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Marketing to a Prospective Student: 5 Dos and Don’ts

Right Source | August 18, 2011

As a recent college graduate, I have been exploring my post-grad options. In my quest for knowledge (and my desire to delay the real world), I began looking into graduate and law programs at various institutions. As I’ve been conducting my research and going through the application and enrollment processes, I have been sorely disappointed in the marketing efforts of many of the institutions. Sending me information packets or postcards with events that might interest me is only one part of marketing; these institutions are largely ignoring their interactive marketing capabilities. This starts with their websites, which I have found to be generally buggy, confusing, and just plain broken.

Creating a website is considered by many to be “easy” (see Tracy’s post about what you should keep in mind before building a website). But maintaining a website, solving reported issues, and optimizing the website for the best possible responses seem to be issues for these institutions, which I view as unacceptable. For an institution who will toss out applications because of spelling, grammatical, or typographical errors, I expect a higher quality website. Here are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to marketing for an educational institution:

DO: Make all your important information readily available.

DON’T: Rely on the search function. If I have to use your search bar, your site is not adequately designed with user experience in mind. This is website building 101: prospective and current students should be able to intuitively navigate through your site and find everything they need without having to search for it.

DO: Give me the option to login and access my account on your site, including forms and payment options.

DON’T: Give me the option to access my account if your system is not ready. One school, which shall remain nameless, did not have a working password system. It took me three separate phone calls and two failed solutions for the staff to discover the true problem and fix it. Also, don’t just provide your forms in only one format. If it’s a PDF file and I only have Adobe Reader, I have to do much more work than if you would also give me the option of filling out a word document.

DO: Send me emails to remind me of deadlines and relevant school-sponsored events.

DON’T: Spam my inbox with every email that comes across your desk. If I’m interested in your law program, don’t send me emails about your other graduate programs. On this subject, if you’re going to use email to mass contact prospective students, always remember to double-check the name of the recipient. After receiving an email with “Dear Jennifer” at the top, I immediately removed that school from consideration.

DO: Have a social media presence.

DON’T: Just put a picture and your address on Facebook and call it a day. Get current and prospective students involved with engaging content and information. But be careful, social media should be part of a strategy, not the strategy. The point is to connect with your audience in a way that is mutually beneficial and valuable (for more on this idea, read Mike’s post about why social media doesn’t work without content marketing).

DO: Have several options for contacting your school. If prospective students are trying to request a tour, give them the extension to the right office or include a “request a tour” widget on your site.

DON’T: Make the process of contacting your school complicated and convoluted. Listing a general phone number may seem like the easiest way to cover all your bases, but no one wants to dial eight different numbers and wait on hold before speaking to the right person. If you choose to use a widget to schedule tours, make sure the widget works. This may seem like common sense, but nothing is more frustrating than clicking on a link and nothing happening, or being redirected to a “page no longer available” message.

Have you ever encountered these issues when navigating through a website? Have more to share? Comment below.

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