Stage-based nurturing: Perfect message timing, every time

When learners make the decision to enroll with and start at an institution, the old adage “timing is everything” only tells part of the story. Seeing as how potential students must move from an initial inquiry to an application, then advance to placing a deposit and ultimately showing up on the first day of class, the enrollment process is ripe with opportunities for a prospect to attrit. A fixed, calendar-based approach to enrollment outreach often misses the mark, leaving a prospect’s individual concerns unaddressed or under-addressed at pivotal points in their decision-making processes. Prospects don’t just need consistent messages, they need the right messages at the right times. Their timing is everything, not the institution’s.

Stage-based nurturing campaigns that respond not to a fixed calendar but to a prospect’s enrollment status will help fortify an enrollment funnel and convert more prospects to students.

Let’s say an institution releases fixed communications in relation to a semester start date. So, if a semester begins August 31st, everyone in the enrollment funnel can expect to receive an email, text, or direct mail communication 12 weeks, 9 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 weeks, and 2 weeks before that August 31st start date. The 12-week message discusses the institution’s history and offerings, the 9-week message discusses on-campus resources, the 6-week message discusses financial aid and scholarships, and the 3 and 2-week messages provide necessary information before starting classes. Yet, for the prospect who has inquired and applied within a 3-day time frame, or for the prospect who is still making the decision of whether to apply until 4 weeks before the start of the semester, these messages are hardly timely and relevant.

Yet, by shifting the messaging paradigm to stage-based nurturing, an institution’s messages get triggered not by a semester start date, but by a prospect’s status within the enrollment funnel. For example, let’s say a prospect completes an online form that enters them into your system as an inquiry. That student would be put on a fixed schedule of communications that sends a message to him immediately upon inquiry, then again at designated increments after that initial inquiry. However, if that same student submits an application at week 2, that student’s status gets redefined as “applicant,” which then starts another sequence of messages. The communication schedule then gets anchored to an inquiry, application, deposit, or enrollment, and students get the messages relevant to their stage in the enrollment funnel.

Undoubtedly, stage-based communications are often as time-consuming to initiate and they are impactful to the enrollment process. To effectively fortify an enrollment funnel with relevant, timely communications, institutions must collect and leverage the necessary student data and integrate that data with their communication processes. Visibility and integration between institutional data systems along with dynamic interdepartmental communication processes are often the deciding factors for whether an institution can optimize its enrollment messages for the prospective student.

When making the decision to enroll at a higher ed institution, statuses cause roadblocks, not calendars. Optimize your messages to proactively address a student’s decision-making process, and leave a calendar-based approach to days of yore.


To learn more about how stage-specific communications fit into your larger enrollment growth goals, download our free Enrollment Growth Playbook.

Danielle Caldwell

Danielle Caldwell is the Content Marketing Manager at Helix Education. Prior to her work with Helix, Danielle served as a full-time faculty member with Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication program in Salt Lake City. Danielle brings nearly a decade of experience in research, communication, and higher education, and she currently still teaches graduate courses in organizational communication and research methods as an adjunct professor at Westminster College.