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Optimizing the Higher Education Website Experience for Transfer Student Recruitment

Optimizing the Higher Education Website Experience for Transfer Student Recruitment
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Higher education enrollment management is probably feeling a bit of whiplash right now, what with the FAFSA debacle and various other enrollment challenges on the horizon. In the midst of all the chaos, however, one student demographic offers real hope for helping stabilize incoming class sizes: Transfer students.

More and more, transferring is the norm rather than the exception. According to recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse, transfer enrollment represents 13.2% of this year’s total undergraduate enrollment, a 5.3% increase from Fall of 2022. When considered year over year, it follows that nearly 50% of all students pursuing an undergraduate education will, at some point, have transferred.

This points to a number of concerns and opportunities for higher education. In this article, we’ll cover the best engagement and conversion strategies for taking advantage of the chance to turn this increasing student mobility into stronger enrollment classes.  

Use Your Website for Targeting

Targeting transfers has always been a crapshoot at worst, and a very difficult win at best. The population is simply too broad and nebulous. The best thing, though, is that, unlike a lot of your traditional undergrads, your transfers will find you. These people have already seen the value in higher education, and they’re investing in continuing the journey they've already started. This makes them inquisitive, experienced, and ready to get down to brass tacks.

They have specific questions they need answered and expectations they need met. Meeting those? Well, that’s where your website comes in. 

The majority of future students land on your school’s website within a few days of researching you, and the first 60 seconds they spend on that website often makes or breaks their relationship with your institution. For transfers, the reasons why that connection falls apart are usually pretty straightforward. Here’s what transfer students usually struggle most to find on a school website:

-Whether their credits transfer

-A school’s tuition and scholarship opportunities (specifically for transfer students)

-Information about their specific program

-Information about a school’s overall transfer process

That fourth point–the inability to find dedicated information about transfers–is a common complaint, which means a lot of schools are sacrificing a chance to connect with over 10% of their potential incoming class. 

Taking advantage of that opportunity requires thoughtfulness and effort, but it’s worth it for an ever-expanding student population. The most important thing is to create an online environment and build a conversation geared specifically toward potential transfer students.

Molloy Transfer Campaign Fall '23

You don’t have to answer every question, but you can get ahead of students’ main concerns and connect them quickly with people who can deliver more specific responses. Molloy University works with Halda to do just this. Dean of Admission, Stephen Ostendorff, uses Halda’s tools to intercept transfer students and connect them with the right information. It’s one of the key ways he increased his incoming transfer student population by 60 in Fall ‘23. It also leads us toward another key fundamental when it comes to transfer student recruitment.

Ask transfer students what they need

You can certainly anticipate a transfer student’s overall concerns, but their stories tend to be more unique than the average undergraduate fresh off senior year of high school. Be cognizant of that by creating a space where they can give some specific insight into their experience, so that you can follow up with them with tailored communication

Asking transfer students some key questions, and give them open-ended areas in which to tell their story goes a long way toward equipping your team with the tools they need to form a lasting connection. It also makes a traditionally maligned prospective student population feel supported.

Create meaningful relationships with feeder schools

A significant factor in this uptick is the upward transferring from two-year schools to four-year schools. The number of these upward transfers increased by 7.7% in Fall of ‘23. Building a link between these schools and your four-year institution can create a sustainable enrollment pipeline. 

This means more than just securing lists and sending mailers. Be proactive with articulation agreements, work with counselors at local two-year schools and community colleges to let students know their options, and be present on campus at events and fairs. 

Transferring is hard. Between the credit rigamarole, finding good information, and getting in touch with the people who can actually help, transfer students often fall out of the funnel before schools even know that they’re researching. To turn these hidden prospects into hand-raisers, make it possible to get good information fast, make that information clear, and give them opportunities to let you know they want a connection.

Recruiting your next class is, more than ever, about taking advantage of the margins. Are you making that experience easier for one of your most marginalized student demographics?

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