How to Shift Your Marketing Strategy to Drive Enrollment Among Undecided Students

Carnegie Higher Ed Sep 18, 2019 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“A space firefighter, of course!”

Kids are posed with this alluring question at a young age, and it fills them with excitement and wonder. Well, by senior year, teenagers have realized that galactic fire safety is not an in-demand field, and they are back to square one. 

According to surveys, “an estimated 20% to 50% of students enter college as ‘undecided.’” Yet many colleges and universities strive to pave a direct, clear-cut path for each undergraduate student to smoothly transition from high school to enrollment to a successful career. Carnegie Dartlet sees clients employ a range of initiatives such as accelerated 3+1 degree options, early internship opportunities, and work-based learning models. These are extremely attractive to students who quickly switch from space firefighter to bioengineer. However, it can be a challenge for highly focused institutions to adapt their undergraduate marketing strategy to cater to the students still grappling with their direction. Trying to figure out how to market to (and enroll!) these elusive undecided students? Here are three steps to help you do just that. 

Understand your audience

These students are not fickle-minded—they’re painfully aware of the amount and breadth of their options. Some colleges offer over 100 majors and minors, so it can be nearly impossible for a student who is passionate about multiple topics to settle on just one. Even if they can, “almost a third of first-time college students choose a major and then change it at least once within three years.” A variety of programs, dual-degree options, and student organizations are all critical to the retention of your student body. That being said, the tricky part is capturing their wide range of interests to begin with. And trust us—you want to. This audience will evolve into your ideal, well-rounded driving force eager to make a difference on and beyond campus. 

Resonate with your audience

Instead of competing with your market through a variety of academic and extracurricular options, earn your audience’s interest and develop brand loyalty through your personality. Carnegie Dartlet fuses the principles of human psychology with marketing communications innovation, and you can too. Use messaging central to your core mission to bring your institution to life and form a human connection with prospective students. Show them why they should choose any of your programs, no matter how many or which particular ones you offer. This can be executed through innovative brand personality research and signature marketing creative that, when put together, defines and communicates your institution’s authentic story in a way that truly showcases the “why” of your organization—who you are and why you love what you do. 

Once you know how to resonate with your audience, the next step is to determine where to do so. 

Reach your audience

This busy-minded audience is just that: busy. Try to reach your audience on the go across a number of platforms. Carnegie Dartlet recommends an always-on, multi-tactic approach to ensure top-of-mind marketing through a consistent yet diverse strategy. 

Having a constant presence is important, even in non-priority months in the enrollment cycle. You never know when a prospective student is going to make that vital connection to your brand and feel ready to progress their college search. We often see plans take a break in the summer months, but vacation season can be a vital time for generating inquiries, campus visits, or further research. 

Deploy a full spectrum of digital marketing tactics to reach multiple points of the decision-making funnel.

Build up your pipeline through outreach targeting

Reach new eyes through geographic, geofencing, affinity, interest, look-alike, and demographic parameters. This is likely your first impression, so be sure to lead with your personality in these introductory “Learn More” ads.

Keep your search campaign general to capture more top-of-funnel and undecided traffic

Markets, budget, and admission priorities play considerable parts in determining your PPC strategy. However, Carnegie Dartlet has tested broad and program-specific search campaigns for the undergraduate segment and found higher engagement rates at lower costs per engagement with the general approach for high school students. They tend to be more concerned with the right fit (financial aid, campus life, etc.) than an ever-present Art or Business program, so make sure your ads and landing page content express your personality and lean on ad extensions to fill in the details of your program options. 

Refine your strategy with list targeting

Circle back to a list of prospects, inquiries, visitors, applicants, or accepted students. Depending on the type of contact, point them in the direction of their next step in the enrollment process.

Maintain audience interest through Retargeting

Once a user has been to relevant pages on your website, they qualify for your Retargeting audience. When a prospect is narrowing down their consideration set, it is especially important to build on your momentum. Take advantage of the brand familiarity by pushing stronger calls to action and reminding them of your personality.

Diversify your marketing platforms

Finally, you need to show up on a mix of platforms to continuously reach your audience as they browse online throughout the day. This should be a mix of social media, Display ads, search, and streaming networks. The space firefighter may use Instagram while the pet psychologist is on Snapchat, so you want to have your bases covered.

Attract undecided students and increase enrollment year-over-year

Attracting undecided students requires a multipronged, versatile, and thoughtful approach. Lean hard on the personality of your institution to elicit an emotional response in these students. Remember, they are looking for a school where they feel like they belong—show them why they belong with you. Implementing these three steps can help you reach the undecided student pool and grow your enrollment numbers.

Want more info on attracting and recruiting undergraduate students? Read our blogs on Recruiting Generation Z and Using Content Strategy to Prevent Summer Melt, or check out the feedback from real students in our CollegeXpress Survey Results.

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