Communication Breakdown: Prospecting Today’s Student

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By 2020, millennial graduates (i.e. students roughly 18 – 35 years of age) are projected to comprise over 50% of the labor force. Accordingly, it is now more important than ever for employers, universities, and businesses to examine the effectiveness of their communication strategies in attracting the talent of this generation; as the workforce acclimates to a new culture of technology, culture, and expectations accompanying millennial entrants, organizations aiming to secure the best and brightest should ensure they are speaking the right language. Below, we’ll cover a few tips on how to make sure this age group is hearing what you have to say.

1. Digitized Marketing & Recruitment

It’s not just a stereotype: research has consistently shown that millennials feel most at home in the digital sphere. While traditional business custom has emphasized the value of face-to-face communication, millennial students are best addressed through online or electronic means. Telephone marketing, for example, is not nearly as effective as one might think; in fact, using smartphones to make calls is relatively rare when considering the average millennial’s daily use of communication technology.

Thankfully, technology offers us a bevy of alternatives for communicating effectively with the phone-call-averse. Text message marketing and contact services, for example, are a rapidly-growing tool for institutions needing to ensure millennial audiences are receiving information. Better, the ubiquity of personal “smart” devices maximizes successful delivery; furthermore, this allows organizations to dispense with the expense, unreliability, and often frustration of attempting to reach targeted audiences via phone.

E-mail, however, has yet to suffer the backseat treatment of the telephone and is still a proven and cost-effective means of communication with this demographic. Additionally, e-mail allows a far greater amount of information and media to be conveyed than with SMS or instant messaging-based platforms. E-mail is also no longer relegated to “business hours only,” a substantial portion of millennial report consistently using e-mail on nights, weekends, and leisure periods.

These are two examples, but there is a wealth of platforms to explore as alternatives to face-to-face communication. Regardless of your organization’s platform, one maxim holds true: communication that is digitized, immediately accessible, but free of the immediacy, pressure, or expectation of a face-to-face or telephone meeting, is poised to provide the most positive result. Based on our research, the average college prospect will not take action on marketing communication until the 18th impression or contact attempt. We work closely with our clients to identify a target impression count for their prospective student base, and how to enhance CRM’s and communications platforms to deliver the most effective impression at the most opportune time.

2. Social Proof & Peer-Mediated Content

Advertisers have long-bemoaned the challenge of marketing to this demographic. Skeptical, research-intensive, and highly-reliant on the experiences of peers, millennial students are not a square target for traditional self-promotion. As an example, when prospective students are considering a school or curricular opportunity, they’re most likely looking for testimony from current and former students. More specifically, testimony that appeals to the personal aspect of the program; stories, reviews, or anecdotes promoting the positive experiences of a peer are more likely to connect than a simple statistic or traditional advertising. If your organization isn’t including peer-generated content in its communication strategy, you are likely missing out.

Consider the use of “student ambassadors,” i.e. current or former students in the same demographic that can provide personalized outreach whether in-person or online. Beyond this, use of review platforms, social media, or online content aggregators in your area or discipline will maximize a receptive message: millennials respond to organizations with a presence that is personal, social, and consistently fresh. Keep this conversation going.

3. Provide Mentorship

Millennials, particularly when it comes to education, dislike the traditional business-consumer model. Particularly for those at the younger end of the 18 – 35 demographic, committing to an educational program or professional training opportunity is likely one of the most important decisions they’ve yet to confront. Accordingly, providing mentorship services is a phenomenal way to encourage millennial students’ participation, whether as an enrollee or prospective student.

Being connected with a mentor softens the anxiety of the experience, encourages forward-thinking and reduces the rate of students “dropping out” of the communication process. For example, many recruitment departments are now taking advantage of this dynamic by appointing “student mentors” to keep in touch with prospective enrollees during the application process. These mentors are available to answer questions, offer encouragement, and act as a communication facilitator between the student and institution.

Millennials communicate most effectively when supplemented with an advocate; ensuring your audience feels represented, cared for, and connected with a personal representative of your program will do wonders for enhancing recruitment, retention, and participation.

4. Nurture Their Passion

While a younger demographic, this does not mean that millennial students fail to expect respect, results, and support. The byproduct of an overwhelmingly successful generation, members of this audience expect their passions, interests, and personality to be both accommodated and nurtured. It is vital for organizations targeting this group to do so while conscientious of this dynamic: millennials respond best when prospective employers, schools, or programs reflect a socially conscious understanding of the applicant.

As an example, millennials as a group overwhelmingly report equality, social consciousness, and progressive-minded environment as important factors. As such, it is valuable for organizations seeking this audience to avoid messages that could be perceived as judgmental, biased, or prejudicial toward any demographic. Furthermore, an emphasis on representing your organization as socially-conscious, human-focused, and open to new ways of thinking will result in optimal receptiveness from this group. Ultimately, define your message in a mission-driven way.

By properly communicating the greater purpose of your organization, the positive consequences for the future, and, most importantly, what your target demographic’s role in achieving this mission can be, millennial respondents will be ready, willing, and eager to continue the discussion.


Ultimately, communicating with today’s millennial student is not all that different than any younger demographic. However, as technology, culture, and family roles continue to dynamically shape the experiences of younger pools of talent, we must continue to alter our communication strategies to ensure we are being heard; and, perhaps more importantly, to ensure our target audience feels confident we are hearing them. While these are helpful tips for beginning the conversation, if you’d like to learn more about optimizing your organization’s communication strategy to maximize efficiency, increase enrollment, and enhance student population, consider our knowledge base or contact us at ENGINE for Education.

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