How can your college or university stand out among the mountains of materials, emails, and swag that prospective students receive each year? Improved financial aid communications, says Amy Glynn, VP of Financial Aid and Community at CampusLogic. “Done right, your communications strategy can help students see themselves on your campus—with a clear path for achieving their vision,” she says.
According to the National Association for College Administration Counseling (NACAC), the volume of college applications continues to grow. And students continue to apply to more schools—30 or 40 was common in late 2015—hedging their bets in a highly competitive arena.
How can you get more visibility? Try these four tips to improve your communications strategy and engage with students very early in their college search.
1. Roll Out Your Communications Strategy Early—and Communicate Often
Some people become decision-paralyzed by fear of the unknown. Some are paralyzed by indecision due to information overload. Both things happen among college-bound students—especially first-generation students. There is so much information available about financial aid that the options can feel completely overwhelming if a student doesn’t have anyone to guide them.
Google the term, “Financial Aid,” and you’ll immediately get about 132,000,000 results. It is for this reason—and the potential for decision-paralysis—that you should reach out with your own, clear communications as early as possible in the application process.
Suggestion: Send an initial welcome to your Financial Aid applicants. This welcome can share an overview of your institution’s financial aid process, personalized to the applicant. Regular, timely follow-up communications can continue to educate and reinforce the importance completing the application process, while providing valuable electronic and personal resources about financial aid.
2. Change It Up
Communicating regularly with students is important. Ensuring those communications are effective is crucial. Take a page from your marketing team’s playbook and test different messaging and formats of communications. Evaluate email open rates with different subject lines, imagery, or timing to find your audience’s unique preferences.
Recent pilot programs using text messaging to communicate information about admissions to first-time students have proven very successful. Also, social media is your friend and a key communications tool for your prospective students, so, embrace it. Shake up your cadence and messaging. Repetition is important—but that doesn’t mean the same message should be used 10 times.
Suggestion: Create variety and interest by using multiple channels, messages, and templates. Make it easy for students to find distinct resources by embedding tools. Add links to next steps and videos into messaging wherever possible—and remember to track engagement.
3. Meet Students Where They Are: Mobile and Social Communications
Today’s students are more likely than any other generation to own a smartphone or tablet. “Students said their mobile phone was important when researching schools, communicating with friends and family about education decisions and even communicating with the schools themselves,” says this infographic from Salt®. Data also shows that 80% of social media time by millennials is spent on mobile devices. Communication is a two-way exercise here, so be sure you’re speaking the same language.
Suggestion: Make sure your services are mobile-optimized, like this AwardLetter. Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat when you find relevant ways to leverage those feeds. Play to your students’ mobile preferences. Just don’t force them to communicate via outdated methods. (Faxing? Really?)
4. People Remember Personal
“Personalization” is a popular buzzword in higher education, as students clamor for more personalized learning opportunities and experiences.
In response, we’re seeing a continued drive to more competency-based education efforts that are fundamentally grounded in personalized education experiences. The same can be done with financial aid communications. Think of the potential for increased engagement if you had communication tracks for first-generations students, in-state versus out-of-state students, certificate- or bachelor’s degree seekers, and students who have student loans versus those who do not.
Personalized, customized communications ensure that the right information gets in front of the right students at the right time—a game changer in moving students successfully through the financial aid process. Technology exists that turns your award letter into a student engagement engine, empowering you to engage and communicate across the financial aid lifecycle.
Suggestion: Customize communications to stand out and make the student feel special. Personalize wherever possible. Be aware that students are receiving communications from numerous schools. They’ll remember the very best—and very worst—of what they receive; everything else is forgotten.
Just don’t be forgotten—or the “very worst.”
Interested in learning more insights for engaging students? Explore our products with built-in communications features.