Websites matter: 5 ways colleges can reach more students

Recruiting must be done using modern, virtual approaches.
By: | July 19, 2021
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How important are websites, virtual tours and social media to a college’s recruitment and enrollment efforts? According to a new report on high school student behaviors and trends released by higher education online platform Modern Campus, they should be top priorities.

More than 40% of 14-to-17-year-olds surveyed for the 2021 E-Expectations Trend Report—who indicate websites are the most influential resource in their searches—say they lose interest in institutions when home pages and links are clunky or frustrating. More than a quarter say they turn to other websites, while 13% completely remove the school from their list if not satisfied.

“Modern learners think and act like consumers, so it’s critical for colleges and universities to build websites, social media presences and outreach strategies that address their needs and interests,” said Peter DeVries, president and chief operating officer of Modern Campus. “Those that do will thrive.”

Those that don’t will forfeit strong candidates. Modern Campus says landing pages are virtual “front doors” for institutions – if they’re messy on the surface, students will be turned off. If they’re clean, neatly organized and visually appealing, they can provide an opportunity for lasting connections.

“Since students primarily use the college website to determine whether an institution is a good fit, colleges and universities should be looking for ways to ensure their website is highlighting the right information to the right students at the right time to simplify their enrollment decisions,” said Amrit Ahluwalia, director of strategic insights at Modern Campus.

Making connections

In its Personal Connection: How to Maximize Enrollment, Retention and Re-Engagement, Modern Campus shared five ways colleges can reach students via recruitment and their websites:

  1. Blend traditional with modern approaches. Researchers say traditional strategies do work—emailing and recruiter visits to high schools—but students expect that personal touch, for example, their names included in emails. If they get what they want, around half will then go to college websites.
  2. Don’t stop the virtual tours. With campuses returning to a new normal this fall, it can be easy to shift back to full campus tours. But virtual tour popularity has exploded. More than 60% of students polled say they are watching them. When they do, they are more inclined to email admissions offices, fill out forms and enroll. It is imperative that virtual tours are well promoted on sites and social media, are done professionally and are reasonable in length. Easy-to-read campus maps are also another must-have.
  3. Get more social. One of the most important recruitment tools is targeted social media campaigns that meet students where they are. Facebook and Twitter are now in the second tier behind Instagram and YouTube, with TikTok gaining ground. Smart strategies that deftly point students to sites from popular platforms is key to piquing their interest.
  4. Streamline the site. Once on the site, students want their experiences to be easy to navigate, information-packed and personalized. Ensure search tools and links smoothly get students where they need to go. But colleges also must give students a reason to stay, providing ideas that show them how they can fit in at the college. College teams should consider “How do” questions that students would ask, such as “How do I apply for admission or how do I pay for college?”
  5. Build wisely. Modern Campus suggests building sites around popular search terms. So what are students looking for? The top five include academic programs and degree paths, admissions applications, and any information tied to costs—tuition, financial aid and scholarships. Sites should contain calls to action that help students get across that application finish line. Researchers also say comparison tools for programs, “real-time course catalogs” (not PDFs) and strong geolocation that help out-of-state students realize ROI are a few more tools that students expect to work well.