How To Win Students' Attention During Their Gap Year

Keystone Higher Ed Blog

For many high school students today, it is common to take a "gap year" prior to commencing higher education. While the gap year is a time for discovery and new experiences, it is also a time that must not be forgotten by institutions wanting to receive enrollments once the year is over. To help, we have developed a quick guide on “How to Win Students’ Attention During Their Gap Year” and turn their "maybe" into a commitment for your university.   

Maintain an active social media presence
While students are taking a gap year, they are still checking in on social media, perusing university websites, and gathering information. According to the Keystone Academic Solutions 2021 State of Student Recruitment report, 77% of students surveyed are interested in beginning their studies within the next 12 months. This is excellent news, as it means more students are ready to re-commit to advancing their education.   

A long-term strategy is to create a marketing plan that specifically engages and targets gap year students, encouraging them to finally make their way towards your university. For that, Keystone is ready to help, and you can schedule your free demo on our marketing services here.

However, in the meantime, schools still need to figure out a way to connect with these gap year students. Even though they might not be in school right now, it certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about university or doing their research about different schools. When asked how they found out about the school they were interested in for the 2021 State of Student Recruitment report, “92% of students surveyed discovered their preferred institution online.” This means that even though students may take a year or two off before attending university, they’re still going to go online to find information about schools they’re interested in.  

Today’s students are informed and willing to do their research, but they’re also inundated with information, as well as countless options. Therefore, it’s up to universities to capture and retain their interest by providing easily accessible and relatable content. One way to do this is by using student associations, groups, clubs, and organizations to help spread the word about why your university is the place to be.

Student associations play a vital role in recruiting and retaining potential and new students at your university. When researching their future university, students want to know how they’ll fit into the campus community and if they’ll find a sense of belonging. As we previously reported, “Student affairs researcher Alexander W. Astin said that students who become more involved in university life tend to have higher rates of retention and satisfaction with their overall university experience.” By sharing what student organizations and associations are doing, your university is creating a welcoming environment and allowing potential students to picture themselves at your university.

Sharing the exciting, engaging, and unique things your university’s student associations are doing is not only a low-cost way of showcasing some of the fantastic things your school has to offer, but it also helps future students begin to form a connection with your school. Once they find something they relate to, they’ll want to know more. Making content about campus life and student clubs easily available will also encourage prospective students to return to your website to keep learning more about what your school has to offer.    

Here are a few ideas on how you can share what your student associations are up to:  

Use social media takeovers to boost engagement and awareness

  • Connect with student associations on campus, and ask them to participate in a social media takeover. If you aren’t sure how to get in touch with leaders in these organizations, reach out to your school’s Student Activities Office, or Student Government, as they usually will have lists of your university’s student organizations, as well as who’s involved or is in leadership roles. This can be a great starting point for building long-lasting relationships with these groups, even if leadership changes and students graduate.  
  • Share a “day in the life” tour - walking students through what it’s like to be a member of these organization and what it's like to be a student at your university. Create contact points for students to ask questions, such as live stream Q&As, and invite student campus leaders to participate. You could even consider doing a panel with students, staff, and faculty geared specifically towards prospective students to discuss what your campus has to offer.   
  • Finally, connect with students who have found their home at your university through student associations, and ask them to share their stories through a blog series, podcast, or social media posts. Not only will this be an interesting way to get information out there, but it also keeps current students engaged, which means they’ll be more likely to share with others what they’re doing.   

Share highlights and updates regularly

  • Make sure you’re taking to social media to brag about your students’ accomplishments, the large-scale programs students are producing, and talk about upcoming events at your university.  
  • Regularly post about what’s happening on campus with student associations, and be sure to add quality photos and links for prospective students to check out the goings-on.  
  • In addition to social media, highlight some of these events on your website with sharp images and clear, concise descriptions. Highlights are excellent for engaging students and even alumni by asking them to send in their photos of the events or creating a unique hashtag that they can share. This will allow prospective students to peruse real-time pictures of the event taken by their future classmates and get a feel for what it’s like to be on campus with their peers.  
  • Create a rotating banner on your website’s landing page to share information and photos about what student associations are up to. Find a place on your website to host an upcoming events calendar, and ask student associations to keep you in the loop so you can keep the calendar up-to-date.  

Build up your brand awareness with advertising

If you haven’t made any changes for a while to your marketing materials, now might be the time to dust them off and move some things around.   

  • Update your advertisements to include student associations your campus offers, as well as their activities and events. Ensure admissions counselors have access to these so they can share them with prospect students while they are on the road or at college fairs.
  • If you have students you’re already connected with, make sure to update them about what’s happening on your campus regularly. Many universities offer events that are also open to the public, such as concerts, sports events, and lectures; so make sure prospective students know they’re invited to these events by emailing them invitations.   
  • Consider working with your ticketing offices on campus to see if you could provide free or low-cost tickets to prospective students to encourage attendance. If an event also has a live stream component, make sure to let prospective students know that they can participate even from afar.    

While connecting with prospective students during a gap year might feel like a bit of a stretch, it’s something that can be done and will benefit enrollment at your university in the long run. Remember, prospects want to feel included, involved, and informed as they move through the information gathering and admissions process. Additionally, students want to see how they’ll fit into your university, so including student associations is the best way to do that.