How Universities Can Use Support Services to Attract More Students

4 min read

G. John Cole

shutterstock_1176292978It’s been a turbulent few years with socio-economic, politics, home-grown and international conflict occurring around the world. So how has this affected generations growing up in the midst of it?

Youth now commencing university, such as Generation Z (born 1995 or later), are often seen as more guarded towards the world around them. They are a generation of wary consumers. Like everyone else, their older siblings, the millennials, are stressed about their finances above all else – more so than previous generations, according to the American Psychology Association (APA). It’s not surprising: they earn less, work more, and many never completely ‘clock out’ having been born into the age of connectivity.

The universities where these young people study or hope to study see these stress levels reflected in exam results, health issues, and drop-out rates. While a little bit of stress can be useful for learning, a high, prolonged state of stress impairs the memory and organization functions of the brain – not to mention the knock-on effects of tiredness, distraction, and poor health.

But what exactly can be done to help, on an institutional level?

Highlight support services available to students

University marketing teams can work with the services departments of their schools to develop systems that are both useful and appealing to potential students in the way they counter stress-inducing scenarios.

It helps to get students off on the right foot. Many young people (older ones too, of course!) turn up to college baffled by everything they need to do to get started and stay afloat as a student away from home – let alone manage their actual studies. For international students, this shock to the system is magnified by language barriers, culture shock, and unfamiliar academic (and social!) expectations. Schools that make a point of assisting with visas, airport pickups, and housing arrangements immediately present a more welcoming and less stressful image to potential students.

But even a smooth touchdown can soon go awry as matters of daily life begin to take their toll. Overseas students may find they have difficulty acclimatizing to the culture, dislike their course or roommates, or struggle with homesickness.

In public-facing and internal marketing, schools should advertise that help with mental health and other issues is available. Information about services such as sports facilities, tours, and catering, in addition to academic support, can help ease concerns and keep a student’s stress and mental health issues manageable before they deteriorate.

Create and promote personalized career guidance services

Institutions should also look forward to the worries that face their students beyond their arrival and the daily demands of life and study.

As mentioned above, one of the most significant such worries for twenty-first-century students is their career prospects. It is vital that teachers, as well as career advisors, should keep abreast of developments in the labor market related to their discipline. Without pressuring students to make big decisions too early, faculty can help keep students clued-in to how to begin and progress through careers connected to or tangential to their studies. Faculty can also be a vital link to industry and postgraduate opportunities that can give students the edge they need to succeed.

To some degree, this should develop organically, allowing faculty to build personal relationships with engaged students and personalized to fit the needs of specific fields of study. But marketing teams can develop and highlight more general strengths in their school’s career guidance strategy by engaging with employers and corporate partners, through internships, networking, guest lectures, and other forms of partnership. In prospectuses and the classroom, learning outcomes should be linked with real-world scenarios.

Don’t underestimate the community aspect of your institution. Students should not be left to feel that study is the beginning and end of their relationship with a university. Instead, the school can be active in exploring their role within a student’s broader career, past graduation and even into the alumni years. Remember, your greatest marketing resources is happy, successful graduates and you never know, it may pay off in terms of a endowment one day.

Engage in personal communication with prospective students

Schools can also do a lot to combat stress simply by being responsive to the needs and concerns of students, prospective and otherwise. This needn’t be time-consuming or labor-intensive. Digital communication can still be meaningful. Automated responses to frequently asked questions, a responsive social media presences, and smart tools that help you pinpoint the students that need the most one-on-one approach can make all the difference. Spend time establishing and optimizing your school’s tone and digital presence and you’ll be able to quickly and effectively communicate with the majority of your students and spend more time focusing on those who may feel alone or that they’re in danger of falling through the gaps in the system.

This personalization can also help to build trust. That scrutiny that Generation Z applies to big businesses is also directed at institutions. Schools need to prove the authenticity of their claims by being genuine and hands-on in the care that they provide, and by doing away with the bluster of big ad campaigns in favor of honest testimony from staff and alumni. YouTube, Instagram, and other social sites are great places to reveal the human stories behind the pictures.

In this way, you can begin to position your school as a stress-free higher ed experience. And your students can begin the next part of their life with a sense of control and belonging.

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