Published on 2020/09/02

All too often, non-traditional students are left out of the celebratory loop upon being admitted to post-secondary institutions. Try to create engagement initiatives to help these students feel the same sense of pride, belonging and excitement at being admitted that traditional students do.  

We are all familiar with the image of the high school senior anxiously checking their email inbox or mailbox daily for those highly anticipated “You’re Admitted” notices from their desired school. Videos of students jumping around yelling “I got in!” are ubiquitous, yet somehow still goosebump-inducing. 

We also know that this is just the beginning of the admitted traditional students’ path to enrollment – from campus tours to admissions social media hashtags, most universities have developed “yield” strategies to encourage those admitted students to actually enroll.

Why don’t we see those “I got in!” videos for post-traditional students? Adult students may not feel like they have a lot of time for celebrating, and they may also have some trepidation or embarrassment about going back to school. Most of our institutions have also not facilitated these celebrations for our adult students – part of a broader neglect of yield strategies to move students from admission to enrollment. This may be a practical decision about where to focus marketing efforts. In the online education marketplace, competition is greater prior to the point of application. Most online students apply to two or fewer institutions, compared to the six to eight applications submitted by traditional students. So, your admitted online student is, at most, deciding between your institution and one other one. 

Still, admitted students experience significant friction–from their point of admission to their point of enrollment–that can deter even the most determined student already intent on joining your program. This is a time when doubts about work/life/school balance, finances and return-on-investment can take hold. And because increasing numbers of prospective students are engaging with institutions for the first time at the point of application (stealth applicants), schools may not even have the opportunity to communicate directly with these prospects to convince them that they CAN do it and that our institutions can help them. 

Most yield efforts–both for traditional and post-traditional students–have been viewed as the domain of admissions offices. But marketing is increasingly an active partner in yield for traditional enrollment activities. At the University of Arizona, we wondered why we couldn’t apply some of those same concepts to Arizona Online prospects as well. Admissions counselors and academic advisors still have a significant role to play, and we have sought ways to complement those activities with marketing support over the past year. Because these are new efforts, we do not yet have firm data about the success of these strategies, but we encourage institutions to consider and build upon these ideas to help more of their admits become enrolled students.

Celebrating admission

Applying to an online program can be highly transactional by nature. A stealth applicant has done their research online, applied online, and will likely be accepted through a basic email telling them about the next steps they need to take to enroll. Such an important milestone for any student can feel uninspired when acceptance reads like a form letter. 

To address this, Arizona Online has created digital moments of celebration to complement the mailed admission packet and generate excitement for students the moment they’re admitted. When an applicant is admitted to the University of Arizona Online, they immediately receive an email from senior leadership congratulating them and welcoming them to the university family. Later that day, they receive a text message with links to create a mini celebration video that they can share with friends and family. The text includes links to videos, encouraging quotes from students and social media filters that can be used to share the news on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. To date, 32% of admits who receive the text engage with it, and 8% have accepted their offer of admission via this channel. 

Building the basics

Often, the email communication that follows the submission of an application can be very transactional – filled with checklists, instructions and next steps. But understanding that as many as 60% of applicants will be formally connecting with Arizona Online for the first time at the point of application, we have recognized the importance of continuing to highlight the university’s and online program’s advantages alongside providing the transactional details that follow admission. Further, while it is important to ensure that students complete all stages of the process, Arizona Online’s commitment is to helping and empowering students to navigate these stages rather than just pushing them through to enrollment.  

We have built a marketing-oriented email communication series based on the applicant’s actions and status, focused on building a deeper connection with each interaction and delivering a complete story about the value and opportunities associated with an Arizona Online degree. These emails complement the personal engagements the applicant will have with enrollment counselors and advisors to help them complete their enrollment process. While most of our current communication flow is general to all Arizona Online degrees, we will evolve it to create more program-specific yield communications. 

Student voices of encouragement

Many online program websites feature faculty members’ voices to highlight the advantages of their programs and demonstrate quality academics. But our analytics indicate that there is no better way to communicate the value of an Arizona Online degree than through our current students’ voices. While cost and path to completion are top of mind for most admits, Arizona Online students are also seeking a rigorous, engaging degree program that will offer solid return-on-investment for both time and tuition. Admits are also likely wondering if they can really do it with all of their other work and life commitments. There is no better encouragement for those admits than to see someone like them who has overcome those same obstacles.  

Arizona Online has very intentionally incorporated students’ voices into the website and other yield communications through video, quotes and real-life stories. These examples are built to help prospects maintain excitement for the academic challenges ahead and visualize themselves in the degree program. We are seeking ways to amplify this further by incorporating more student quotes and even reviews, as well as building a corps of student ambassadors who can offer Q&A opportunities for admitted students and serve as real-life examples of success.

All too often, when we build marketing programs for non-traditional students, we think about prospect generation and filling the top of the funnel. But marketing has a role to play in helping move students all the way through the funnel, from prospect to applicant, from admit to enrolled. It is only by focusing on full-funnel strategies – including the all-important yield efforts – that we can truly help students overcome their concerns and obstacles to create greater opportunities for themselves in life and career. 

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