Building a successful college student search program requires the right balance of volume, frequency, channels, and engagement strategies. The following tips are working for our campus partners and helping them engage and enroll the students they want.
In these tips, I will also share results from an anonymous poll of enrollment managers who recently attended a webinar on student search. This is not a scientific poll, but I believe the results are illuminating.
Tip #1: Build an appropriate college student search pool for your goals—volume and quality matter
Here’s what the enrollment managers told us about their search volume, and also how much their search pool factors into their final enrollment:
These two questions are important, because among our campus partners:
- Those whose college student search pools are less than 60,000 students have 17 percent of their class come from search.
- Those whose search pool is 110,000 or more have nearly 50 percent of their enrolled students come from search.
So search volume does matter. The “right” volume will vary depending on the goals of each campus, and volume does not always mean more applicants. The key is to make sure you have a large enough pool of high quality so you attract the volume of right applicants you want.
One other thing to consider: Searched students consistently show higher application completion, admit, and retention rates. Our fall 2015 consolidated conversion analysis shows that search accounts for 33 percent of the enrollment for our campus partners.
Tip #2: Study your first-source apps
When we asked our webinar attendees, What percentage of your first-source apps were searched, we had a surprising result: the top answer was “I don’t know.”
This is something that enrollment managers should track. Our consolidated conversion analysis shows that an average of 21 percent of all first-source apps were searched for our campus partners. And the data show that searched first-source apps have higher application completion and admit rates than true first-source apps (those who were not in your search pool).
My son Christian is in his sophomore year of high school. This past November, he received his first three search letters from colleges—all on the same day. While the envelopes were different colors, the letters were very similar in content, offer, and approach. He commented that two of the three letters were “exactly the same.”
That’s not what a campus wants to hear when trying to capture the attention of a prospective student in this increasingly competitive higher education environment. In fact, watching Christian’s reactions to these search communications made me think about the kind of pitfalls that campuses can encounter when creating their direct marketing campaigns. I’ve been involved in higher education marketing for nearly 25 years, consulting with campuses of all different sizes, types, and missions. Time and again, I have seen an institution’s hard work undermined by correctable mistakes. Here are seven of the most common ones I have seen, and suggestions on how you can avoid making them.
Mistake 1: Using a list of names purchased more than three months ago
Using old lists—and three months is old in the fast-moving world of college direct marketing—increases your chances of getting student names that have already been pulverized with marketing communications from campuses. Think about the way we get offers for things such as credit cards. With each solicitation you get, you are less likely to respond, especially by the time the ninth or tenth offer hits you. It’s no different for students.
Suggestion: Purchase new names that have been recently cultivated from your list provider, so you get fresh prospects who will be more receptive to your marketing messages.
Mistake 2: Relying on one vendor for your list purchase
Just because everyone takes the ACT or SAT does not mean you should rely only on those names for your list purchase. No single vendor has every name for a given market or territory. Plus different vendors have different data and variables that you can use.
Suggestion: Diversify your list purchases, pulling in names from a variety of vendors that match specific enrollment needs or recruitment criteria. For example, ACT and College Board allow you to purchase by score range and academic information. NRCCUA offers a variety of student specific information that may be important to an institution like extracurricular interests and religious affiliation.