Haverford’s strategies for boosting student engagement

Haverford College shares how they achieve and maintain high student engagement at a small liberal arts campus

Over three years, Haverford College has consistently achieved high student engagement on Handshake. Currently, their student activation rate is among the top 20% of all Handshake schools. Read on for how Haverford has successfully driven students to adopt Handshake and engage with the career center.

Defining a targeted Handshake email strategy

Haverford career center emails regularly boast open rates of 70% or higher—for comparison, industry open rate averages hover in the mid 20s. The secret to their success? Avoid sending general, campus-wide emails and maintain a laser focus on targeting students by career interests. 

The team builds their recipient lists by applying a Handshake label to relevant students based on three key fields: major, industry interest, and job function. For example, an email promoting a tech sector workshop might be sent to the following segments:

  1. Major – Computer Science
  2. Industry Interest – Aerospace, Automotive, Biotech & Life Sciences, Computer Networking, Electronic & Computer Hardware, Environmental Services, Internet & Software, Medical Devices, Scientific and Technical Consulting, Telecommunications, Transportation & Logistics, Utilities and Renewable Energy
  3. Job Function – Customer/Technical Support, Data & Analytics, Engineering – Web/Software, Information Technology

Utilizing the Handshake Targeted Emails tool, the team sends the email to the lists of labeled students. The narrower the focus the better—their most targeted emails (see an example here) hit over 90% open rates! 

“Searching each of these filters separately and adding the label for each search allows us to reach students who checked off any one of these items on their profile.”

Amanda Dennis, Programming and Communications Coordinator

In order to maintain accurate targeting information, the career center sends monthly emails to each class year reminding students to update their career interests on their Handshake profile. First-years and upperclassmen who are unsure of their interests are encouraged to fill out their profiles more broadly to keep themselves open to more opportunities.

“Students’ career and industry interests are huge to our communication strategy. Especially for a smaller office, defining a target email strategy according to students’ interests is key.”

Laura Reiter, Associate Director for Employer & Institutional Partnerships

Building cross-campus collaborations

The Haverford team estimates that over 70% of their events are co-sponsored or cross-promoted by academic departments and student groups. The career center shares Handshake links and marketing materials with faculty members and club presidents to relay to their students. The team also reaches out to other campus offices to post events on their calendars, newsletters, and bulletin boards.

“We partner with other offices as much as possible. We see a really obvious increase in attendance when it’s not just coming from the career center, but also from faculty and their peers.”

Amanda Dennis, Programming and Communications Coordinator

The career center participates in a semesterly cooperative planning meeting with other offices. Knowing what their colleagues are thinking about helps prevent redundant programming. It also helps in finding potential collaborators on career center projects that contribute to the goals of other offices. The team acknowledges that building these types of partnerships is still a work in progress, but they have seen greater buy-in when involving partners earlier rather than later in the process.

Engaging alumni

Alumni programming is a big draw for Haverford students, faculty, and staff alike, helping the career center establish a notable campus presence. During the school year, the career center holds weekly alumni fireside chats. Alumni hailing from a wide range of backgrounds and industries are invited to share their experience and advice with students. The team contacts relevant academic departments and offices to co-sponsor the events and promote them to their students. Attendance can reach as high as 30+ students for certain speakers! 

The fastest uptick ever in Haverford’s student Handshake logins came from their Summer Skills Accelerator, a remote seminar series planned by the team to help students who lost internships during COVID-19 gain experience by attending sessions hosted by alumni and staff. The program received an overwhelming response; within a month, the series had over 30 alumni seminars scheduled, over 800 registrations, and waitlists of up to 60 students. The program generated high interest from campus partners as well, with departments like IT and the library stepping forward to teach their own courses. 

The Haverford team shares that offering low commitment, remote-friendly opportunities for alumni to give back has been a great way to keep alumni connected and students engaged with the career center.

“There are so many alumni who aren’t necessarily in a position to hire but they have expertise and industry knowledge they want to share with students. It creates a different level of accessibility for students to learn about different sectors.”

Amanda Dennis, Programming and Communications Coordinator