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For enrollment marketers, personalization should infuse every interaction with prospective students. Although it’s important throughout all stages of the recruitment process, during summer melt season it becomes mission critical. Budgets for colleges and universities run on thin margins and losing students over the summer can have dire consequences. 

Rather than celebrating meeting May 1 enrollment goals or panicking about falling short, smart enrollment managers protect the class they brought in. It’s dangerous to assume every student who deposited will enroll, so it’s critical to ward off poaching from peer institutions that are dipping into their wait list or repackaging aid to woo those seeking a bargain. The forward-thinking admissions officers reach out beyond their own staff to keep their class intact.

The key is engaging a personalized communications approach to enrollment beyond May 1 and doing so strategically will take numerous offices across campus to move your students’ status from deposited to enrolled. First on the list of partners must be those who lead marketing and communications who can provide context and insight on several essential topics.

Know your audience and history. Analyze who may be at the highest risk of melting and their unique barriers to enrolling in your institution. Your historic enrollment data is vital to uncovering patterns or trends that will drive your communication strategies to keep melt to a minimum. Some key questions you can ask include:

  • Are you using your data wisely? Do you know your melt rate from prior years?
  • Do you know the reasons why your students are melting? 
  • What does your data tell you about key audience segments and how to approach students in the future?

While it is important to know what demographic of student is most likely to melt, that information must be paired with a secondary data dive about the motivators for their interest in your institution in the first place. For example, if you approach practical students with an emotional appeal, you may solidify their desire to enroll elsewhere. Or if you are most likely to lose students who live farthest from your campus, double down on targeted communications about how you create a second home and family for your students.

This is also the perfect time to review survey results from those students who melted in previous years. You may need to thicken your skin before diving into the qualitative feedback, but the honesty in those comments is often critically important.

Step up your personalization game in both messaging and process. Evaluate your materials for clarity, and coordinate messaging and strategy among other stakeholders who are communicating with students. The admissions office has spent years cultivating enrollment collateral, but even an informal communications audit in real time can be helpful in ensuring these materials are serving their necessary purpose. This will guide future communications and outreach strategies as you seek to decrease melt each year. Develop survey strategies so that you can continually qualify students’ intent. 

Be “people-first” in your digital communications strategy. Summertime is when the reality of going off to college becomes real for students. And with that comes the excitement and anxiety associated with making a major life decision. Continue to build personal relationships between incoming students and your campus to foster a strong sense of community and belonging. This is the time to ramp up the authentic voices, stories and connection points. Continue to anticipate your student’s needs—provide timely answers to questions and a variety of easy ways to engage with the great people (faculty, students, staff) at your college. They are choosing your institution because they can see themselves among those on campus—use words, visuals and experiences to reinforce their images and connections.

Continue to communicate value. During this highly transactional step in the process, it’s easy for students to lose track of the reasons they put you on their short list. They instead may be focusing on a very large bill and contemplating whether a degree from your institution is “worth it.” This is the perfect time to deepen your storytelling around key brand pillars and bring those values to life in a way that’s meaningful to your students on an individual level. And remember that other institutions they may have declined or been waitlisted at may be approaching them with additional aid and making the case for the value of their degree. Be prepared for that call with language and examples that backstop what you uniquely offer to them.

Stay connected with parents. Whether their child is travelling across the country or up the road, sending a child to college marks a major life event for parents. They too may be concerned about finances and overwhelmed by the changes to their family. Ease their anxieties by being a partner in this transition. Help them understand how to guide (but not DO everything for) their student along the way. Provide them with their own community and frequent communication touchpoints that acknowledge their role in their higher education journey.

It’s easy to consider fall enrollment numbers an admissions’ job and to turn the page toward recruiting the class enrolling in the fall of 2019. Instead, this is the ideal time for marketing and communications and enrollment management to partner on the necessary task of preventing melt. 

Suzanne Grigalunas is the Enrollment Marketing Strategist at Lipman Hearne.

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