Who's the Boss? How to Appeal to Parents in Higher Education

Christina Diecidue

Marketing Project Coordinator

Teenagers are known for testing the limits, expanding their boundaries and craving independence, particularly when they get to college. But parents play a bigger role than most of us realize when it comes to the college selection process. According to Noel-Levitz’s 2014 E-Expectations Report, 77% of high school seniors say that their parents have the most influence over their college enrollment decisions.

Now, if you’ve ever been through this phase of life before, you can probably relate. When you were pursuing colleges, you couldn't pick whatever your heart desired. You had a number of options to entertain, and then you narrowed them down based on location, cost, practicality and other obvious factors. But then it was up to your parents to make the final decision based on what they could afford, how far they were willing to travel, and so forth.

Perhaps this is where some of the breakdown of communication occurs for prospective students and your university. You may have some students who are very interested in your program, and all of a sudden, they fall off the radar. It’s possible that their parents are to blame. They may find the tuition too costly or the location too far. They may want their child to follow in their path and attend the same school they did.

One thing is clear when dealing with senior high school students: you must market to the parents as well. Let’s take a look at a few statistics that you’ll find eye opening.

The Influence of Parents

  • Nearly 60% of prospective college students report that they research college options with their parents.

  • Sixty-one percent of parents say that the final decision on where to enroll is made together.

  • Seven out of ten college students report communicating very often with at least one parent during the academic school year.

  • Up to three-quarters of accredited 4-year institutions now collect parents’ email addresses.

  • The most important deciding factors for parents are academic advising, future employment opportunities, quality academics and financial aid.

  • Parental involvement is viewed as essential to students’ academic, intellectual and emotional development.

  • Students with highly involved parents report significantly higher engagement.

Now that you know that parents play a vital role in the college or university that their child chooses, you must find a way to effectively market to both sides. Let’s discuss some of the factors that are important to parents in the college search.

Your Website

Seventy-seven percent of students say that a college website is the biggest influencing factor in their college search. All content, short videos, images and information weigh heavily on whether or not students choose your school. For parents, a slightly smaller percentage - 69% - claim that websites are most influential. Either way, these are big numbers that prove that both students and their parents are looking at your website.

How can you make your website more appealing to parents? Create a section that pertains only to this audience so they feel heard and understood. Include information such as money-saving tips, preparing a student for college, etc. Keep your website clean and easy to follow, and make sure it is responsive on all devices.

Your Content

Content is important for both age groups, but take it a step further by personalizing it to fit your different audiences. College students may be interested in learning about campus life and activities while parents prefer tips on affording the college experience, applying for financial aid and exploring the quality of the programs. Build content around these topics and customize the tone and messaging to fit your older, authoritative audience.

Your Visits

Fifty-five percent of parents surveyed viewed a website within the last 7 days. This means that parents aren’t afraid to browse sites on their tablets and smartphones to find fresh, valuable information. Update your content often by adding new pieces that appeal to parents. Post the content on social media where parents can easily find new blogs and articles. The more quality pieces you post, the more you can entice people to return to your site.

Your Mobile Audience

A whopping 78% of students own smartphones compared to 50% of parents. Still, this is a good chunk of parents that have smartphones and may be using them to explore your college or university. Develop content that is mobile friendly and personalizes the user experience on the go. Short videos, colorful infographics, informational blogs and questionnaires are all ideas for mobile content.

Your Social Media Profiles

Just as students spend a lot of time exploring the various social networks, so do parents. When you know which channels parents are using, it’s easier to market to them. Start with the most obvious and popular social networks: Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Twitter and Instagram. Develop unique content strategies for each network so you can begin building relationships.

Your Email Messages

An impressive 83% of students save emails from schools they’re considering. Forty percent of parents admit that they forward emails from the schools they’re entertaining to their children. Parents and students enjoy this method of communication because it allows them to view the emails on their own time and explore the school. In fact, you can create emails specifically for parents as well as students who plan on sharing the message with their parents.

Your Phone Service

Sometimes, nothing replaces efficient communication better than an old-fashioned telephone call. Forty-nine percent of parents prefer phone calls, and another 58% report that they are more likely to consider a school that communicates in this way. Nothing replaces the value of hearing a voice and actually working with a person, so don’t overlook the value of over-the-phone opportunities.

Conclusion

Parents play a significant role in the college or university their child chooses. Unless the student is prepared to take on the financial responsibility themselves, parents must be included in the process because they assume much of the financial risk. Knowing that they hold this power, parents go through the selection process with their child, sharing their opinions and feedback. In some cases, the final decision is up to them.

Recognizing that you must appeal to both students and parents, it’s important to be strategic in your marketing efforts. Maybe your school has competitive financial aid packages or specialized student tutoring that will impress parents. If you don’t sell these points, you may miss out on certain groups of students.

About the Author: Christina Diecidue

Christina Diecidue is the Marketing Project Coordinator at SEMGeeks.  She holds a B.S. in Business Administration, with concentrations in marketing, advertising, and web design from Rider University.  Known to be a meticulous worker, Christina values each client's individual goals and works to meet their digital strategy needs accordingly.  With valuable knowledge in higher education, alumni engagement, and leadership, she provides an array of skills to the SEMGeeks team.  In her free time, Christina can be found binge watching repeats of Friends and spending time with her family.

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