Recruiters of transfer students know all too well that the application is often the first point of contact with these prospects. This does not leave much time to build strong relationships. What’s more, according to Eduventures 2019 Transfer Student Research™ Report, a third of prospective transfers make their enrollment decisions by the time they apply—and only submit a single application—to the school of choice.
This means other schools don’t even have the chance to compete. With the recent changes in the NACAC code of ethics, this type of competition may be on recruiters’ minds more than ever. How can schools find prospective transfer students sooner?
To answer this question, we must first reverse it: How are schools found by prospective transfer students?
Our 2019 Transfer Student Research focused on two distinct populations: students considering transferring to a different school, and students who have recently transferred. Analyzing the responses from prospective transfers, it quickly became evident that we had to view the results from two key vantage points: students who are currently enrolled at a community college or two-year school, and students who currently attend a four-year college or university. The motivations, plans, and search behaviors of these two student segments differ in significant ways.
Eduventures® Transfer Student Research Report
For instance, Figure 1 shows the most common information sources these students use to start researching potential transfer schools.
We see here that both populations of prospective transfer students often start their searches by talking with family and friends (39% at two-year and 37% at four-year schools). Students at two-year schools, however, prefer a more face-to-face approach, which includes talking with advisors at their current schools (33% at two-year schools vs. 18% at four-year schools) or attending college fairs (26% vs. 12% respectively). Students at four-year schools, on the other hand, show a greater preference for online search than their two-year peers—45% use search engines as a starting point, compared to 35% at two-year schools, and 40% visit institutional websites vs. 28% at two-year schools.
Overall, prospective transfer students report a variety of starting points for their transfer searches—no one source rises far above the rest. What does this mean for schools that want to be noticed by as many potential transfer students as possible?
A Marketing Approach to Transfer Outreach
To answer this question, we used a common market research approach called TURF Analysis, a statistical method used to optimize communication strategies. This type of analysis allows us to estimate the combination of information sources that reach the largest proportion of students.
To illustrate, let’s look at Figure 2. Note that in this analysis, we excluded “family and friends” and “college search sites”—information sources over which institutions have little to no control. For four-year students, we also excluded “advisor at my current school” as these advisors would be very unlikely to work with the transfer schools—after all, their jobs are to retain the students.
This data shows the optimal combination of information sources to reach the largest proportion of students. The results begin with online search engines, the single most frequently-mentioned information source used as a starting point for both student populations. An institution that optimizes online search results could potentially be noticed by 35% of interested community college students and 45% of students at four-year schools, without doing anything else.
If institutions also maintain strong relationships with two-year feeder schools and their advisors, they could potentially reach an additional 23% of two-year students who did not also start their research with an online search. This increases the total reach to 58% of this prospective transfer pool. Another 15%, who neither searched online nor talked to their advisors, will likely show up on campus for a visit, bringing the total reach to 73%. After that, the potential reach of additional sources flattens substantially.
This means that institutions could potentially reach nearly three quarters of prospective transfer students at two-year schools by focusing their outreach only on these three information channels.
The winning combination looks somewhat different for students at four-year schools. After online search engines, institutional websites reach an additional 18% of students, bringing the total reach to 63%. This highlights the digital, do-it-yourself approach to transfer school research that students at four-year schools take. Campus visits further increase the total reach to 73%–and a similar point of diminishing return.
The Bottom Line
It’s not easy to identify prospective transfer students who prefer to remain incognito until they submit their applications. But this type of analysis can give us a good indication of where to focus institutional outreach efforts and get noticed by these students. It suggests that key strategies for the early stages of transfer recruitment should include:
- A solid digital marketing strategy: Online search engines are crucial tools; search engine optimization can mean the difference between seeing your school’s name at the top of the list vs. buried several pages down. A good institutional website specific to transfer students—and tagging these students’ web presence for targeted digital ads—will also help ensure you get noticed. While a solid digital strategy will provide exposure to many potential transfer students, it is particularly critical for reaching those elusive prospects at four-year institutions.
- Strong relationships with two-year feeder schools: Many community college students rely on the recommendations of advisors at their enrollment school. Being top-of-mind with these influencers will also make institutions top-of-mind with potential transfer students at community colleges.
- Transfer-friendly campus visits: Many prospective transfer students visit the campus of schools they are considering. Institutions should be prepared to engage these students by training staff to address the unique concerns of transfer students and by creating on-campus engagement opportunities specific to these students. This strategy is equally beneficial for the recruitment of transfer students at two-year and four-year schools.
There is still much to be learned about transfer students and how to work with them. For more information, download our 2019 Transfer Student Research Report in Encoura Data Lab.
Thursday, January 16, 2020 at 2PM ET/1PM CT
For many years, transfer students were an afterthought at most institutions. Transfer applications – often the first point of contact with these students – would reliably find their way to the admissions office. Today, however, many schools report declining transfer enrollment, lower graduations at feeder schools, and increasing competition for these students.
New Eduventures® research – released in the Annual Eduventures Transfer Student Research™ Report – examines the transfer student landscape and provides insight into the recruitment process from the students’ perspectives. In this webinar, you’ll learn about prospective transfer students’ priorities, college search resources, and concerns.
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