It’s officially admissions yield season. While colleges and universities naturally hope for deposits the moment they begin to admit their next freshman class, spring is the time when converting admits to deposits kicks into high gear.
That means plenty of calls with prospects and regular admitted student days that allow your future freshman class to experience your campus. At the same time, digital marketing has to play a crucial role in ensuring that the students you’ve admitted as your future freshmen turn into the class of 2024.
May 1 is looming. Admission yield rates are dropping. Now is the time to get strategic, building a content strategy designed to help you stand out from the crowded higher education environment and make a compelling case for your school over your competitors.
The Need for a Comprehensive Admissions Yield Strategy
College marketing and admissions offices across the country realize one thing: you cannot take admitted students for granted. According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), 36% of incoming freshmen apply to seven colleges or more. Almost three quarters, 73%, apply to four or more colleges.
In addition, the Pew Research Center found that the majority of colleges and universities accept mostof their applicants. Add these reports together, and the average high school student gets admitted to three or more colleges. In other words, the process of positioning yourself as the top choice for your incoming class is far from over.
Two additional factors further drive that factor home:
- High school graduation rates continue to decline, leading to an increasingly small pool of applicants. Getting each applicant to yield as a student rises in importance.
- NACAC recently adjusted its ethics guidelines to permit colleges to recruit students even after they’ve been admitted elsewhere. We’ve yet to see the full effect of that adjustment, but it’s natural to assume that this change will lead to more competitive yield marketing.
The conclusion is clear: you need a comprehensive yield strategy. Enter content marketing.
The Benefits of Content Marketing for Admissions Yield Efforts
You know content marketing as an effort to focus on value over promotion, aiming to satisfy your audience’s pain points rather than simply talking about how great your institution is. From that definition, it’s easy to make the connection to admissions yield.
Instead of simply telling your students to make that deposit or attend that admitted student day, it (literally) pays to continue the process of convincing them that your school is the right choice. At its best, that’s what content marketing at this stage of the admissions funnel can accomplish.
It can take many forms. We’ll discuss some of them in more depth below. Most important, though, is the fact that through relevant digital content like email, blog posts, and more, you can build a connection with your audience that helps them virtually see themselves at your institution, making them more likely to pay the deposit.
Connecting Content Marketing and Strategy for Maximum Impact
Content marketing is not inherently successful. Simply pushing out some emails or publishing some podcasts will not be enough to convince your audience that your school is the right choice for them. Instead, you have to be strategic about the content related to your admissions yield strategies.
That’s why leading content marketers across industries build a comprehensive content strategy. That strategy, in turn, consists of 7 clearly defined steps:
- Overarching goals and specific KPIs – in this case, increasing yield before and around the May 1 deposit ‘deadline’.
- A clear definition of the audience – that means not just mentioning admitted students, but understanding their pain points and deducing the topics they want to learn more about.
- An understanding of your brand voice – it’s the way you talk and write. Do you sound like any other school, or do you stand out from the crowd in how you address potential students?
- A plethora of relevant topics – based on understanding your target audience, these topics can include anything from financial aid to the student experience at your school.
- A content framework – that includes the channels where you’ll post, and how you will develop the content. It might also include the partners you work with to create and publish it.
- A distribution plan – ranging from your website to social media and far beyond, this plan puts the content in front of your audience at a strategic, systematic level.
- Tracking and analytics – through a quality control step like this, you can make sure that your students appreciate your content and, if they don’t, make adjustments.
All of the above need to be developed before you can publish relevant content. The strategy ties together everything you publish, building a comprehensive admissions yield plan that keeps your audience engaged and convinces them your university is right for them.
8 Content Marketing Tactics That Can Drive Deposit Conversions
So much for the strategy. Let’s get specific. As more and more colleges are discovering content marketing, you need more than just a strategy to stand out. You need to publish content that your audience cares about, and that is unique, in the formats they prefer. These 8 tactics can help you get started in getting your admissions yield content marketing right.
1. Long-Form Content on Relevant Admit Topics
The first tactic may also be the most obvious. Through written digital content, you can deliver significant value by focusing on the topics that your audience cares about in this stage in the admissions cycle. That content may be blog articles, eBooks, or any other types of guides designed to specifically satisfy your audience’s pain points.
This tactic is not necessarily surprising. Plenty of other colleges will do the same thing this spring. Where you can stand out from them is through your choice of topic and degree of helpfulness. Consider writing about topics like:
- How to transition from high school to college
- How to prepare for the first semester
- How to finance your college education
- How to search and apply for scholarships
The key here is focusing on topics that don’t promote your school but simply aim to provide helpful resources for future students. That alone will be enough to drive engagement and build more subtle, value-focused promotional materials.
