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The Stages of Student Journey: From Awareness to Decision Making

This is the first article in a series of five that is written by Vytautas Rimkus for the DreamApply Expert Insight Series.

Welcome back to the DreamApply Expert Insight Series!

I’m Vytas. After more than a decade spent across four continents recruiting students, I am now in digital publishing. As an industry, we invest an enormous amount of resources into production and distribution of ineffective marketing material simply because that’s how it’s always been done. But marketing material is precisely the area where higher education can become more agile, and with the right tools save money, time and the environment.

It is no secret that every customer journey consists of awareness, consideration and decision stages. Before we buy something, we first have to know it and, when given a choice, before committing, we will compare it to other options.

  • Some decisions, such as grocery shopping, are made very quickly. Milk is no high stakes investment. We drop a carton into our trolley and move on.
  • Shoes, on the other hand, are more expensive, they may not fit, they might not look good on us. We might want to go to a physical store instead of buying them online. We will normally also compare prices, customer service, aftercare and return options.  
  • Fast forward several layers and we get to our degree choice, one of the most complex and consequential purchases in our lives. It costs a lot, it defines where we will spend at least the next several years, what we will learn, what jobs will we aim for, and whom we will meet. It is a purchase that normally takes nearly two years to complete. It is also a very noisy marketplace of thousands of universities, colleges and online providers for students to choose from. Besides, the decision is rarely unilateral and involves multiple stakeholders – friends, parents and counsellors.

Since the student journey is so complex and multi-channel, it is not an easy task to draw boundaries between the three stages, but let’s give it a try: 

First Stage, achieving Awareness requires strategy, but it is relatively easy (although not necessarily cheap) to reach your audience. There is no shortage of methods – offline and online fairs, social media or AdWords campaigns, free or paid promotion on study choice platforms, newsletters, targeted emails, and so forth. Depending on the profile of the institution and your strategy, you can cast your net wide or be more focused. The golden rule is to never keep all of your eggs in one basket, regularly try new initiatives, measure return on investment and see what works for you. Last stage, Decision Making is more difficult as it requires clear and, very importantly, fast communication. Students these days expect instant personalised feedback. However, a lot of higher education institutions still have very slow and manual follow-up procedures. Those who are fast have a huge advantage and this is where, for example, DreamApply is doing a fantastic job by helping universities and their – often-  understaffed admissions teams automise processes and make data based decisions.

However, it is my belief that the Consideration Stage is overlooked the most.

  • If you have a business degree, then why yours and not a university down the street?
  • Why would they shortlist your institution?
  • What is so special about you that they cannot find elsewhere?

The Consideration Stage is long and therefore may be intimidating, but it is where you can have the most impact. The more leads you can convert into applications, the more enrolments you are likely to get. And although there are a thousand ways to go about improving conversion, why not focus on the ones that matter the most? 

In this series of articles articles I will look at the following changes that if implemented at the Consideration Stage, will have the biggest positive impact for your recruitment efforts:

  • Meet them where they are – Mobile-first 
  • Meet them on their own terms – Customise your content 
  • Don’t tell. Show – The importance of Images & Videos 
  • Understand and Adapt – Analytics

Until the next article!

P.S. Check how I can help you with your student recruitment marketing here.

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