June 5, 2018
After the Acceptance Letter: How to Beat the “Summer Melt”
It’s that time of year where the applications are in and the acceptance letters (or, in many cases, acceptance emails) are out. However, even if your school has sent prospects the good news, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to enroll in your institution. Chances are they have choices and they’re going to weigh those options very carefully before committing.
With everything from location to major to financial aid influencing their decision, there’s no sure way to guarantee that those you have accepted will choose your institution over others. There’s a lot for them to consider and current college recruiting tactics and trends aren’t helping much. Because colleges are struggling to boost enrollment, they’re taking names off lists and bombarding these students with constant emails and brochures that persuade them to apply. These students, being targeted from every angle, are sending out more applications than students did even ten years ago.
(This tactic creates an entirely separate issue, but one that is still worth mentioning. It does lead to more applications; however, because not all can be accepted, some institutions have taken to implementing tactics such as “recruit to deny.” This means large numbers of students are being encouraged to apply, only to be rejected when they do. It may help improve a school’s ranking, but it definitely won’t help a school’s reputation, which is something to consider when your school is trying to stand out from the rest.)
However, even though there is no guarantee that a majority of those you accepted will ultimately enroll, there are ways to keep your institution in their minds and potentially toward the top of their lists.
AVOID THE “SUMMER MELT”
The problems facing enrollment aren’t new. They started in about 2011 and have crept slowly into the spotlight. Seven years ago, three-fourths of college applicants were applying to at least three colleges, while one-third of college applicants were applying to as many as seven. In addition, the popularity of the online Common Application has made it possible for students to apply to hundreds of schools at once. Students with multiple acceptance letters found themselves facing what is perhaps the hardest decision a young adult has to make.
As a result, the “summer melt” commenced and has continued to plague colleges and universities every year since. Even though students are expected to make a decision as to where they want to spend the next four years studying by May 1st, many of them do not. Instead, they’ll submit deposits to several schools, formally enroll, and use the summer to make their final decision. This is why, as TIME reports, some schools expect to lose up to 10% of students who committed in May before the fall semester starts in August.
This is a stressful situation for students, one that is often fraught with regret and “what if’s.” Students don’t want to make a decision they’ll regret. They don’t want to attend your school and then, come October or November, ask themselves whether things would have been better at another institution.
To overcome this and avoid the summer melt, it’s important that you show these students why they won’t regret attending your school. Many of the same marketing strategies you used to recruit applicants will work. This involves knowing and understanding those you’ve admitted on a more personal level. What are their interests? What are their hobbies? For example, schools that use ReachBright for their enrollment marketing have a means of delving down into the interests of their prospects in order to send them targeted communications that show them exactly what they want.
YOU’VE ACCEPTED THEM. NOW IT’S TIME TO WELCOME THEM.
Perhaps the most influential way to turn acceptance into enrollment is through more personal connections and interactions. Now that the student is accepted to your campus, make them feel a part of your campus.
One way to do this is by putting them in touch with you or another member of your campus through an email or even a letter. Taking the time to show accepted students that you want to hear from them will be refreshing and make all the difference in their attitude toward your school.
If you’re an admissions counselor or director:
- If you have time, try sending a handwritten note or letter that congratulates the accepted students and asks them to get in touch with questions. After all, chances are that these young students have spent well over a year being bombarded with automated emails. (We say this as developers of ReachBright, a marketing tool that creates automated emails; however, the millions of emails that the software has sent to prospective students around the country were vital in getting them to apply in the first place.)
- Send them some “swag” with the school logo and their graduation year. Items like bumper stickers, magnets, keychains, pennants, and t-shirts may work. However, if you’re looking for something more unique, try sending them something more personal. Is the accepted student planning on studying writing? Send them a journal with pages waiting to be filled. A math major? Maybe a calculator. An art student? Try a small set of paint brushes. People love gifts, especially when they are least expected.
- Don’t forget about the parents. They play a huge role in their child’s decision. Send them personalized notes that urge them to get in touch, as well as some “proud parent” swag like bumper stickers.
