How To Recruit Online Students

Over the past few years higher education was already going through changes as technology bridged the gap between remote students and universities. But the pandemic further accelerated the trend towards online learning, making it even more popular, and in some cases necessary, for students looking to further their education. Online learning offers a host of benefits for students — it’s flexible and allows access to education that students may not have had otherwise. And for schools, it widens the total addressable market — but it also increases the competition for schools offering online learning programs. 

So how can you stand out in a competitive market and recruit students? Here’s your ultimate guide for how to recruit online students.

Identify your audience

Students looking to enroll in online college courses range from undergraduate students coming straight out of high school and looking to obtain their degree online, to professionals of all ages looking to advance their careers and gain new skill sets. In order to succeed in your online student recruitment efforts, you need to determine exactly who your audience is. 

At Thinking Cap Agency, we’ve invested in cutting-edge marketing data science tools and expertise that apply your student persona attributes to anonymized Personally Identifiable Information with the TC Student Data Center. We know everything there is to know about your future students, and we have them in our database already. 

Determine your unique selling points

One of the most important student recruitment strategies to utilize is to determine what your unique selling points are. What sets you apart from the competition? Especially when it comes to online education, higher education institutions need to know why students would choose them over any other school. 

Once you’ve done this, your team will be able to center your messaging, advertising, and recruitment efforts around what makes you stand out — and why online students should choose you. 

Set clear goals

Online student recruitment, unlike its on-campus counterpart, is high-velocity all year round — which makes it even more important to track and set clear enrollment goals. 

Make sure that your online student recruitment campaigns are on-target by setting regular dates to review progress throughout the year. 

Step up your customer service

Without campus tours and live events, the process of selecting a university can become more impersonal and more daunting for prospective students. Since online education is new for many, your prospective students have questions about your programs, doubts about pursuing their education further, and potential challenges with the enrollment process. The way that you help them deal with these roadblocks sets you apart from your competitors. 

Stand out by offering top-tier customer service and personal touches to make your prospective students feel supported and understood by your team. Use a CRM for higher education to track your prospective students as they move through the enrollment funnel. Deliver messages that correspond with their pain points, and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to answer their specific questions. 

Read next: Your Complete Guide to CRM for Higher Education

Get personal

On a similar note, be as personal as possible when it comes to your recruitment messages. Studies have shown that mass messages have the highest opt-out rate and make your prospective students feel unknown. One-to-one interactions will give you your best chances at influencing them to enroll. 

Text messaging is particularly effective when used in this way — it gives you a direct, personal channel to your prospective student, and when they’re the one that opted in, they actually prefer it this way.

Engage your students with short-form video storytelling

The average attention span of today’s students is between 8 and 12 seconds, depending on their age. It’s challenging to make an impact in a world full of digital noise and buzz. That’s where Thinking Cap’s U-SOCIAL™ comes in — a turnkey solution that engages your prospective students through episodic, short-form videos that influence them on social media. 

U-SOCIAL™ delivers videos that impact all phases of the enrollment funnel. Each video is designed to both make an impact standing alone, and to fit into a big-picture story arc that influences enrollment decisions. Learn more about how U-SOCIAL™ can help you university engage and influence your future students to enroll. 

Read next: Video is the Future of Enrollment Marketing

Use empathy when communicating

Online learning students are different from other types of students. Many of them are older, busy professionals with families, jobs, and busy schedules. When you reach out to them, take this into consideration and reach out to them how they prefer to be reached out to, not just what’s easiest for recruiters.

Additionally, online learners are looking for flexible, personalized options — and they certainly don’t have time to weed through any extra information. Create messaging that is concise, and clearly communicates the advantages of your programs. 

Deploy omnichannel marketing campaigns based on student intent

Once you’ve identified your students, you need to deliver the right messages at the right time — which is easier said than done. But it’s an important part of your marketing strategy, and worth it. Today’s students are accustomed to highly personalized marketing, and a one size fits all approach won’t work. To remedy this, use intent based marketing — marketing that relies on personalization and real-time responsiveness to student behavior. Students will send digital signals that they’re ready to go back to school, and you can respond with messages that show you truly understand where they are in their journey. 

Read next: How to Create Data-Driven Student Personas for Higher Education Marketing [Examples Included!]

Ready to boost your enrollment numbers with a data-driven media plan, custom-tailored to your school’s goals? Contact us today to get started.

Timothy Gerstmyer

Tim has a 25+ year track record of conceiving and implementing innovative digital and multi-platform lead-generation strategies. He joined Refuel Agency in 2014 to build its Digital Media division with responsibility for developing digital solutions that dynamically and effectively target audiences and achieve substantial ROI for our clients. Tim’s impact on the Education category has now carried over to the launch of Thinking Cap Agency in 2019 with the introduction of new, cutting edge multi-platform and data driven lead generation strategies that dramatically increase student enrollments goals.