Beyond Email: How to Connect with Prospects and Inquiries in 2024

May 22, 2024

ith increasing competition between colleges for fewer undergraduate prospects, effective communication strategies are vital. At the same time, traditional messaging methods like email are no longer as effective as they once were, with students overlooking their inboxes for long periods of time in favor of more immediate and engaging platforms. To truly connect with today’s high school prospects, higher ed institutions must explore alternative communication strategies that resonate with the preferences and habits of digitally native students. In this blog post, we'll delve into various techniques beyond email that colleges can employ to reach and interact with prospects effectively.

Social Media Engagement

Social media is an integral part of teenagers' daily lives—and a crucial part of your institution’s recruitment strategy. A recent Pew Research Center study reports that 95% of teens use YouTube, 67% use TikTok, and 62% use Instagram, with usage and preferred platforms varying somewhat across demographic groups. And while Facebook use has dropped steeply for teens in the past five years, your admissions team may find it a useful way to connect with the parents of potential students. HAI recommends that colleges leverage a sustainable mix of social media platforms to engage with prospective students by sharing compelling content, hosting live Q&A sessions, and showcasing campus life.

There are a lot of ways you can use social media at other points along the enrollment journey, too. Educate your campus tour guides about the most picturesque or well-known locations on campus, then encourage them to point out these spots to visitors as photo and video opps. (Bonus points for suggesting they tag your preferred accounts or use a specific hashtag.) And be sure to drive admits to a suite of social celebration assets that they can use to announce their acceptance. “Admission swag” can range from mobile and laptop wallpaper featuring campus glamour shots to digital frames, badges and gifs for Instagram, to paper yard signs and party props featuring dedicated social media hashtags. Providing these items is a win-win tactic, showing admits that you’re excited to have them attend and providing your admissions office a way to collect and share the best of the resulting posts.

Personalized Messaging

Tailoring communication to individual students' interests and aspirations can significantly enhance engagement. Colleges can utilize data analytics to gather insights into students' preferences and behaviors, allowing them to deliver personalized messages via text, social media DMs, or even personalized videos. Consider using digital view books, which can enable you to choose examples of academic and extracurricular content that align with each student’s interests, and to showcase campus buildings and activities that are likely to appeal based on the prospect’s interests and intended major.

It’s important to create opportunity for interaction in personalized communications as well. Host virtual information sessions throughout the recruitment and admission process in order to answer individual questions in real time and face to face. Invite your most engaging faculty to speak at campus/departmental yield events and encourage them to stay after to talk with students and parents. And offer admitted students the opportunity to attend a sample class that aligns with their interests. Even a small selection of subjects with broad appeal will be enough for most students to find something that piques their curiosity.

Peer-to-Peer Outreach

High school students value insights and recommendations from their peers, so colleges should establish/maintain peer ambassador programs where current students serve as brand ambassadors. Peer-to-peer outreach can take the form of student-led campus tours, admissions interviews, follow-up calls to inquiries, and attending college fairs or high school visits to your university.

In addition to campus-based efforts, the web offers many opportunities for peer-to-peer engagement. Student-led social media takeovers and webinars are popular options for giving prospects and inquiries an authentic view of campus life and the chance to have their questions answered by someone who understands their specific perspectives and concerns. And don’t neglect the opportunity for ambassadors to represent your institution in online forums. With proper training and a commitment to transparency, these current students can meet prospects where they are searching for answers: on popular third-party sites.

Mobile-Friendly Platforms

Recognizing that high school students are increasingly reliant on mobile devices, colleges should ensure that their communication platforms are mobile-friendly. Whether it's a responsive website, personalized landing pages, or a seamless mobile application experience, providing a clean, robust experience enhances engagement and accessibility for students on the go.

And don’t neglect text messaging as an important tool for encouraging prospects. In a recent survey, 85% of students agreed that text nudges help them by prompting them to complete unfinished tasks and sending useful information. Even so, 40% of public institutions and 20% of private institutions have still not adopted this communication method. That means that there’s a good chance your college can grab an edge by implementing texting strategy around transactional items like application completion, deposit nudges, event invitations and reminders, and more.

Gamification and Interactive Content

Incorporating elements of gamification (making an educational activity more like a game by finding ways to make it more fun and entertaining) and interactive content can make college communication more engaging and memorable for high school students. Encourage your enrollment marketing team to create interactive surveys, quizzes, trivia, scavenger hunts, or virtual reality experiences that educate and entertain prospective students while showcasing the unique aspects of campus life and academic offerings.

Community Engagement

Building relationships with high schools and community organizations can facilitate direct communication with prospective students. Colleges can participate in college fairs, career days, and community events to interact with students and provide information about their institution. By actively engaging with local communities, colleges demonstrate their commitment to supporting student success beyond the admissions process.


In an era where traditional communication methods like email are only a small part of a healthy communications mix, colleges must adapt and embrace alternative strategies to effectively connect with prospective students. By leveraging social media engagement, personalized messaging, virtual events, peer-to-peer outreach, mobile-friendly platforms, gamification and community engagement, colleges can create meaningful interactions that resonate with today's digital natives. By prioritizing innovative and student-centered communication approaches, colleges can strengthen their brand presence, foster authentic connections, and ultimately attract and enroll diverse cohorts of high-achieving students.