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How promoting agency along the decision-making journey builds student trust

one red paper boat leading two blue paper boats leading two green paper boats

Choosing where to attend for higher education is one of the most important decisions a prospective student can make. And yet, with an overwhelming abundance of options to choose from, this decision can also be one of the most confusing. The latter is evident as higher ed institutions around the world report creeping melt rates and falling retention numbers. 

So how can we stop the slide? How can we empower prospective students to make informed decisions?

As part of Unibuddy Connect 2022, we hosted a panel discussion with Denise Kinsella, Associate Dean of International Education at Santa Monica College, Mackenzie Cushman, Director of International and Admissions Recruitment at Fisher College, and Andy Jackson, Recruitment Events Manager at the University of South Wales, to help crack the code of how higher ed professionals can empower students to take the driver’s seat in their own higher ed journey.

See the full Unibuddy Connect 2022 session here and more.

Here are a few tips we took away from the session on how promoting agency along the decision-making journey builds student trust:

Understand common snags encountered by prospective students 

As you know, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution or answer for every prospective student arriving for more information about your higher ed institution. From questions about application processes to career paths to simply understanding what life is like around your campus, there are many questions which cannot be answered by generic marketing materials.

Related: The melt dilemma: What are Gen Z’s doubts all about?

In order to help prospective students gain the confidence they need to make informed decisions, you need to provide access to unbiased information about your school. In our Unibuddy Connect 2022 panel, Andy Jackson, Recruitment Events Manager at the University of South Wales, likened it to having in-laws over to your home: you want to show the best of your home without appearing fake or uninviting. By understanding the needs of a prospective student, you can help them make their own conclusions as part of their decision-making process.

Student ambassadors can help prospective students cut through the noise 

As peers who have walked in their shoes, student ambassadors serve as authentic unbiased sources of information for prospective students. By enabling them to connect, through tools like Unibuddy Chat, for example, you can empower students themselves to come to their own conclusions about whether your higher ed institution is a good fit.

Related: How to Foster Authentic Personalization in Student Recruitment

In addition to being champions of your higher ed brand, student ambassadors can also answer questions about your school outside the realm of marketing. Consider, for example, that you have an international student inquiring about concerns with culture or location. You can connect them with an ambassador from their region who can tell their own experiences, concerns or obstacles they faced coming overseas. At the end of the day, student ambassadors are your greatest authentic resource when it comes to building trust – and helping to provide an unbiased look into what studying at your school is actually like.

Provide student ambassadors with the autonomy they need to be authentic 

Being authentic and providing unbiased information to prospective students is exactly what makes student ambassadors so valuable. But, in order to allow them to be themselves, you need to foster an environment of trust. And this often means taking a less active role in their management. As ambassadors of your school, you can trust that your ambassadors have your school’s best intentions in mind – so trust them to talk about your school in the best way they see fit. 

Related: How to leverage the win-win of student-to-student connections

The reciprocal bonus of allowing your ambassadors more free reign is that you empower them to build on their own skills – skills they need for post-graduation. And, by becoming experts in what they do – promoting your school and answering questions – ambassadors can also gather unique insights outside your marketing scope on how to improve your student ambassador program further.

Ensure consistency throughout the student journey 

When connecting a prospective student with a student ambassador, keep in mind that you are attempting to ignite a new relationship – a relationship which has potential to last long after both parties have graduated on from higher ed. And a big part of initiating a firm connection is offering consistency – a single point of contact a prospective student can trust and be themselves around, and, as a result, ask more authentic questions.

Related: What makes a great digital student ambassador?

Offer an environment of complete transparency 

Being completely transparent with a prospective student isn’t just about providing unbiased information. You need a student to understand their goals, options and objectives may fit (or not fit) with a specific program they are interested in. 

Related: Want a proven way to engage Gen Z? The magic is in belonging

This is where student ambassadors can once again be invaluable to your retention efforts. As students who have been there and done that, they are a useful, unbiased resource prospective students can field questions about whether a program is right for them (or not). In addition to providing prospective students with the information they want, this process can help them make informed decisions about their future education.

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