Co-written by Dr. Linda Hoopes
Dr. Linda Hoopes currently serves as director, campus relations, and formerly served as an associate vice president and consultant at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. She previously served as vice president for admission, financial aid, and marketing at Waldorf College (IA) and as director of admissions at Upper Iowa University.
Prospective students with high academic ability (or GPA equal or higher to 3.5) are desirable for many institutions, but effectively communicating with this group has become much more challenging. Even an elaborate communication plan can lose its punch if it attempts to communicate to all students in the same way with the same message. (Our colleague Sarah Coen has also written on this topic.)
For the last eight years Ruffalo Noel Levitz has surveyed more than 80,000 high school students and their parents to learn their preferences for communicating with colleges throughout the recruitment process (here’s our most recent report). Here are strategies for engaging high ability students based on the latest data.
Choose the right channels for prospective college students with high academic ability
In examining the responses of high academic ability students as compared to students with average academic ability (GPA between 2.5 and 3.4), we found interesting differences in preference. Our research continues to find that all prospective college students prefer email for first contact. However, high academic ability students prefer direct mail at a higher rate than average academic ability students, while average academic ability students prefer the telephone at higher rates than high-ability students.
Focusing on fit in a well-coordinated balance of engagements via multiple channels is key to successfully recruiting any student. Utilizing various channels of communication at each specific stage of the recruitment and enrollment process in order to encourage the student to move forward in his or her consideration of the institution (visit campus, complete the application, etc.) is also essential.
Initiate contact with prospective high-ability college students
High academic ability students are less likely to contact a college or university based on their interest before an institution contacts them. Can this be a factor in their willingness to respond and raise their hand earlier in the cycle? Consider this when creating your plan for communicating with this group. Also consider your strategy for students who are less likely to reply directly to outreach and would rather lead their own investigation. Are high-ability students being engaged throughout the cycle when they don’t respond?
When asked the reason why they would be willing to initiate contact with a college or university, high academic ability students responded that they would contact a college to plan a visit or to find out more information about a campus-sponsored activity (such as an athletic event). Average academic ability students said they were more likely to initiate contact with a college or university to find more information about their academics (e.g., majors, programs) and to learn about their athletic programs (e.g., requirements, recruiting events, try-outs, athletic scholarships).
Use the high academic ability students’ interest to attend campus events to invite them to recognition events in the spring with their families and involve their parents, as they tend to be more involved in their children’s college search plans.