The student journey doesn’t end at graduation
Graduation is a pivotal moment in the life of a student. It’s the point at which they leave behind something that has defined them for years. Their time at university has come to a seemingly abrupt end, and their lives could now be taking a dramatically different turn. With all the other things on their mind, does their university still fit into that new life?
We all know that alumni relations are hugely important to the education sector. No university would ever let its graduates out into the big bad world without trying to maintain contact in some way, and a lot of effort goes into reaching out to alumni in various ways. But we often find that alumni are considered a distinct group, something that appears fully formed at graduation, rather than a natural progression from the existing student body.
The end of the journey?
In our blog post on the audience journey last month, we looked at how to ensure that you engage with your audience at the appropriate points in their decision-making journey. Your alumni have obviously moved through most of the stages of the journey, but they’ve now arrived at a hugely important one: advocacy.
We know from our work with universities that prospective students making a decision about where to study often value the unvarnished opinion of current and former students over that of the “official” voice of the university. If they know of a recent graduate from their course who had a good experience, they’ll be more likely to view the course positively. If they have heard horror stories about poor facilities and unhelpful staff, they’ll take a somewhat dimmer view…
Students are paying more and more to attend university, so they (and their parents) expect a good experience. They will do their research online, and they’ll seek out the opinions of other students. If you’re able to maintain an engaged relationship with your alumni once they leave, you can feel more confident that they’ll talk positively about their experiences to potential students.
You already know your audience
The key to that ongoing relationship with alumni is to know your audience. As Kate mentioned in her earlier blog post, knowing what a former student might want from you is the best way to get their attention. And given the wide range of ages, careers, interests and preferences of your alumni, you might need to adopt a wide range of approaches – it certainly won’t be one size fits all.
Those who studied with you 30 years ago might welcome a physical copy of the alumni magazine in the post, but this year’s graduates might prefer a Snapchat story instead.
Think about the pace of change in the methods of communication used for student recruitment – over the last decade, a plethora of social and digital channels have been added to that repertoire. Those channels will still be relevant to students once they’ve graduated.
To be able to keep up with these changes in communication, you’ll need to have information on the students’ journey up to the point when they leave the university. What did they enjoy online? What methods of communication did they prefer the university to use? If you’ve been tracking their journey during their time at university, you should be able to maintain that relationship effectively.
Graduates might not carry on using the same communication tools they used at university, though – you’ll need to check in with them from time to time to make sure you can still reach them. That Hotmail address they gave you in 1998 might not be your best bet.
Give the people what they want
However you end up communicating with them, you need to make sure you can offer them something they want. For some, that will be the opportunity to give something back – time, money, expertise – to their alma mater. For others, it might simply be nostalgia. We’ve all seen those BuzzFeed lists of “37 Things Everyone Who Went To BlahBlahBlah University Will Remember” – and they’re popular for a reason. University is an important time in people’s lives, and they’re often happy to remember it and preserve their identity as alumni.
But that brings us back to the audience journey chart. If you’ve kept your students happy and engaged throughout their time at university, they’re far more likely to want to stay connected with you when they leave – so the best way to build alumni relations is to start with the student journey.
If you want to speak about alumni relations, the student experience, or audience journeys in general, please get in touch. Next month we will be running a workshop on creating effective content strategies that engage your audience, including alumni. To find out more and book your place, check out our Eventbrite page.