One thing I love about working with universities is that what they offer is more than a service. They offer a foundation, a lifestyle, a background, an identity and even a home for many of their students. Students aren’t just deciding where they want to learn – they’re deciding who they want to be. And not just where they want to go, but where they want to come from.
So how, as a marketer, can we help you help students make that decision? We know that content is at the foundation of communicating your school’s identity. You have information about academics, tuition, housing, campus life and more. All of this is critical content but how do you tie it together? How do you tell students your story? More importantly, how do you make students see how you fit into their story?
Here are five things you can do to be sure that you’re not just marketing to students, but rather connecting in a meaningful way:
1. Tell the stories of your current students. Use real student stories to convey how others fit in. Central Michigan University does an excellent job of sending this message with the Discover Central section of their site. They highlight profiles of students expressing their passions, future opportunities, and ways CMU supports their goals. Put the students first on a very personal level.
2. Highlight alumni as people, not just former students. It’s easy to find an alumni section on a university site, but does it tell the stories of the alumni? Alumni stories of their lives while in school and now can have send a meaningful yet realistic vision of the future to prospective students. Why not let them explain when they got married? Do they have kids? What do they do in their spare time? These are people, not just alumni, and prospective students are interested in big picture futures, not just their future careers.
3. Guide each student’s first step. How have other students started? Taking action can scare a 17 year-old high school student. Let them know what will happen after they apply, after they are accepted and after they begin. You likely do a good job of this at each stage along the way, but let them know upfront. Make them feel comfortable. Make them feel at home.
4. Don’t forget about extracurricular activities. Many students may be traveling far from home. Nothing will make them feel more at ease than participating in fun activities that they are passionate about. This can be particularly important if you’re attracting a lot of international students. A sense of community is a major factor in keeping students with you for four or more years.
5. Give students the tools they need to transition. Make sure you give students tools to help them navigate this new, and sometimes terrifying, territory. University of Washington offers a “Preparing for College” online tutorial that helps students by offering tips and tools for how to take full advantage of what schools can offer and additional resources for cost benefit analysis of universities. This is great because it’s not self-promotional and is a great way to demonstrate that you have their best interests at heart.
Be sure that when you tell your story, you don’t forget to tell the stories of those who’ve made your school what it is. This approach, genuine and authentic, will naturally gain enthusiasm and respect from future students. And having this foundation will tie all of the pieces together remarkably well.
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