Let’s talk about college.

For many people, college is one of the best experiences of their lives. Here’s why:

  • It’s socially engaging, with lots of cool, like-minded people looking to get to know each other.
  • It’s intellectually stimulating, with classes and professors pumping you full of exciting new ideas.
  • You feel a sense of connection to something larger: the university, the alumni, the campus traditions.

Plus, there’s a lot of booze. All the time.

But I digress.

By modeling your course after an esteemed, fancypants university, you can create a similarly impactful experience. If you position yourself just right, you’ll do more than give your students a great experience.

You’ll create students for life.

You’ll create students who are loyal to you and your product. Who keep coming back for more. Who feel a sense of connection to you that translates to continued profit.

And don’t think that you have to become the Chancellor of Yale to make this happen! Anyone can tweak their course to attract lifelong students – all it takes is a mindset adjustment and a few key strategies.

You’ll want to pull an all-nighter to implement these ideas into your course…

1. Take good care of your students

Imagine getting an acceptance letter from the college of your dreams. You’re thrilled beyond belief, and you make your initial payment right away so you don’t lose your spot at this incredible school.

Then, as soon as your check clears, you’re suddenly told that you’re on your own. No admissions counselor, no orientation weekend, no academic advisor. For the next four years, no one at the school is interested in doing anything but taking your money.

It’s almost unthinkable. You’d feel unsupported, upset, and you might consider dropping out and finding a new school altogether.

Don’t let this happen to your students!

So much of our marketing is focused on conversion. Once you’ve landed a new customer, it can be tempting to take their money and end the relationship, moving on to the next prospect.

Instead, you have to take care of your students. Conversion might seem like the end point to you, but it’s only the beginning for them. Continue to communicate with them, post-purchase. Thank them for signing up. Ask them if they need any assistance getting started. Emphasize that you’re available for anything they might need.

Otherwise, you could lose a potential lifelong student before they even begin your course.

2. Teach high quality course material that delivers on its promise

What if you signed up for Spanish 101, but didn’t learn any Spanish? Your professor is disinterested, the course material is unstructured and confusing, there’s no homework, no tests and not even a textbook.

At the end of the semester, when you still haven’t learned the difference between “Adios” and “Gracias,” you’d march yourself down to the financial office and demand a full refund, por favor.

If you want to avoid refunds, returns and disgruntled students, you have to deliver on your course’s promise. Create a high quality course that ensures your students will learn.

      • Make your material highly structured, starting with baseline information and building up to more complex ideas over time.
      • Build in homework and worksheets that aid learning through repetition.
      • Develop multimedia assets, like video , images and infographics that reach different areas of your students’ brains.
      • Send links to articles and real-world examples that illustrate your points.
      • Use frequent quizzes and tests to let your students verify what they’ve learned.

3. Be an A+ professor

Teachers and professors make a big difference in the quality of your education. You can probably still remember an elementary school teacher who made an impact on your life, or a college professor who totally changed your perspective.

Even if you aren’t involved in the day-to-day teaching of your course material, you should still be a professorial presence in your students’ lives.

      • Periodically check up on students and ask how they’re progressing.
      • Establish “office hours” on Skype or Twitter, so students know that you’re available for live questions during a set time.
      • Offer occasional in-person meetings for students in your area.
      • Motivate your class with inspiring testimonials from recent graduates.
      • Like any good professor, request feedback throughout and after the course. Use a simple online survey to find out what students think about your course – both the good and the bad.
      • Always buy your students beer!

4. Build long-term courses of study

As we age, our needs change. An 18-year-old just entering college will have different needs than a recent graduate, who will have different needs than a 28-year-old who’s getting married and trying for a big promotion.

Make sure your product can grow with your students, meeting their demands at various life stages. Wherever they are when they enroll in your course, they should feel it’s right for them. It’s one of the best ways to show your students that they can stick with you for the long term.

Here’s how to do it:

    • Center your first course around the basics of your topic. Structure it so that someone with no previous knowledge can understand. This is your baseline course, your mandatory Freshman Seminar.
    • Create additional courses that build off your baseline course, expanding on that knowledge incrementally. Like our Spanish course from the previous example – you might offer Spanish 101, 102, 201, 301, 401, etc. Each course should be more advanced than the last.
    • Similarly, you can design your coursework to follow your students’ life trajectory. If your first course is Freelancing Basics, your next course might be Growing Your Freelance Business Into a Consultancy. That might be followed by Advanced Consulting. Followed by Advanced Early Retirement.
    • Once you’ve established your courses, tell your students how to grow from one to the next. They may need a bit of hand-holding to understand the logical progression their education should follow. Go ahead and tell them directly how the next level will benefit them and how to sign up.

5. Create a space for social interaction

Just like any campus, your course needs a Quad or Student Union where everyone goes to meet up, chat and see what’s happening. When you establish a community vibe, it gives students a stronger feeling of connection to you and your course. That’s the kind of connection that leads to loyalty, which is your goal.

Besides starting up a supercool Ultimate Frisbee or Hacky Sack league, you can become the president of your own Student Activities Committee by:

      • Starting a Facebook group or message board for members of your course to get to know each other and talk about the course material.
      • Inviting your students to follow you on Twitter, and following them back. (And making sure you respond to their tweets!).
      • Creating a dedicated hashtag that students can use when talking about your course on social media, so you can easily locate relevant discussions.
      • Offering occasional social meetups, online or in person, for real-time fun.

6. Make graduation a priority

Many dubious for-profit colleges focus on increasing enrollment, but don’t care about graduation rates. Why? Because all they’re interested in is increasing their revenue, not their relationships.

Public, community and nonprofit colleges DO care about their graduation rates – and so do we.

Give your students the keys to success instead of focusing on the money you’ll get from their initial enrollment. Once you have a successful graduate, you have a lifetime of value that far exceeds that first payment.

      • Grads can give you fantastic testimonials and reviews you can use to recruit new students.
      • Grads are more likely to continue purchasing your products in the future. Adobe says 41% of online sales are from repeat shoppers!
      • Grads will give your product better word-of-mouth than those who have dropped out, failed or transferred.
      • If you’re smart, you can convince a successful grad to start a scholarship for future students, or donate enough money to put their name on your virtual campus dining hall!

Although you may not be equipped with the same kind of fundraising prowess as a typical university, you never know how a satisfied alum might be able to assist you, financially or otherwise, in the future.

7. Provide post-graduation opportunities

Once you have a happy graduate, congrats! But, like the cleanup after an all-night frat party, your work is just beginning.

Post-graduation is a crucial time in which to solidify your connection and make sure your relationship with your student is long-term, not one-term.

Keep the communication going. You’ve already been invited into their inbox, and you’ve seen them through your course. Don’t lose momentum, and don’t lose your established relationship.

Engage your graduates by continuing to send them fun, relevant content that will maintain their connection with you. Things like:

      • A “congratulations” note, handwritten by you
      • Case studies relevant to their course material to keep their education going
      • Sample content from the next course in their trajectory with a reminder to sign up
      • An invitation to a graduates-only webinar
      • Personalized YouTube videos that keep them up to date on new products and info
      • Early bird access to new courses or beta testing

Are you connected with them on social media yet? Don’t be shy! If you haven’t already, friend your students on Facebook and follow them on Twitter to keep your presence top of mind.

By following these steps, you’ll form an experience that leaves your students nostalgic for the “good old days” at their alma mater. Where they learned so many new ideas, met so many interesting people, and saw a whole world of possibilities at their fingertips. That kind of emotional connection doesn’t just create graduates – it creates a community lifelong learners, ready to grow with you wherever you take them.

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