Building a love for your brand: College Acceptance Packages

photo2

Between the widespread repercussions of the economic downturn, the increasingly dire competition for students facing colleges, and higher ed’s frequently less than favorable framing in the media, attracting and enrolling students is more difficult now than ever. Because of that, building a love for your school’s brand—particularly if you aren’t a nationally well-known university or an ivy—requires some extra effort at every stage in the enrollment lifecycle. To augment their brand favorability, admissions teams are investing more time and money in acceptance packages—a combination of informational breakdowns of enrollment fees, fun and engaging images, and other takeaways that keep students invested—and moving forward—after their acceptance.

At Spectrum, we believe an important aspect of your budget is keeping the students in the higher stages of the funnel continuously engaged.

We recently polled our own clients for their acceptance packages and received a literal Spectrum of pieces, from a warm letter in an envelope to a whole track of pieces from acceptance to depositing to engaging parents with bumper stickers. This confirmed to us that the competition for accepted students is fierce, particularly at a time where acceptance to more and more colleges is a growing trend. Here’s a compilation of some of the tactics we’ve seen:

A coordinated communication stream of mailings/gifts. A package of goodies: t-shirt, water bottle, and car decal, upon acceptance, and some more tchotchkes leading up to the first-day (like a school-spirited luggage tag)—spacing out acceptance rewards is a great way to maintain investment. Nothing gets the students more pumped than fresh school swag, and for free—that’s always a huge plus! Even handwritten birthday cards and other welcome notes are a great way to keep the student in the loop by making them feel welcome and wanted, while also ensuring they haven’t forgotten about your school.

The Parent Plan. Not only did we receive packages as an accepted student, but our “families” also received a stream of communication and gifts (car decal).

The video. Although a fairly new strategy, many colleges are jumping on the opportunity to utilize the latest technology to ‘wow’ their accepted students. Linked in an email or attached through a QR code, students to can see their acceptance in motion via video. With “Congratulations!” written big and bold, shots of the admissions team giving their messages and a glimpse of the campus the student is able to picture first hand where they will be spending their next four years in a technologic way.

The goodies. Laptop bags, t-shirts, mugs, you name it! Anything with your school’s name is highly sought after and gives students a few good items to start their collection. Take it to the next level by sending personalized items – is the student into volleyball? Send them a volleyball t-shirt. Do they love dogs? Send a dog collar so their furry friend can rep the school from home. As always, the more you can show you care, the better!

Personal Correspondence. For many students, even their favored schools exist as monoliths without a human face. You can leverage this fact by making bold, personal outreach a staple of your acceptance materials. From previously mentioned items including handwritten notes to a chatty phone call, the more humanized your school can appear to prospective enrollees, the better.

High-end print materials. Materials are all printed on quality paper stock and are neatly in a nice folder—there’s a map of the college, information on housing and programs and a well-written welcome letter. If your school sends out something along these lines, you’re off to a good start. Spectrum sends all of our upper-level print material in high-impact glassine envelopes for a stronger visual effect to stand out from plainer envelopes. Take your materials to the next level with personalization and ensure each piece is top-notch and portrays your school in the best light possible, showing that you care and are just as excited to have the student on campus as they are to be on campus.

The letter itself. Typewritten letters with pre-pressed signatures and a “certificate of admissions” are possibly the most boring, least exciting way to celebrate a student’s acceptance, and might just result your brand falling out of favor. While the idea of ‘an acceptance letter’ is certainly ingrained in the shared consciousness of what to expect for college admission, it should never be used as a rote, stand-alone piece. Incorporate it into a package with other, actionable information that a student can accomplish the day the receive the letter. The creative staff at Spectrum tries to maintain the consideration an acceptance letter is possibly the most meaningful piece of mail a young person has ever received, to be shared with families and loved ones, and maybe even framed. If you’re building brand devotion, make sure that you have a marquee piece for this marquee moment.

For many students, the extra effort taken into adding personal touch makes a world of a difference. Although no amount of trinkets can change a student’s mind, the acceptance package may be just the tipping point for those who are more ambivalent about their possible choices. If there’s one bit you can take away – make certain the student is able to see and feel that they aren’t just a number when they open their package. Make them feel wanted, and show them you’re just as excited as they are by leading them through the rest of the process.

We also reaffirmed what we already knew (and we are sure you do too): that schools need to ensure that the financial aid pieces of the packages clearly outline the final cost to families (Full cost-Scholarships/Grants=what you owe) and what those grants are contingent on: living on campus, grades etc. We spoke to one parent whose son lost his grant because he moved off campus. In fact, the schools site gave students the information and tools to move off campus without notifying them that their grants were contingent on this. We also spoke to another school that revised their financial aid brochure this year with clear breakdowns and after doing so, reduced the number of phone calls regarding financial aid by 70%.

So, how do you compete in the race to keep students in the higher end of the funnel engaged? Build a connection and love for your brand. The acceptance package (and track) needs some flare in order to stand out among the crowd!