the reason. (Neal A. Raisman, The Business of Higher Education).

The more we increase the personal touch and “wow: factor into the enrollment process, the more we increase the chance of student enrollment.

When your college accepts a student, I recommend creating a moment of elevation. This can be done by memorializing your college’s acceptance with some fanfare. Acceptance boxes are a creative and personal way to celebrate a student’s acceptance.

Below are several images of other colleges creating acceptance boxes that they are sending to students who are accepted into their college.  These are real examples from other universities and colleges.

The goal is to get more of those accepted students to start at your college. This can contribute drastically to revenue because the cost to acquire the student to enroll has already been paid (that’s the sunk cost). If your college can get more students to enroll after being accepted, it will drastically improve your revenue and drive more referrals. Delighted students are more likely to recommend your college to their friends and family.

College Acceptance Packages Can Drive Up Your Referral Numbers 

One of the best ways to increase your school’s brand awareness is to make your brand more visual. 

Or, as the kids would say, make your school more “Instagrammable!” Create content and branding visuals that your prospective and current students actually want to reshare on social media. 

How? One option is to create an over-the-top acceptance package. Sure, you can throw some fun things in an acceptance packet, but an acceptance package takes things to a whole new level.

Here are some examples of schools killing it with their acceptance packages: 

how to improve enrollment yield with personalized enrollment experience
how to improve enrollment yield with personalized enrollment experience

Creating delightful moments for your students is an end in itself, but investing in your brand’s visuals has a broader benefit: if you create unique visual moments for your students (like with an acceptance package), they’ll want to share it on social media. 

…which means they’ve just now become some of your strongest brand ambassadors. 

Investing in your brand’s visuals doesn’t just create a special moment for students — it’s also a powerful way to market to prospective students. 

Not Convinced? Here Are Some Statistics to Highlight the Importance of Customer Service

Statistics Outside of Higher Education:

how to improve enrollment yield with personalized enrollment experience

We Can Help You Delight Your Prospective Students.

It’s not easy to figure out how to actually delight your prospective students — but we know-how! Schedule a Higher Ed Marketing consultation with us to discuss how we can help you create an exceptional enrollment experience that delights your prospective students.

Newsletter Sign up!

Get our best content on digital marketing in your inbox 2 times a month

subscriber box icon


Picture of Renee Seltzer

Renee Seltzer

Renee Seltzer is founder and CEO of Ellison Ellery Marketing & Growth Agency and has spent over 20 years helping companies grow their revenue. As a cross-functional marketing executive with extensive experience crafting messaging that compels and campaigns that convert, Renee understands marketing at its core and can deliver actionable solutions for every marketing or sales hang-up.

Grow Your College Enrollments With Proven Strategies

We Respect Your Privacy 

Check out our socials!

Recommended content for you:

Orlando Digital Marketing Agency

Let us help your university grow with great marketing and storytelling!!

Schedule a brief discovery call to receive a complimentary consultation to discuss persona development, qualitative studies, or with help to execute your marketing and content strategy.

Our agency can help you set up your CRM, reimagine your enrollment communication strategy, and set up marketing automation.