A Simple Way to Deliver a Personalized Student Experience at Every Stage of the Journey

Consider this scenario: A prospective student fills out a request for information on your website. In doing so, they likely provide some personal information. Maybe they’re interested in a particular undergraduate program or plan to transfer with credit hours. They may even say when they’d like to start.

What happens next? Most often, the student receives a generic email and/or text message urging them to apply. And institutions wonder why their contact rates and applications continue to decline. 

While delivering an engaging, personalized experience to prospective students — at scale, across programs, from the moment of first contact — is a challenge, it is also crucial to a successful enrollment strategy. 

So how do you meet the high expectations of today’s students and stand out in a crowded higher-ed market competing for their attention?

Often, it requires complex communication plans and sophisticated tools and automation logic to deliver personalized, post-inquiry engagement. But what if institutions could do just one thing to better connect personally and boost engagement with prospective and current students — at every stage of their journey?

Read on to learn one of the most impactful ways you can make meaningful connections with students, increase engagement and lead-to-application rates, and even increase application-to-enrollment rates.

What Is an “Engagement Rate?”

Marketers define engagement rates as metrics that show how actively involved your audience is with your content. By tracking specific metrics, organizations can analyze the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. Higher-ed institutions should track the number of people who interact with their follow-up communications: whether they open, click, respond to, or visit a website. 

Why Is Monitoring and Growing Your Engagement Rate Important?

Every interaction a prospective student has with your institution’s website, social media posts, texts or emails, and other digital content generates data that you can use to capture information about leads (prospective students) and better understand and optimize future marketing efforts. 

Tracking and analyzing “clicks” can tell you:

  • If prospects are opening, clicking, responding to emails or texts, answering calls, and otherwise interacting with your institution — leading indicators of intent to apply and even enroll 
  • Which prospects are the most engaged — so you can prioritize communications with them while your brand is top of mind

At Archer, we’ve seen clients have 44% higher application-to-start rates and 33% higher application rates when prospective students engage with an institution’s post-inquiry communication. With overall enrollment rates continuing to see declines amid the pandemic, this communication can make a significant impact on your school’s enrollment rates and overall cost per enrollment. You’ve already generated the inquiry, so bumping up conversion rates is a more efficient use of your marketing dollars.

One Simple Thing You Can Do to Increase Student Engagement

Imagine you have the opportunity to meet with every prospective student in person for coffee. What would you do? How would you engage with them? You’d probably begin to build rapport by asking them lots of questions. 

A digital meetup should be treated no differently than an in-person engagement. “Digital” is simply another method of communication. Granted, you’re not able to sit at your computer and chat online with every prospect, but in terms of how to interact and build student engagement, you should think of it the same way: as a two-way conversation. 

Simply put, stop talking at prospective students and start communicating with them.

As much as you’re tempted to begin by telling them how great your school and program are, it’s best to begin by first understanding where a student is coming from and what specifically they’re looking for.

At Archer, our team and our proprietary end-to-end student support solution — called Onward — are available to students 24/7. Built exclusively for the student journey, Onward collects and analyzes data on digital student engagement and optimizes digital student communication with a goal of increasing post-inquiry engagement. It has taught us a lot.  

We’ve found that one of the most impactful things we can do in our follow-up communication with students to boost engagement rates — at any stage of the student lifecycle — is to ask questions. Indeed, in follow-up exchanges where we ask students specific questions (and provide an option to answer directly in that communication), we see click-through rates 42% higher than average.

It’s Not Too Late to Start Asking Questions

Even if you’ve already missed a key opportunity to ask questions of new prospects, circling back to get to know them better at any point in their student journey can have an impact.

Working with our partner Peru State College, we started sending a “What’s holding you back?” email to prospective students who weren’t taking the next step forward. The email not only asked “What’s holding you back from enrolling with us?” but also let the recipient click on an answer. For that email, we saw an average open rate of 16% — which doesn’t look too impressive until you consider these prospects had stopped engaging — and, more importantly, an average 33% click-through rate (with a majority of clicks leading to “apply now” pages). Not only did the email help the college reconnect with “lost” students, but we learned how to better connect with unconverted prospects going forward.

The email allowed us to determine who was stopping out and why.

  • The top reason for not moving forward was related to finances (35%).
  • More than 20% of prospective students had enrolled elsewhere.
  • 5% said they weren’t ready to enroll yet but wanted to attend in the future.

These insights informed our follow-up digital communication, as well as our one-on-one admissions team follow-up. As a result, we reengaged with a meaningful percentage of stopped-out prospects by understanding some of their challenges and following up with relevant information. Moreover, 20% of this audience took action by clicking to start or finish their application and/or call an admissions rep.

Student Engagement Strategies for Every Stage

We used this same strategy for first-time students enrolled in Peru State College’s online programs. Before we could view information in our partner’s learning management system to see if students were showing up for class or turning in assignments — leading indicators of student success — we wanted to check in with these new students directly to ask how their first week was going. The email asked, “How are you feeling about your first week?”

This email had an average open rate of 71% and an average click-through rate (CTR) of 31%.

Using a similar email, Archer helped another partner intervene to help 14 students who had indicated they weren’t having the best first-week experience. By asking follow-up questions to learn what wasn’t working for them, and forwarding that information to our admissions team, we were able to connect those students with a success coach at the university.

Start Having Digital Conversations

Higher-ed marketers and enrollment professionals know from experience that the success of every student is important to an institution’s long-term success. Providing a more personalized and engaging student experience can have a positive impact on enrollment growth and student retention. So start having meaningful digital conversations and make an impact today.

While Archer Education uses Onward, our easily scalable end-to-end student support solution, to deliver personalized communication and tailored post-inquiry follow-up 24/7, you don’t need a sophisticated lead nurturing tool to improve your student engagement strategies. Simply start asking questions in your communication with students and provide them with an easy way to respond. 

Want to learn more about how to modernize your student experience and increase enrollment and retention rates with Archer’s Onward student support solution? Reach out to us and learn more today.