4 Ways to Maximize ‘Early Action’ Student Engagement

As the winter holiday approaches, high school seniors all across the country will learn whether they have been accepted early-action to their preferred schools.  Early-action applicants have been a growing pool over the past ten years.  According to NACAC’s ‘2012 State of College Admissions Report’, 31 percent of all four-year institutions currently offer an early-action deadline, as opposed to 18 percent in 2002.

For the institutions offering this deadline, their early action applications represent 40 percent of their overall applicant pool.  This is a huge population, however over the past 4 years, early-action students have resulted in no more than a 3 percent higher yield compared to the regular deadline applicants.

Where does this leave the school?  With more and more students applying early-action, a large percentage of the incoming class has a five month gap between the point they’re accepted and the enrollment deadline.  These five months are a crucial time where students are weighing their options and making the difficult decision of where to enroll.

After speaking with Steve Pultz, AVP of Enrollment at University of San Diego (who recently ended their early-action program), he mentioned that their early-action students required a lot of care and attention from the admissions team — they had many questions and concerns after their admittance.  I’ve spoken with many schools who offer an early-action deadline, and  I thought it would be timely to share 4 tips on how to maximize engagement for this population.

1) Get them to campus for a visit

For many universities, your campus is your largest asset.  When a student visits campus, they get a feeling for the community, student life, and resources available for current students.  Once on campus, admits can take guided towers, sit in on classes, and talk with current students to get an authentic view into the student experience.  This is bound to get them excited to live on-campus!

Cleveland State has a very creative approach.  When an admitted student visits campus, they are taken on a tour and stop by the visitor center in downtown Cleveland.  In the center, there is an ‘Engagement Wall’ filled with little cards labelled with different careers.  A student can browse the careers, and when they find one that resonates, take it off the wall.  On the other side of the card, a major is written, and whatever the student selects for a major determines the print and email material they receive for the rest of the recruitment cycle.

2) Send Personalized Email and Print Communications 

Recruitment marketing can be expensive. In 2011, admissions offices spent an average $254 in recruitment per applicant, $369 per admit, and $1,273 per enrolled student, and this doesn’t even include staff salaries or benefits.  Tied up in this cost, we’re talking recruitment travel expenses, college fair registration, yield events, publications, and third party vendor costs.

If universities could cut back even a portion of these costs by using their resources more strategically, they could re-allocate thousands of dollars to retention efforts or student support resources. Targeted print and email materials are an evolving trend that save the institution money and make the student feel like they’re being personally recruited.  Giving students a more specialized recruitment and communication experience gives them a better sense of how their academic and cultural interests align with your institution.

3) Connect Early Admits with Current Students 

When we polled 7,000 college bound high-school students about how they used social media in their college search process, we weren’t surprised to learn that Facebook was the most commonly used platform.  When we asked the students who they wanted to communicate with throughout the admissions process, they said that Admissions Counselors were the most important, followed by current students, their high school counselor, and other admits.

From these results, we can gather that incoming students want an authentic look into student life and trust the recommendations of their peers.  Connecting admits with current student ambassadors through social media is an easy way for admits to ask questions about majors, residence halls, and moving away from home.

Make sure you’ve created a private Facebook community or creating an invite-only Class of 20XX group for early admits to join, and have your campus tour guides or current student ambassadors moderate the group.  In our Schools App community, we often see admits posting and current students replying to their queries.  We also see fellow admits rallying around each other and getting excited to attend school.

The earlier you can connect these students and start building your admitted student community, the better!

4) Answer Early Admit’s Questions – Provide Great “Customer Service”

The number of questions early admits ask can be unmanageable, but as bandwidth becomes a larger problem for admissions offices, it’s still extremely important to provide great ‘customer service’ to admits.

Consider creating a monthly chat session where admits can ask questions of current students and admissions counselors — if more than one student has the same question, they can partake in the same conversation.  I love this example from Southern Methodist University where a current student ambassador is promoting a chat session for admits in the student blog.

Our partner institutions utilize key-word alerts to notify the appropriate contact of relevant conversations happening within their Facebook community.  If, for example, a student has a question about financial aid or enrolling, it is forwarded to the point-person in that department to increase response time.

I’d love to hear about other innovative approaches your school is taking to engage early-action admits.  Share your successes or challenges in the comments below!