Higher Education Institutions Increase Engagement and Admissions Rates with Live Chat

Connecting with students during the initial discovery phase is key

Choosing a university is one of the most exciting – and stressful – decisions that a young adult (or anyone seeking continuing education) will face. Rising costs, information overload, and complex application processes are making it more challenging than ever for prospective students to navigate college admissions. This leaves higher education marketers with the formidable task of connecting with and effectively engaging a large, distributed pool of prospective students.

College admissions marketers must also navigate a changing landscape as older students within the ‘Post-Millennial’ generation are now beginning their higher education journey. Generation Z is even more technologically-savvy and hyper-connected than previous generations – it’s all they’ve ever known. Admissions departments hoping to win over new students need to find innovative ways to connect with not only prospective students, but also their peers, families, teachers, guidance counselors, mentors, and other key influencers involved in the decision-making process.

During the college-search process, high school students receive an incredible amount of information from college outreach offices and recruiters in the form of mailings, emails, calls, etc. This information overload often proves to be confusing and downright overwhelming at times, leading to missed or ignored outreach attempts.

Colleges around the world are increasingly adopting live chat software on their websites to address these challenges and attract interested, quality students. Chat and other conversation management technologies provide college marketers, admissions officers, and educational staff the ability to more easily connect with prospective students from the moment a potential student lands on their institution’s web page, and allows for website visitors to begin a productive conversation during critical times when interest is piqued. Chat also gives admissions staff the opportunity to address false assumptions and potential roadblocks that could hinder a student’s path to higher education.

Chat improves application processes; connects students with vital services

According to Hanover Research, up to 31 percent of four-year applicants abandon online college applications before they complete and submit the application form. Universities must do everything in their power to streamline and simplify the complex admissions process for students, and live chat plays a critical role in that mission.

When an applicant encounters a roadblock during the online application, they can instantly connect with college support staff via chat and receive the necessary information they seek. This increases the chances that applicants will continue on with the application and submit the online form, instead of abandoning the application altogether and possibly never returning to that institution’s website. This reduced form abandonment results in increased conversion rates and application counts.

Up to 31% of four-year applicants abandon online college application forms.

The rising financial demands on those who pursue higher education also make financial aid resources more valuable than ever for prospective and current students. These resources are especially vital where lower-income students are concerned. Jeffrey Selingo noted in The Atlantic that “simply adding more money to financial aid is not the answer to recruiting more low-income students because these offers usually come in too late in the college search process, typically after the admissions decision. That’s why many low-income students never even apply to college, scared off by high tuition prices and a lack of understanding of the financial aid process.”

Colleges like Grand Canyon University address this lack of understanding of the financial aid process head-on with website live chat conversations that dispel myths and/or doubts about financial aid and provide students with comprehensive education about all available options and how to pursue them. They also rely on features like cobrowsing and secure data transfer to further assist students with completing applications efficiently and accurately.

More engaged prospective students lead to increased admissions rates

Marketers and admissions officers that work in higher education find themselves responsible for a host of metrics, including application submissions, new student enrollment counts, information requests via online forms, and campus visit signups. If you feel that your college struggles with marketing and engagement efforts to impact these metrics and others like them, you’re not alone.

42.1% of marketers in higher education oversee at least one webpage that converts at less than 1.1%. These low-performing pages resulted in an average of 1,734 missed conversion opportunities.

A 2017 research study conducted by Unbounce found that the higher education industry has some of the lowest conversion rates across all major industries. In fact, 42.1% of marketers in higher education oversee at least one webpage for their education institution that converts at less than 1.1%. Researchers found that these low-performing pages resulted in an average of 1,734 missed conversion opportunities.

In an effort to increase student engagement and positively impact these metrics, colleges are increasingly adopting live chat as part of their overall marketing and engagement strategy.

College marketers and other communications and outreach staff can use features like advanced proactive chat to revive under-performing webpages and drive engagement rates with targeted messaging based on a website visitor’s current URL, location, and more. These automated proactive invitations save valuable time and energy. In addition, recruiting staff have the ability to hold concurrent conversations with website visitors, resulting in a lower cost-per-interaction and decreased phone and email volumes.

Traditionally, university outreach coordinators have relied heavily on purchased student prospect lists from resources such as the ACT and the College Board. While this strategy is still useful, colleges are increasingly turning to social channels to further increase outreach efforts. Social media is used by 81 percent of teenagers, and admissions officers can further their reach by tapping into these channels. In fact, “two-thirds of [teenagers] use social media to research and inform their college decision.” Colleges who aren’t maximizing this social reach, and their digital presence in general, will lag behind.

Admissions marketers and student relations managers can drive their social engagement by integrating chat with Hootsuite, Facebook Messenger, and other social media tools to connect with students in the channels they already frequent.

Admissions staff have also found creative ways to tap into students’ preference for digital, text-based interactions by offering services like SMS-to-Chat. For example, colleges can list a convenient SMS number on all direct mailings and handouts at recruitment fairs, giving prospective students a quick and easy way to ask questions and exchange information with admissions officers.

Chat reinforces core values and college branding

When higher education establishments strategize on effective ways to build interest in their organizations and educational offerings, the tactics they must employ are not so different from marketers working to promote and sell products and services to consumers. Marketers working within both traditional consumer sectors and higher education institutions face the similar challenge of effectively articulating their organization’s core brand and values to a varied audience.

Mary Baglivo, Chief Marketing Officer at Northwestern University, noted in an interview with Ad Age that “there is a growing interest and belief in the importance of defining and articulating your university brand because it’s important to be differentiating and compelling – not unlike a product in the consumer space.”

“There is a growing interest and belief in the importance of defining and articulating your university brand because it’s important to be differentiating and compelling – not unlike a product in the consumer space.”

-Mary Baglivo, CMO, Northwestern University

In a technology-based era where prospective students are used to dealing with a veritable flood of incoming information and content, live chat gives colleges a competitive advantage by facilitating human connections between knowledgeable staff and prospective students.

The instantaneous, effective conversations that live chat produces gives colleges like Gonzaga University’s Graduate School of Business, Ohio State University, and University of Southern California a prime opportunity to showcase their unique brand and articulate core values through custom chat form design and one-to-one conversations between staff and curious website visitors. Choosing a college is an incredibly personal decision, and colleges that can effectively communicate their brand and mission to prospective students will more easily attract those that align with their values, further increasing admissions (and acceptance) rates. Alignment on values and goals upfront also ultimately results in happier, more successful students.

As Higher Education Marketing notes, prospective students value the “human connections fostered by direct, open, two-way communication” that live chat provides. Colleges that wish to remain relevant in the ever-changing landscape of student recruitment and admissions must embrace live chat conversation technologies in their strategic efforts to attract and recruit top students, and provide them with the instant information they seek.