April 30, 2020

Marketing to Prospective Students Who May Take a Gap Year

As we get further into the COVID pandemic and its effects on higher education become more clear, schools are looking to the future to figure out how to keep student enrollment going. But there’s a new trend emerging that could affect how you run enrollment marketing strategies moving forward.

According to a recent study, nearly six-percent of graduating high schoolers are now considering taking a gap year due to coronavirus. A full 17% of students in the study said coronavirus is changing their plans for enrolling in college in some way, with the largest change being that gap year consideration. Here are a few ways you can keep prospective students considering a gap year engaged with your school. 

What’s a gap year and why are prospects choosing it?

A gap year is just that – a one-year gap between a prospect graduating high school and enrolling in college. Traditionally, someone might take a gap year to travel abroad or work while deciding what to do for college, or if college is right for them.

But now, the impact of COVID-19 may be resulting in many of your school’s once-viable prospective students considering gap year options for other reasons. Many surveyed said they didn’t think they could financially afford college right away anymore, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on finances. Some students are worried about higher education’s future state, with college campuses shut down and post-secondary education moving online. Prospective students aren’t sure if their desired programs will be offered or if schools will even be open come fall.

Use marketing to address gap year fears

There are several ways you can leverage your student enrollment marketing efforts to help steer prospects away from the gap year mindset. For a large chunk of those exploring a gap year, either financial costs or uncertainty surrounding higher ed are the driving factors. Using marketing messaging to proactively address these fears can help sway decisions later on. Here are three ways you can change up the messaging in your enrollment marketing:

  • Highlight part-time programs – A gap year doesn’t have to mean zero education. Many prospects concerned about finances may still want to take some classes. That can help them get a feel for the college and get ahead on some credits. If your school offers part-time courses or flexible online programs, promote them heavily to the high school seniors who make up some of your digital ad campaigns.
  • Push affordability and financial aid – Seize the opportunity to highlight any affordability and value propositions at your school. Make sure paid search ads have sitelinks to financial aid pages. Update page copy to talk about lower-cost programs or aid options. Make sure your landing page content features clear breakdowns of the cost of attendance.
  • Communicate deadline changes – Use digital marketing to make potential students aware of changing deadlines both at your school and in the general public. Many states have extended FAFSA filing deadlines, schools are changing when test scores need to be submitted, and more. Make this information prominent in email blasts and landing page content. That will help prospective students see more quickly that they still have options before they simply defer to taking a year off before starting college.

Get aggressive with remarketing

Many of those looking to take a gap year are also fearful. They are afraid that they’ll be unable to attend their first-choice school (for a variety of reasons). This means that a large group of potential gap year students already have a college in mind. It’s also a good bet they have engaged with the school previously.

You can use remarketing audiences and post-applicant audiences to help address concerns that may cause these potential students to avoid enrollment. This is a more precise way of drilling down to just your highest-value digital prospects. Create a remarketing audience of users who took valuable actions, like visiting specific program pages or making return website trips. You can then build a nurturing campaign at a low marketing spend. That will allow you to serve specific messaging without wholesale changing the rest of your digital ad campaigns. Be proactive at:

  • Addressing financial fears
  • Expressing changes in deadlines to complete certain requirements
  • Sending frequent touchpoints to highlight your plans to have programs open in the next semester

Don’t forget post-applicant or post-enrollment nurturing

Just because a prospect has already applied or been accepted doesn’t mean they aren’t considering changing their mind. The COVID-19 pandemic came on severely and quickly. Many potential students who were dead-set on your school a month ago may have entirely different outlooks now. 

Using custom audiences to digitally nurture applicants and accepted students has always been a great way to keep people enrolled and improve yield rates. That matters now more than ever, as many of your most reliable future students may be having second thoughts. Take your lists of applied or accepted users and create custom audiences in the major platforms. You can then:

  • Serve up digital ads that provide a sense of calm. 
  • Use student testimonials to instill trust in your school.
  • Use digital ads to give updates on class start changes and highlight new offerings like financial aid programs. 

Prospective students need to feel like you are here for them and are continuing to provide them with helpful content. This will help them feel more comfortable sticking with their decision rather than considering a full year away from attending school.

Worried about losing potential students, and yield, to gap years after coronavirus? Our marketing experts can help. Talk to us today about your digital enrollment marketing tactics.

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