The average shortlist for prospective students looking for higher education beyond a bachelor’s degree is three schools. Nearly three-quarters of the time, these prospective students do not reach out to an institution for more information until they’ve already placed them on their shortlist, and 93% of students end up going to one of the schools they identified early on.
This research comes out of a survey of 1,600 returning students on LinkedIn. In presenting the findings, LinkedIn Director of Global Research and GSO Insights Christina Jenkins warned higher ed marketers that getting on the shortlist is critical.
“If you’re waiting for them to reach out to have that point of contact, it’s too late,” Jenkins said.
LinkedIn held a one-day seminar about the future of higher education in New York City last week. In the panel debuting the latest prospective student research, Ira Amilhussin, senior global marketing manager for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, said another key for marketers is to keep audience in mind.
Researchers found nuanced and, at times, counterintuitive differences between Gen Xers and Millennials. Millennials more often say they want to go back to school for the related salary bump while the average member of Generation X says she want to go boost her skills.
When it comes to flexible study options, Gen Xers are 58% more likely to want online study options in their degree programs while Millenials are 34% more likely to want to be able to go part-time. Even though Millennials came of age in the digital revolution, they seem to place greater value on face-to-face learning opportunities.
The decision journey for prospective students can sometimes last for years. In this time they are collecting information about schools and doing their own research, getting deep into their decision process before ever talking to a school representative. Building brand awareness is one way to reach people before they reach out.
And it’s not just about reaching the prospective student. Their contacts in social and professional networks also influence their decision-making. According to the LinkedIn survey, professional networks are three times more likely to be influential than social networks in school decision-making.
Andrew Hickey, director of digital marketing at eCornell, said asking alumni to share their thoughts about their educational experiences has created a lot of good “social proof” to put in front of prospective students, encouraging them to choose Cornell because others in their networks have.
In some ways, online networks and digital research opportunities has made it harder for marketers to find people and figure out where they are in their decision process.
“Students, whether they’re young professionals or people further along in their career, are more inclined to want to do their own research,” Hickey said. At eCornell, Hickey said his team is making information more publicly available so prospective students can find it without having to fill out any interest forms first.
But at Pearson, Director of Paid Search and Social Christa Watson said the current environment doesn’t just make things harder.
“It used to be that we’d go find people in active search,” Watson said. “Now … we can hit those people before they even know they’re looking to advance or enhance their position or change careers.”
Marketing to adults based on their skillsets or industry experience, or even alumni networks gives schools one way to start recruitment long before a prospective student even starts thinking about a shortlist. And, as LinkedIn’s latest research shows, that could make all the difference.
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