Think about the last major purchase you made.

Did you hand over your cash without a moment’s thought? Or did you explore different options, read up on customer reviews, and ask your friends and family for advice?

According to one study, 82% of smartphone users consult their phones on purchases they are about to make in-store and 45% read reviews before buying something.

Research is part and parcel of the customer journey.

Businesses spend a lot of time studying the customer journey, identifying pain points, and improving their processes so they achieve more sales.

The same approach can be applied to higher education. What’s referred to as customer journey mapping in the business world is known as student journey mapping in yours.

What can you achieve with student journey mapping?

Successful student journey mapping helps you understand how successful you are at engaging with prospects, existing students, and even alumni.

It’s all about gaining insight into how people interface with your institution and improving these touchpoints so they’re more likely to apply, enroll or donate. 

Mapping the student journey alerts you to where you’re at risk of losing prospects so you can rectify them with the aim of increasing enrollments.

For example, imagine your college has failed to meet its enrollment targets for the fourth semester in a row. In a bid to reverse this trend, your admissions and marketing team collaborate to create a student journey map.

The aim? To find out where things are going wrong.

During the student mapping process, your college finds out prospects are waiting too long for staff to respond to basic queries about funding and program modules.

Based on this new insight, you decide to implement a live chat function to automate common queries and conduct a website content evaluation.

It’s important to remember student journey mapping doesn’t stop at the enrollment stage. It takes the entire student journey into account, from the first interaction with your college to the students’ lives beyond education, as an alumnus.

It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Here’s how to get in right in five steps.

Step 1: Define your student personas

The first step is to establish who your key student personas are, i.e. the people who are likely to apply and enroll in a program at your college.

Once complete, you can use them as a springboard for ideas that will help you refine your messaging, create successful conversion funnels and, ultimately, increase conversions.

There’s no strict template to follow, but you could aim to include the following information in each student persona:

  • a name
  • a summary describing their day-to-day life and motivations
  • relevant demographic details, such as location
  • ambitions and challenges
  • information sources, e.g. social media (which channel?)/relatives
  • testimonial extracts from existing students

Following an analysis of an extensive student survey, The Parthenon Group created segments based on what people hoped to achieve following their bachelor’s degree.

“…it is important to understand the deeper motivations of students to better meet their needs and compete in an evolving higher education market.”

      — The Differentiated University, The Parthenon Group

Parthenon identified the following six major student segments:

Step 2: Map the student journey

Once you’ve established your student personas, it’s time to plot the student journey. When, where, and how do people interact with your college?

An individual’s student journey starts at the point at which they find out about your college, whether it’s through word of mouth or by seeing an ad on social media.

The journey continues through the application process to enrollment, retention, graduation, and beyond when they re-engage with your college as an alumnus.

Broadly speaking, you can divide the student journey into six phases:

  1. Discovery
  2. Evaluation
  3. Application
  4. Enrollment
  5. Retention
  6. Loyalty

Of course, every education provider – and program – is unique, and yours might differ slightly.

Breaking down the student journey in this way can help you understand the student experience better and help you identify challenges and opportunities.

Step 3: Pinpoint student touchpoints

How do students interface with your institution?

Where do they go to find out about program requirements, start dates, student finance options (including scholarships), and accommodation?

To better understand each persona’s journey, identify their typical touchpoints. This exercise should be a collaborative one involving the admissions and marketing teams.

Common student-college touchpoints include:

Next, work out which stage in the student journey the touchpoint corresponds with.

For instance, social media may correspond with the “discovery” and “alumnus” stages best.

Then again, perhaps not. It depends on your college’s proposition.

Step 4: Investigate what works well and what doesn’t

Now you’ve identified your personas, their journey, and touchpoints, it’s time to dig deeper into how successful you are at engagement.

How many prospective students go on to apply after downloading a prospectus, for example? What are your student retention ratios for different personas, and at which point is a student most likely to drop out (i.e. in their first year of study)?

You can learn more about students’ pain points in a variety of ways, including by:

  • analysing existing and historical enrollment, attendance and retention data
  • conducting student surveys on the application process
  • asking students to share their student journey experiences
  • evaluating your online student recruitment campaigns using analytics.

Analytics is where CRM comes in handy.

You don’t have to rely on Google Analytics. Your higher ed CRM should enable you to track students’ activity on your website, ads, and social media with ease.

Step 5: Apply what you’ve learned today

After honing in on what works well and where there’s room for improvement, you can start to make a real difference by planning and implementing fresh strategies.

One of the most effective ways to do this is by taking a cross-departmental approach, bringing in the ideas and expertise of teachers and non-teaching staff alike.

Again, your CRM can be a critical toolbox when it comes to facilitating new and improved approaches. Let’s say you’ve discovered prospective students are waiting too long to hear back from admissions with regards to their application.

In today’s largely automated world, students have come to expect a streamlined and personalized experience. Let’s say a growing number of applicants are jumping ship halfway through their application and applying to one of your competitors instead.

After brainstorming with your team, you use your CRM to configure better email workflows and use the Application Status Tracking function to notify students of incorrect/missing information and automatically move them down the admissions funnel.

You also use your CRM to score and qualify students automatically, helping counselors follow-up with shortlisted candidates quickly, thus keeping applicants engaged.

Evaluate, implement, and re-evaluate

It’s important to recognize student journey mapping is an ever-evolving process. As students’ needs change over time, so should your strategies.

Failure to evolve could leave your college at risk of losing out to the competition.

Student enrollment and retention have never been more important and pressing. Students’ expectations around technology are increasing and new education and training providers are creating an even more competitive playing field.

But the global skills shortage and the need to prepare the workforce for Industry 4.0 mean there’s lots of opportunities out there for higher educators to succeed.

Getting your student journey mapping right can help you get your proposition in front of the relevant people and, ultimately, improve your application and retention rates.