2. Relevant Email Series for Parents and Students
Similar to blog articles and eBooks, email series can go a long way towards convincing prospective students and their families that you’re the right school for them. Instead of sending one-off, transactional emails, consider focusing on more relevant and engaging topics:
- How to fill out the FAFSA and prepare for financial aid, focused on parents.
- Fun stories from freshman year focused on students.
- How grad school can change your life, perhaps with a comedic twist on the endless research papers so many prospects fear.
- How to turn your next dinner into a research project (hey, college can be fun, too!)
- What to pack for admitted student day, orientation, and welcome activities.
Unlike the first tactic, this one is shorter, focusing more on quick-hit topics. Finding the right topic areas can help your communication stay engaging over time, building up (and satisfying expectations of fun, relevant content for your admits.
3. Podcasts About the First Year in College
Successful content marketing goes far beyond the written word. Both of the above can work well, but who’s to say your students don’t want to hear rather than read from you?
Enter podcasts, who just happen to be rising rapidly in popularity among Gen Z students. You need some recording gear, the right software, and someone to host the podcast; and, of course, a relevant topic.
Here’s one idea: get some of your younger tour guides and admissions ambassadors in front of the mic. Have them host a regular series about the first year in college, what to expect but also what they wish they would have known. When it comes from students, this type of content is typically more successful.
4. Behind the Scenes Videos from Your Students and Professors
Similar to regular podcasts, and with the right equipment, you can set up a video series in which you go behind the scenes of a regular student’s life.
Follow a freshman around, and ask them relevant questions. Give up control of the camera and put it in the hands of a student or professor, who shows the audience what’s going on behind the curtain. Use video not just for highly polished promotional videos, but authentic content designed to draw your audience in.
Of course, plenty of other admissions video marketing ideas apply here, as well. Personalized videos especially can play a major role in building that crucial connection with your admitted students.
5. Highly-Targeted Content for Segmented Audiences
Let’s get specific. Not just in terms of your tactics, but in terms of your audience and what exact content you want to send to them.
At this point in the funnel, your prospects have heard all the general messages about your school. They know about your great campus, student clubs, and fun activities. What matters now is just how close you can get to your audience’s individual needs and preferences.
With the right system, you can segment your admits into groups that allow you to push some very specific content:
- Talk to the nuances of college with first-generation students who might not have a family member to rely on for expertise.
- Send major-specific content for some of your more competitive programs.
- Target content about how going to college close to home can still open new horizons for your local students, and information about your bus shuttles to major transportation hubs for those further away.
- Focus on finding external scholarships and payment plans for students with a high EFC.
- Send information about mentorship programs to students with lower high school GPAs, and information about national merit scholarships to your high achievers.
Of course, these are just some examples. The opportunities for targeted, personalized content go as wide as your database allows you to take them.
6. Print Content to Emulate Your Digital Efforts
Content marketing is typically digital, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. If you have a budget allocated to your admissions yield efforts, consider spending it on the physical version of the content explained above.
It could be as simple as a fact sheet about the major to which the student got admitted. More complex variation might be physical financial aid or packing guides in anticipation of orientation. Again, focus not on making the deposit but use your print materials to give your audience a reason to make that deposit.
7. Social Media Takeovers and Live Events for Students and Parents
It’s impossible to discuss admissions marketing without considering social media, and specifically influencer marketing for higher ed. It’s where Gen Z spends most of its time, but it’s so much more than just another marketing platform from which to share your promotional messages. Audiences here look for relevant and engaging content, not a prompt to come to your school.
You’ll see a theme emerging here: make that case by showing, not telling them about what they’d miss if they would choose another university. Two social media opportunities especially stand out:
- A regular series of Instagram takeovers by current students, who guide prospects through their typical days in class, in common areas, in the dining hall, and elsewhere.
- Live events (Facebook for parents, Instagram for students) in which students and subject matter experts like your financial aid director answer specific audience questions about coming to college.
8. Change the Sender – Rev it Up or Take it Down
Finally, it’s important to keep your content varied as you look to continue convincing students and parents that yours is the right college for them. Not all content you publish should come from your admissions office or one of its counselors. Instead, consider changing the messenger:
- Current students, as discussed throughout this article, can bring your content on a more authentic peer-to-peer level.
- Professors can talk authentically about the subjects they teach and the way they teach their classes.
- University leadership, such as the president, can make students and parents feel important by sending correspondence specifically addressed to them.
Each of these messengers should be used with caution. A president sending multiple emails will immediately feel inauthentic. Used with care, they keep your content interesting and varied, increasing the chances for engagement and, ultimately, yield.
Building Your Content Strategy With 2020 in Mind
When it comes to admissions yield, the time is now. Across the nation, colleges and universities are going into overdrive to convince their admitted students that theirs is the best school to make the deposit to.
Most of them, though, just tell them about depositing. By continuing to make the why case, and by using both unique channels and messengers, you can become more strategic than your competition and stay ahead of the game.