Recruiting Transfer Students: Essential Questions and Strategies

At a time when higher education has seen mostly across-the-board declines in transfers, universities need transfer students more than ever. That means, as enrollment and marketing leaders, you cannot afford to miss crucial opportunities!

It is time to take a hard look at what you are doing right, what you are doing wrong … or what you are not doing at all. 

First, do you have a strategic plan for transfer students?

Universities know transfer students are important, but they often don’t know what to do about it (or so it seems). The transfer pool has traditionally been organic. This can make the funnel more difficult to predict. That’s why some institutions make their new transfer goal by taking last year’s transfer enrollment number … and adding one or more students to their goal. 

Let’s be fair. It is harder for a school to be intentional with transfer efforts when the pool is so organic. There are not as many marketing recruitment levers for you to pull when it comes to transfer students. Sure, you can send recruiters to transfer fairs, but these events are typically hit or miss. 

That’s why enrollment professionals are less productive about implementing strategic enrollment plans specific to transfers. They will take cover in the fact that transfers are in an organic funnel. So, they fail to audit what has been done in the past. They don’t ask, “Did it work? Did it not work?” 

Second, do you move fast enough with your transfer students?

Transfer students are super impatient. If they don’t get answers quickly, they move on! They demand responsiveness. And that can be challenging for you and your staff because the transfer enrollment process often involves several different departments: admissions, the registrar, communications and marketing, financial aid, academic department athletics … and so on. 

It’s crucial for you to have relationships between key offices to expedite efforts involving prospective transfer students. You need to establish procedures among these offices to make this process smooth, seamless and quick. Same-day or next-day answers are a must! 

One effective method is having a “transfer specialist” in the registrar’s office. Credit transfer is a huge concern for anyone moving from one school to the next. Also, like most prospective students today, transfers are cost conscious. Having someone in your financial aid office focused on transfers can be beneficial. 

It’s important to remember that prospective transfer students are seeking answers to questions before they decide to apply. The application is usually not their first step of interest. The application typically comes after they’ve decided on the school. 

Third, are you passing up easy wins in the transfer market?

Too many universities ignore some of the available resources for maximizing their transfer enrollment efforts. Most obviously, the National Student Clearinghouse has a list of “non-matriculating” students who applied but didn’t enroll at your institution — or students who enrolled at a competitor or local community college.  

Also, universities often fail to adequately leverage articulation agreements in the transfer marketplace. These are agreements with local community colleges that allow you to begin relationships with students as they enter community college. This way, a school can give these students an action plan — a map to matriculating to their school — when they enroll at the community college. 

This requires you to be present with local community colleges, or feeder schools. Members of your enrollment office need to be on campus — not only to promote articulation agreements but also to give your university face time. Making community college students brand aware is absolutely paramount! 

And, finally, institutions too often leave interested leads on the table … or in this case, on your website. Transfer students want you to cut to the chase. More than first-year students, they might actually need to talk to people. The ability to grab their interest and personalize interactions with them while they’re on your website is something that is becoming much more common in the market.

Developing an Effective Transfer Strategy

What are some good strategies for getting out in front of the sometimes elusive and highly particular transfer audience? First, you must utilize a top-notch marketing automation platform.

Marketing automation allows you to:

  • Turn anonymous website visitors into transfer inquiries.
  • Boost the “speed to lead,” displaying relevant, next-step messaging to your impatient transfer pool.
  • Display value messages to transfer prospects early in the pipeline based on pages in their history.
  • Promote transcript evaluation appointments, Instant Decision Days, and visit days for transfers.

Marketing automation also allows you to use dynamic content like Progressive Identification (PID) forms specifically for transfer prospects. Across Capture Higher Ed clients, transfer students identified through a PID form apply at 2.4x the rate of other students and deposit at 4x the rate of other students; 26% of students identified through a form go on to deposit.

An example of how such forms can be used: If you have an unknown user (anonymous IP address) on your website clicking exclusively on transfer-only URLs, you can program a PID form to show up to offer more information, take a quick survey (Buzzfeed style), and/or an opportunity for the prospect to give their information.

Another essential strategy for recruiting transfer students is increasing your digital advertising. Let’s face it. An email-only approach simply doesn’t work anymore. Gen Z transfer students spend an average of more than four hours a day on their mobile device. Intentional and precise digital advertising is crucial to attracting these young people.

Digital ads also allow you to target the precise geographical locations of feeder institutions or expansion markets. Students at community colleges are on their mobile devices a lot!

Finally, there are some traditional methodologies of undergraduate recruitment that can be applied to increase your number of transfer leads. For one, institutions should consider everyone who was in their funnel the past 2-3 years transfer prospects. Reengage them!

In addition, there’s the National Student Clearinghouse of historic non-matriculating applications and accepts. Institutions are allowed (free of charge) to run applicant and admit lists (non-matriculated) from previous years to find which students attended community college. Many miss this opportunity to re-market to these previously interested students.

Also, Phi Theta Kappa’s (PTK) Connect, a source for pre-qualified transfer leads for recruiters, is a reliable way to add transfer-bound students to your lead pool. You can also turn your social tools into lead generators through social prospecting. This involves using the PID forms on Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn to bring transfer students into your website as inquiries.

By Capture Higher Ed’s Team of Enrollment Experts