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Personalization is a widely discussed topic in the world of admissions marketing. As companies like Amazon and Google have found ways to incorporate a user’s individuality into the experience, colleges and universities have been looking to do the same, as a way to stand out from competitors. The only problem? By now, personalizing communications to the individual on the receiving end is the status quo. While this used to be impressive, it now only meets expectations -- it doesn’t exceed them.

So if personalization isn’t helping schools stand out anymore, what will? What’s the next frontier?

In student development theory, a handful of research studies make up the foundation for how institutions approach student success. One of these is Nancy Schlossberg’s work on marginality and mattering. In this theory, marginality is at one end of the spectrum, and mattering sits at the other. 

Schlossberg found that, not surprisingly, feelings of marginality often occur when individuals take on a new role or undergo a period of transition. Her research identified five key elements that make up mattering and encouraged colleges to apply them in interactions with current students to ultimately lead to higher retention rates.

But what if we tapped into these five dimensions before a student enrolled? What if we could incorporate these concepts in the admissions journey? Collectively, these five elements could create something really powerful, beyond personalization: making a prospective student feel like they matter.

Schlossberg’s Five Dimensions of Mattering

  • Attention: The feeling that one is noticed.
    This is where personalization comes into play. By gearing your communications to a prospective student’s interests and journey, you can help them feel that they are noticed and personally acknowledged. Remember, though: this is what students already assume you’ll give them.  
  • Importance: The belief that one is cared about.
    Find ways throughout the admissions process to make a prospective student feel cared about as a person. This could be a follow-up call after a campus visit from a current student on your admissions staff, checking in on how the prospect’s college search process is going.
  • Ego Extension: The feeling that someone else will be proud of what one does.
    Consider how to involve family members more intentionally in the traditional experience of the acceptance letter. This could be including a note from their family member along with the acceptance information, or even sending a kit of decorations to the parent contact to make the acceptance experience a special, family memory. 
  • Dependence: The feeling of being needed.
    The college search process can often make a prospect feel like a number. Throughout the process, find ways to make students feel needed and important. For example, the data collected about a student through their application could populate an interactive digital display about the make-up of the incoming class, illuminating how their background, interests, and passions are needed to enhance the campus population as a whole.
  • Appreciation: The feeling that one’s efforts are appreciated by others.
    After a prospect has chosen to enroll at your school, instead of immediately sending them mountains of housing and registration paperwork, take the time to show them you appreciate them. It takes quite a bit of effort for a student to make this life-altering decision. After a student deposits, send them a communication that simply expresses gratitude that they chose your institution.

Admissions offices across the country are taking a closer look at their communication strategies, seeking opportunities to stand out within a very crowded space. And if personalizing materials is no longer what makes you stand out, it’s time to pursue a different approach. If a prospective student truly feels like they matter throughout your admissions process, just think how that could impact your yield and first-year retention. 

Mandi Cohen is a senior strategist at Ologie.