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Enrollment Marketer

Today’s Trends, Tomorrow’s Students

Adjusting Enrollment Marketing Strategies in Light of FAFSA Hurdles

Kirby Wilson

In higher education enrollment, unexpected challenges like the recent FAFSA issues have forced many of us to rethink our marketing strategies—specifically those around yield. Instead of overhauling your entire enrollment plan (please don’t do this), consider making targeted adjustments that your team can enact to make strategic changes. 

Every enrollment marketing manager should be realistic with what their team can manage and bring them into the conversation. What small changes can make a big difference? Can some territories or programs try one strategy while others work toward a different pivot? Use our ideas below as a springboard for what will work best for your institution and programs. Share this with your team to get their wheels in motion for more you-specific ideas.

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Become a financial aid resource

With confusion surrounding financial aid due to the FAFSA glitches, your institution has an opportunity to step up and provide clarity. You’re the experts! Find opportunities to establish your institution as a trusted resource for prospective students and their families, your local communities, key markets, and guidance counselors.  

  • Develop and share guides: Create straightforward, easy-to-understand financial aid guides for families. These can be as simple as a one-pager or more comprehensive depending on your ability to create quickly. Make sure this content is easy to find and share, both on your website and through social media channels. If you can, leverage local media to help spread the word. The key to this type of content is to make sure it’s applicable outside of your institution. This content should be about the FAFSA and financial aid in general, not specific to your institution. Establishing authority and trust without the expectation of a commitment allows your school or program to be top of mind to your prospective students. 
  • Partner with local schools: Work with high school counselors in your area to distribute these resources. They're often the first point of contact for students and parents trying to navigate the college decision process especially when complications arise.
  • Provide workshops or panels for prospective students and families: Consider providing informative workshops or assembling panels of experts to discuss the financial aid process, decipher common mistakes in the aid process, identify opportunities for scholarships and other financial resources, and more. These events may be more effective if hosted in neutral sites like local libraries, community centers, or other third-party educational institutions, but are also effective on your own campus or online. 
  • Create recorded video resources: Most prospective students and families rely on the internet to find financial aid resources and video plays a vital role in their research. Consider recording FAFSA information sessions or content specific to this year’s changes and hosting the video on your website. If you’d like to go a step further, consider an inbound marketing method by creating a landing page with a form that interested viewers complete prior to accessing the video. 

Keep information updated: As changes occur or as you develop new resources, communicate these updates proactively to ensure that families have the latest information.

Extend decision deadlines

Given the uncertainties caused by FAFSA problems, consider being more flexible with your deadlines. Many institutions have already started this process. Consider extending your final decision deadline and keep updated on your competitors’ changes. It may seem insignificant to you but the added pressure of a deadline can make all the difference for prospective students and their families. 

  • Communicate the change: If you decide to extend deadlines, let potential applicants know as soon as possible through multiple channels. This can alleviate stress and give them additional time to consider your institution. 
  • Explain your reasoning: Make it clear that this decision is an acknowledgment of the current challenges and that it's part of your commitment to supporting prospective students through the process.
  • Be flexible: If possible, allow for students to make commitment decisions after a deadline. Consider using language that communicates that any additional commitments after the deadline will be considered on a “space available basis.”

Revisit financial aid package communication

Timing can significantly impact a student's decision, especially when financial aid packages are delayed:

  • Allow decision post-aid: Let students know that it's okay to wait for their financial aid package before making a final decision. This flexibility can make a big difference to families who are weighing their options.
  • Host informative events for admitted students: Consider setting up an event marketing campaign specifically to discuss financial aid options, either in person or virtually. This can help demystify the process for applicants. When they have the actual financial aid package, revisiting a conversation about cost can be significantly more effective. Have your admissions and financial aid teams ready to address specific questions and establish a process for 1:1 appointments to be made available quickly. Be sure to record virtual events to be able to share with all of your admitted students who are otherwise unable to attend a live event.

Incentivize campus visits

Campus visits are crucial in the decision-making process for many students. With the actual cost of attendance in hand, students may view your campus or programs differently. Take the opportunity to bring them back to campus or reconnect with key players in their decision. You can make these more accessible by:

  • Offering travel reimbursements/grants: Even a small contribution toward travel costs can encourage more families to visit. Make sure you communicate this offer clearly to prospective students. You can do this through actual reimbursements or scholarship money on their financial aid package (understanding this will require a later adjustment to their package).
  • Enhancing virtual options: For those who can’t visit in person, provide a comprehensive online visit experience. Consider live sessions where students can ask questions in real-time. Many schools already have this infrastructure in place. Tag in faculty or staff where possible to make a lasting connection before their final decision is made. Market these as a last-chance opportunity before the final decision is made.

Navigating a changing enrollment management landscape

The FAFSA problems have added another layer of complexity to undergraduate and graduate admissions, but they also present an opportunity for institutions to show their support for prospective students. By becoming a key resource for financial aid information, extending deadlines, revisiting how and when you communicate financial aid packages, and making campus visits more accessible, you can help guide students through these uncertain times.

Remember, it's about finding practical solutions and making small adjustments rather than starting from scratch. You're not alone in tackling these challenges, and your efforts to adapt can make a big difference in the lives of many students and their families. With effective strategies and a solid foundation, you can navigate these challenges effectively. 

We’ve set some ground rules for establishing an enrollment marketing plan that we cover our webinar series. Binge all four episodes or just the one you need the most right now: Increasing Awareness with Content and SEO; How to Cut Your Cost Per Lead in Half with Digital Ads; Generating More Form Submissions Promoting Events; Making Emails Engaging Again. Check it out or set a reminder for this summer as you reflect on the crazy year we’ve had. If no one has told you lately, you’re doing great and are making a difference in the lives of students!

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Topics: Enrollment Marketing

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