During the past few years at Fordham University, we’ve focused more efforts on yield. This means defining a distinct yield strategy, thinking through messaging and touchpoints, and setting aside some budget to execute. This year, however, is shaping up to be yield strategy on steroids.
Yield season is traditionally defined as the period between the release of admissions decisions and May 1, National College Decision Day, when admitted students are asked to commit to a single school and reserve their spot in the class by paying the deposit. It’s a stressful time for families as they weigh their options among the schools where they’ve been accepted. For institutions, it’s our last chance to close the deal, to convince students and families that we’ll welcome them, nurture them and help them succeed.
Yield in the Time of COVID
As with everything, COVID has impacted this already anxious time of year for both students and schools for a number of reasons:
- The May deposit deadline is a moving target. Like last year, in the hopes of getting a better sense of fall enrollment and revenue projections, many institutions may choose to extend their deadlines into June.
- Financial aid packages are still in flux. Colleges and universities are dealing with a record number of appeals for increased aid from families affected by the economic upheaval and families who realize it’s a buyer’s market.
- Summer wait-list activity will be robust. While test-optional policies made this a banner year for the most selective institutions, less selective colleges will have to wait out wait-list activity.
- Some families may double (and triple) deposit. Even though it’s a no-no, families with the financial means who haven’t been able to visit their top choices due to travel restrictions may deposit at more than one institution and travel to campuses as restrictions are lifted.
In any case, May 1 is not going to bring much certainty to enrollment offices. For all intents and purposes, yield season will continue through the first week of classes in August. We’ve already thrown a lot at students to get us to this point, so what’s left in the arsenal and how do we deploy it over the coming months?
Map Out Communications: April-August
Solid communications strategies often begin by mapping out the current communications flow on a calendar. Mapping your content identifies gaps in timing and messaging. That's a great first step for yield. Build a calendar that includes print, digital and social touchpoints and doesn’t let up until they’ve set foot on campus in the fall. There may be some concern about overcommunicating, but students are eager to hear more about a school they’ve been admitted to, and honestly, most of us do not have the budget to be annoying.
Your goal should be consistent communication across multiple channels. Use a combination of messaging that’s reassuring, sets expectations around next steps and addresses the decision factors that students will be considering.
But first …
Don’t Forget the Families
Communication with parents and families is equally important at this time. So much of what an admitted student receives is not visible to their parents or families, as it is delivered through an online portal or student’s email or targeted posts on social media. But don’t miss the opportunity to talk to the people who will have a heavy hand in this decision. At Fordham, we’re cc'ing parents on email communications, targeting them with complimentary social media campaigns and trying to mail additional print that might be left lying around on the kitchen counter -- even if it’s just a postcard or two.
Focus Messaging on the Decision Factors
Beyond virtual event marketing and preparing students to enroll, even deposited students and their families continue to need to hear about the ways in which their interests and your brand intersect. These areas usually include affordability, return on investment, community and academic program highlights.
Consider an email from a dean or department chair with details on undergraduate research opportunities in a student’s chosen major, a video explaining your school’s tuition payment plans or hosting a guided virtual tour where current students “drive” the virtual tour experience and get an opportunity to talk about campus culture and favorite places and activities. At Fordham, we’ve also had success pushing out university news stories through a content marketing campaign on Facebook and Instagram to admitted/deposited students and their families that just keeps us top of mind. All these activities are rather low cost but high impact when delivered at the right moment.
Yes, May 1 is right around the corner, but it’s likely to be a bit anticlimactic this year. While there has always been some attention given to preventing summer melt, many schools may still be struggling to hit enrollment targets, and the difference between making a class or missing the mark is going to rest squarely on ramping up summer marketing activities. There is no rest for the weary. Best of luck!
Donna Lehmann is the assistant vice president for marketing at Fordham University in New York City.