I recently had the great honor of co-presenting at the virtual Indiana ACAC Conference and offering my and Spark451’s collective insights on the student and parent trends we’ve been seeing over the prior eight weeks. A core part of the healthy discussion centered on how critical it is to take action now to meet your institution’s fall enrollment goals. A number of attendees reached out afterward and encouraged me to share some of these tactics with more of you in the field, which is what brings us all together here.

First, a little context: Spark451’s original research continues to show that many current high school seniors are still considering which colleges to apply to and attend. Also, many may be scrambling to adjust their plans once decisions and aid are distributed. These are no longer “late applicants,” rather, they are this year’s norm. Treat them as you would Early Decision applications—develop a fast track system to evaluate them, and if they qualify, get them admitted. Upon application submission, reach out immediately to make sure the family has filed for financial aid. You may even consider throwing your preferred financial aid cut off date in the trash and extending or eliminating it altogether!

Now, here are some proven strategies you can implement right away that have the potential to pay dividends over the coming weeks:

1. Don’t give up on your inquiry pool—engage them

We’ve all seen the news: The big-name schools are receiving more application submissions than ever before. But what these applying students and their families might not realize is that those same schools will not be admitting more students, and there will be plenty of rejection, waitlist, and deferral letters hitting homes and inboxes this month. If you are among the professionals at the some 2,500 smaller, regional schools throughout the country, you might be asking yourself, “What does that mean for me?” A lot of those non-engaged names on your list may soon be looking for an attractive financial aid package at a school close to home. Now’s the time to be sending out engagement communications and action-prompting tools for high school seniors. As examples, Spark451 utilizes tactics like Prospective Student Surveys, Express Applications, and web retargeting ads to re-engage those students and drive in late-cycle applications.

2. Check in with key stakeholders at your feeder schools

School counselors are just as stressed out as you are, or perhaps even more. They are the direct link to the families of your prospective students and can be your greatest ally right now, especially if students are not getting into the schools to which they applied. You’ve built strong relationships with these colleagues over years, so don’t let COVID get in the way of checking in on your friends.

3. Release your summer or fall opening plans as soon as possible

Students are eager for the traditional college experience, on campus and in the classroom. Give them hope by releasing your fall plans as soon as you can. Reassure students, and their families, that their experience at your school will have some sense of normalcy. The best way to do this would be to utilize video assets to show them what your on-campus experience was like before COVID. Also, plan homecoming events now, as alumni will wish to get back on campus as well. Your reopening will be a major event, and we can assist you with executing this.

4. Find a way to get admitted students to your campus safely

COVID has not completely diminished, so it is important that your admitted students and their families know they will be able to visit campus safely. Anti-melt efforts for admitted students are important during this non-traditional time. Get students excited by explaining how your campus will look in the fall, and get their families excited by showing them that their child will enjoy a safe campus experience.

Spark451 is ready and well equipped to assist you in reviewing your current strategies, developing new initiatives and seeing this through to the finish line. Feel free to reach out so we can discuss specific approaches for your institution.

Author's Note

As I put together this blog, I couldn’t help but to reflect more on the most trying year of our careers…

As we enter the traditional ACAC season, it appears that all of the regional conferences will be virtual again, and this concerns me when I think about the missed professional development opportunities for young staff members (some of whom have not yet even had a traditional fall travel experience!). In order to help replace these opportunities with in-house solutions, I suggest having your staff members attend webinars—we have a whole library available here on our blog at spark451.com.

As you review year-over-year reports, I suggest looking at day-over-day reports from this time last year. You may be pleasantly surprised. Evaluate what you did last spring, and reflect on what went right and what did not.

Consider the impact of a second straight spring without college fairs and what you can do to mediate that. Do you have a solid digital marketing plan in place for lead generation and nurturing campaigns? Are you using all of the right platforms? The strategy and digital media teams at Spark451 are happy to audit your activities and provide guidance.

Lastly, check in on your staff—it has been a challenge for them, as well. They may have children at home or in college, a spouse who has lost a job, or family and friends who contracted COVID. Take care of your people, and they will take care of their jobs. The time-honored staff retreats and in-office birthday celebrations are not the same in a virtual format, so make sure to connect on a personal level. Taking care of your staff, and yourself, is critical as the past year has taken its toll on all of us.

I hope you all continue to stay safe as clearer skies are on the horizon. Looking forward to seeing you all again soon.