Sometimes, as student services professionals, we can get so caught up in day-to-day work that we forget to pay attention to the ways we are, well, serving students. This came into high relief for me when I was working in enrollment services at a small graduate school. I was tasked with evaluating our admitted student onboarding process — how we transitioned our admitted students to enrolled students at the start of their program.

For a long time, our institution had operated under the assumption that because we were a small school, that pre-enrollment time period was the perfect time for incoming students to start interacting directly with various offices on campus. Each student-facing department—student billing, registration, student life, financial aid, academics, library services—was individually responsible for their own communication to incoming students. We loved the idea that students would be getting accurate information and building relationships with the staff
members they’d interact with once they were enrolled. While this idea was well intended, we noticed that our students were increasingly feeling overwhelmed
when classes started.

They were frustrated, and seemed poorly prepared for some of the basic tasks they
needed to accomplish.

College students working together

I started investigating this problem by gathering representatives from all those campus departments, and compiling a master communication list — what information was each office sending out, and what did it feel like as a student to receive these communications? As the master list took shape, it became very clear why our students were struggling. Multiple technological systems, different required activities, different deadlines, a wide variation of detail in explaining processes…it was no wonder our students were frustrated!

Student Journey Mapping 101: Getting Started

Based on what we learned from this process, we reconfigured our incoming student communication plan focusing on the experience of the student, as opposed to approaching the problem from the perspective of each individual department. Our next incoming class started courses with a much better sense of preparation —and lower frustration level —than previous years.

Supporting the success of students requires knowing them well — but sometimes our knowledge gets siloed.

When silos get constructed on campus, students are the ones who bear the burden of navigating between them. At TargetX we’re committed to making every student a graduate and every graduate a success, so our Product team developed a framework to analyze and organize information about the student experience across silos — the groups they fall into, their educational journeys, and what factors influence them on the road to their success.

This framework—we call it, student journey mapping—provides a clearer picture of what it’s like to be a student engaging with their higher education institution, which we are using at TargetX as we continue to develop our solutions.

As helpful as this framework has been for us, its utility isn’t limited to product development. It’s also a practical tool to use on campus as a starting point for gathering information and framing student services in terms of the experience of students themselves. We are hoping that by sharing our student journey mapping framework with you, you’ll be able to use it as a different kind of window into your campus.

Student journey mapping starts with building a set of questions about the student experience:

  • What kinds of things do they do, and how often do they do them?
  • What are their big questions? What values are shaping those questions?
  • What is their primary goal?
  • Who is influencing them in their personal lives?
  • Who from the school are they in contact with? Departments, individuals?
  • What technological systems do they interact with?

Man mapping the student journey

These questions then get applied in two directions — defining student types, and fleshing out detailed information about student types over time. Student types are groups of students who share similar answers to those questions, like “first generation students” or “students living in campus housing.” These types are not necessarily all mutually exclusive, and one individual student may match with several different student types. Each type is designed to capture a specific set of student experiences. As student services professionals, you may be able to start listing the most common student types present on your campus just off the top of your head — that’s a great place to start!

Assessing Engagement with Different Student Types

The next piece of the student journey mapping framework involves focusing on one particular student type, and filling in answers to the major questions for different time periods in the student lifecycle. For our purposes, we have broken down the time periods as follows:

  • Pre-Application
  • Application
  • Admitted, Not Yet Enrolled
  • Currently Enrolled
  • Graduate

We created a matrix with the major questions along one axis and the time periods on the other, allowing us to fill in the narrative for a particular student type in a grid.

Examining the student journey for a particular student type over their entire relationship with the school paints a vivid picture of the student’s educational path. It’s easy to see how each time period influences the next, and what threads are carried through the journey as a whole.

While this big picture is certainly helpful, the student journey framework can also be used to examine specific areas. If your focus is on one particular time period, like mine was when I was examining our incoming student on-boarding process, you can zoom in and get more granular. This framework can highlight problem areas, gaps in service, or particular needs in ways that wouldn’t be as visible otherwise. As much as developing a campus-wide enrollment initiative or retention initiative would be helpful, small changes can still have a big impact.

By applying the lens of student journeys to student services, we’re prioritizing the holistic student experience. As silos of knowledge get broken down, we get better at serving our students. When my previous colleagues and I committed to prioritize our incoming students’ experience as a whole, we were far more successful at serving students in our various departmental capacities. It’s our hope that this student journey framework aids you in your efforts to serve students as well.

Download your student journey mapping template to get started today!