- Personal phone calls also go a long way. Some admissions counselors have even started calling students before the acceptance letter comes out in order to give them the good news personally and establish open communication as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, a follow-up email from current students may seem more relaxed and informal. The accepted students are sometimes more likely to reach out to someone they see as a peer, compared
to someone they see as an authority figure.
- Recruit student ambassadors to email accepted students personally. If possible, try to match current students with accepted students who share the same fields of study so that a stronger connection can be formed.
- Have current students congratulate the prospect on being accepted and welcome them to the “team” or “family.” Students should ask them to email back if they have any questions about dorm life, campus, classes, professors, etc.
- Some admissions counselors have started working in conjunction with current students to throw acceptance parties that involve games, food, and fun for the prospects and dinners and receptions for the parents. These are relaxed events that let everyone meet face-to-face.
- If current students serve as social media ambassadors (which they definitely should), they can hold social media contests. For example, they could have accepted students tweet or Instagram pictures with their acceptance letters or swag gear, and award prizes to the most creative picture.
Finally, if you know the accepted student’s intended major, put them in touch with a faculty member from that department. It will give the accepted students a chance to get a feel for the academics your school offers.
- Have a faculty member of a chosen department, perhaps even the chair, send an email to the accepted student(s).
- The faculty member should introduce the department and its features. How many courses? Are there any internship possibilities? Study abroad possibilities? Have any notable alumni come out of the department?
- The faculty member should invite the prospect to visit the campus and sit in on his/her classes.
- Send personalized print materials specifically about the major and its benefits.
Holding an in-person, informal reception is another great way to introduce prospects to current students in their major and faculty members in the department. It also opens the floor for conversation and questions.
It’s amazing how much of an impact one friendly welcome can make. We’ve all been taught that first impressions matter. This is why your school’s maintenance and landscaping staff works hard to keep your campus pristine. Our higher ed web design team says it all the time when they help schools launch their website, or what is commonly called their “digital front door.” Be sure to always keep first impressions in mind, both online and off.
RANKINGS DON’T MATTER.
We understand that even we sometimes place a great emphasis on college rankings. However, when it comes to beating the “summer melt,” rankings don’t matter. Sometimes schools think that they can win over prospects in a last-minute push by advertising their rankings, but very few students actually care about the ranking a school has. To them, it doesn’t matter whether a school was ranked #25 by the U.S. News & World Report, ranked #2 in campus dining, or #32 in a list of higher ed’s most sustainable campuses. They may have cared about this when they were compiling their larger lists of schools one or two years before. But when they are narrowing down their choices, there are much deeper matters to consider.
As the U.S. News & World Report itself pointed out several years ago, the top three factors accepted students weigh before making their final decision come down to:
- The college’s academic reputation (62.0% of students said this is the most important deciding factor when it comes to college)
- The type of jobs graduates have (53.3%)
- Whether or not the school offers financial assistance (45.5%)
Magazine rankings came in at eleventh place. They placed above parental influence, but below a college’s website. As a result, it’s important to forget about rankings. Instead, in your final push to beat the “summer melt,” show students why they will benefit from attending your school.
- Put accepted students in touch with faculty members who can answer questions about academics, or young alumni who can answer questions about the job market.
- Videos are a unique marketing tool and a great way to show transparency. Interview students, faculty members, and alumni about academics, student services, career services, internship opportunities, etc. Share these videos on social media or your website.
- Just because FAFSAs have been submitted doesn’t mean talk about financial aid has to stop. Hold financial aid nights during which accepted students can attend and learn about additional grant, scholarship, and work-study opportunities. You can also feature live chats with financial aid counselors.
It’s important to remember: students are choosing a school that will be best for them and their future, so show them what your school has to offer. Rankings sometimes have a way of screaming: “Look at us!” when it’s the students who really need the attention.
In reality, there is no sure way to make sure a majority of those students you have accepted will attend your institution. There are simply too many factors influencing their decision, too many factors that are out of your control. However, if you do everything you can to keep the focus on them, their finances, and their future, you’ll increase your chances of turning those acceptance letters into enrollment and, hopefully, one day even degrees.
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