Findings and strategies from our Parent Enrollment Marketing Survey: Part 3
This post is a continuation of our last installment, “Findings and strategies from our Parent Enrollment Marketing Survey: Part 2” where we explored parental outreach strategy developed from conversations with parents currently in the college search process. That installment covered parent nurture at the applied and accepted levels and the benefit of including parent information in your enrollment management software or higher ed CRM. In this final installment, we will examine parent marketing during the financial aid process and how to manage post-acceptance relationships. (Part 1) (Part 2)
Part 3: Parental Involvement for Financial Aid and Post-Acceptance
Parent concern: “I wish there was more help explaining financial aid, grants, loans, and the rest of what was available to my son. I felt alone during this process. I wish my son college did a better job offering help. It’s his first year and he’s our oldest, so this is definitely something we’re not familiar with.”
Try this:Be upfront and available, even if you aren’t providing million-dollar scholarships
Your communication materials should lay out exactly how much the school will cost, what scholarships are given to what kind of students, what financial aids and grants are available, and how they are attainable: for each individual student. Not only will this reduce the amount of questions parents have about the final cost, but this allows you time to focus on making sure students yield and deposit, or see if there are any “extra” grants available if parents do have concerns about the final numbers.
The key stressor to navigating financial aid sources for parents is that the entry points seem so varied. Can I apply for a private scholarship if I haven’t completed my FAFSA? Is the award amount allocated to my child a part of a shared pool that shrinks the longer I wait, even if I submit before deadline? It’s an agonizing thought, particularly to families stretching their budgets beyond comfort to afford college, that they’re missing out on financial boons available to them simply because the information is too scattered.
Tip: Try your own system as a secret shopper to find holes and disconnections in your process.
Consolidate your process, and learn how by seeing how well your current process works. Whether you do it as a ‘secret shopper’ or have your reps compete to create hypothetical students who can ferret out the greatest number of available awards, the insight you’ll gain by seeing how families navigate your aid stream will radically elevate your ability to assist them. Ask yourself the confusing questions first, and work to produce a simple answer: “When can I start applying for institutional scholarships and grants?” “How do I know which types of aid are available to me?” “Why do I need to apply again and again with the same information to obtain different aid?” If you can prevent institutional waffling from being a default “That’s just the way it is” retort and instead provide a solution to an issue every single one of your prospects face, you’ll save an incredible amount of time for your families and your employees.
Parent concern: “Once my child was accepted the communication stream really ended. I actually wondered if he was still supposed to go. It was his coach who kept us in the loop. For us it wasn’t a big deal (I did know his status didn’t change) and we knew he wanted to go to the school for sure. However, for students who are on the fence… well, I think they would be less likely to go somewhere that went quiet like that and more likely to go to a school that’s continuing to nurture and welcome.”
This gray area is where many schools fall off and don’t follow through as well as they should. They’ve been accepted, submitted their deposit, and are all stocked up with their new school’s gear, but suddenly they aren’t receiving any more emails, postcards and phone calls. This is especially true for early accepts.
Try this:Don’t end the communication stream. Period.
We can’t emphasis this enough… don’t end the communication stream! Not even after the students are in the dorm. Not even after parent’s weekend. Send out parent-specific mailers regarding on campus visits, what life will be like for their child at school, and the ins and outs financial aid. Send out mailers to the students about what to pack, when to be on campus, and how they can make friends prior to stepping on campus. For students on the fence, they’re less likely to go somewhere that went quite like that and more likely to go somewhere that continues to nurture them and make them feel welcome. Make sure you have an acceptance nurture track ready to launch for students and parents as soon as you send out your first acceptance notice.
Additionally, the first semester of college can be an exceedingly stressful transition for students and their families, and your nurture through this time can make the difference when students are considering transferring closer to home, or parents are advocating it. With retention being such a focal statistic in admissions marketing, even small gestures on its behalf can work to your benefit.
Well, there you have it! The parental consideration is a vital aspect of each child’s college decision, and anticipating their desired communication channels and providing information they’ll want in-hand ahead of time, your school will stand head-and-shoulders above competitors who lack a parent communication plan.
We want to hear from you! Let us know how your school communicates and engages with parents.