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What is alumni experience?

5 min read
When someone graduates, their formal relationship with a university comes to an end. Many will then start receiving emails, letters and phone calls from their old university, usually focused on one thing: asking for money. The world’s leading universities, though, are thinking beyond fundraising, and capitalising on new methods and technologies to create a better alumni experience.

Alumni experience defined

It’s the sum total of every interaction an alumnus may have with their old university, and describes how they feel about their alma mater. A good alumni experience might mean someone continues to be engaged with their university; a bad experience may mean they disengage from their old university and leave it firmly in their past.

It starts at the moment someone dons a gown and walks across stage to collect their degree. So it’s important you’re proactive during an alumnus’ first years in the workplace, as well as when they may have accumulated more money later in life.

After all, approaching an alumnus for the first time 10 years after they’ve graduated won’t go down well – but having consistent and contextual messaging for the entire alumni journey can boost fundraising and improve the overall alumni experience.

It’s key to think about an alumnus’ lifetime value, which means sometimes preferring to build engagement instead of asking for money.

Why focus on alumni experience?

Historically, the sole focus of alumni engagement has been on fundraising. Today, it remains the number one KPI, as ultimately there’s need to be clear ROI on alumni activities. It’s not cheap to contact alumni, run events, or maintain networks, so you need to see that your institution is getting something back.

But the value of engaged alumni stretches beyond the financial side of things. There’s the positive impact it can have on your brand, an impossible-to-ignore aspect of your university’s recruitment drive. You can track your university’s brand equity pretty easily, and get an idea of how you’re perceived among prospective students and faculty, and the impact your brand ambassadors may be having on your institution.

Apart from the impact on your brand, a strong alumni base can also be fantastic for your marketing. Many prospective students will be influenced by who used to attend your university, and using those people in your marketing can be extremely effective.

In the US, Northwestern University capitalise on the fact many current comedians studied there, and use it to appeal to their target audience. In the UK, King’s College London decorates the front of its central London campuses with over 50 alumni posters, including the Duke of Wellington and Florence Nightingale.

It doesn’t always have to be household names, though. For many degrees, prospective students will be more swayed by a renowned industry figure, versus a big-name celebrity.

How to get started on alumni experience

1) Create alumni personas

Just like brands will have customer personas, universities should have alumni personas to better understand who they’re talking to.

These are pen portraits of your target audiences, going beyond market segments to create a more accurate representation of your alumni.

You can base your personas on real former students – anonymising the data – or create them using a composite of students. In the persona, include:

  • Name:
  • Age:
  • Family background:
  • Degree:
  • First job:
  • Current job (if an older alumnus):
  • Needs:
  • Pain points:

2) Start alumni journey mapping

Take your persona and create a visual representation of their journey through these stages, structured around the number of years since they graduated:

  1. First 3 months: graduation
  2. First year: first job
  3. First 5 years: initial career development
  4. 5-15 years: early career
  5. 15-35 years: mid career & family
  6. 35+years: late career & retirement

The above sets out a pretty traditional progression out of university. But other personas should follow a more diverse path, where it takes 5, 10, 20 years for an alumnus to settle into a career.

3) Identify the moments that matter

In every journey, there will be moments that matter more to your alumni than all the others. For example, their first summer after graduating? They may get a summer job, spend time with friends and just want to go out and have fun – maybe not the best time to contact them.

But 3 months after graduating? Now they’re seriously looking for a first job, and if you can support them then you can create a lifelong bond with a student.

4) Brainstorm ideas

Once you’ve identified the moments that matter, get a wide group together to brainstorm ideas. Include your teaching faculty and invite former students as well.

With every idea, ask if it’s feasible, viable and desirable. For example, say you want to offer CV clinics to alumni in their first 3 months. Feasible? Yes. Viable? Just about. Desirable? For students, it’d depend on who’s reviewing them and whether that person understood the industry they want to go into.

See how Qualtrics can help your alumni experience