A few years ago this month, I attended two college fairs, two days apart, in two different cities. The first event was right in my school’s backyard. A colleague and I handled the event together, and we expected to be busy; we were right. From the time the event kicked off to 30 minutes after the event ended, there was a line waiting for our table. I don’t think we stopped talking for three hours as we shook hands, handed out materials, and answered as many questions as we could.
Two days later, at a second event, still in state but several hours away, I found myself mostly twiddling my thumbs for two and a half hours.
When I reviewed the two events after the fact, I estimated that my colleague and I spoke with over 350 prospective students during the first event, while I spoke with 10 students at the second.
Now, on the surface, you might think – and I certainly did too – that the first event was much more successful than the second. But, a few months later, at our admitted student open house, a student approached me as he left to thank me. I immediately recognized him from the second college fair. He wanted to let me know that when we originally met, he hadn’t considered attending our school or any school in our city, but that after our in-depth conversation, he was intrigued enough to sign up for a few emails, learn more about our school, and ultimately submitted an application and was accepted. Even better, after attending our admitted student open house, he had decided to enroll.
That first event? I didn’t see a single person at our admitted student day that I recognized. And nobody approached me to thank me. And why would they have? I barely talked to anyone long enough to remember their name, never mind have a real conversation.
Making the Most of Slower College Fairs
Of course, everyone hopes to have that busy table at a college fair. The image of student after student approaching your table, requesting viewbooks, and asking questions conjures daydreams of more applications and higher enrollment numbers come spring.
But sometimes, it’s the slower college fairs that, if used correctly, facilitate meaningful conversations that forge a connection and open the door to your university for a student that wasn’t seriously considering your school before. And while you won’t meet as many prospective students at these fairs, you can make a difference for the students you do meet, and increase the odds that they journey from a prospective student to an enrolled student.
And email can help you get there.
Building Better Email Lists
While new and established social media channels get all the headlines, email marketing remains a powerful platform for reaching and connecting with a targeted audience of prospective students. In fact, you are six times as likely to get a click through on an email campaign than you are on a social media status update.
If your college or university is using email marketing as part of your enrollment strategy, a baseline is the general email newsletter. Your email newsletter may get sent out quarterly, monthly, or perhaps bi-monthly, and includes an overview of everything happening within your school or college. General email newsletters are an excellent gateway into the culture and community of your school or college, and they’re widely used because they are easy to put together and are applicable to multiple audiences.
But for prospective students, you need to go beyond that. Your prospective students engage with customized Pandora radio stations and curated shopping and streaming suggestions from Amazon and Netflix. A general email might not be deleted, but it’s not going to move the needle either. You need to get personal.
Back when I worked in admissions, we offered students a variety of emails they could subscribe to. We had a list for our quarterly email newsletter. Another email was sent out monthly and contained the most popular student and faculty blog posts for that respective month. Another monthly newsletter included content from one of our academic areas of study. We were also in the process of creating a new email for students interested in experiential education.
When you’re in the middle of busy college fairs, it can be hard to take the time to talk to each student long enough to learn their interests and offer them the option to sign up for the right email updates that will truly resonate with them.
But when you find yourself at a slower college fair, invest that time with each student. Take the time to really get to know each student who visits your table. Ask them what their priorities are in choosing a school, and document that information, in a notebook, spreadsheet, or any medium that you can revisit later. Tabulate that information over a full recruiting season, and build the most accurate email lists you can. Then cultivate content around those areas to create email newsletters and updates that truly resonate with your prospective and admitted students.
If you’re not sure how to start segmenting your emails, consider the options below. Each school is different, but the following categories are excellent starting places:
- Areas of Study
- Campus Community and Culture
- Internship and Study Abroad Experiences
- Scholarships and Financial Aid
- Admissions Advice
- Extracurricular Activities
While social media continues to get the headlines and publicity, don’t overlook the importance and benefits of your email marketing. And at a time when admissions professionals are meeting students at college fairs across the country, now is the time to make the most of the inevitable slow college fair by learning your prospective students’ priorities for a better, more segmented, email list.