Co-written with Pegi Anton
When enrollment managers and admissions directors ask us what makes a college student search program successful, they are usually wondering about things such as creative, offers, and mailing strategies. But while those elements are important, a student search program also requires a variety of institutional efforts to enhance its productivity and efficiency.
In our work with campuses using Noel-Levitz Direct for student search programs, we always advise campuses to have the following six strategies in place before they launch a student search program. These elements form a critical foundation that will support and strengthen the search itself.
1. Be prepared to follow up immediately with new inquiries.
When a student inquires, your institution or your student search firm should send an email fulfillment instantly and any paper fulfillment should be mailed within 24 hours of the inquiry. You also should have a specific plan for continuing communications with these prospective students.
You may already have a standard inquiry communications flow, but at the minimum we suggest that new search inquiries receive the following within the first 90 days:
- An introductory brochure about your institution.
- A series of emails (every other week is appropriate) that highlight your key marketing messages.
- An introductory letter to parents of the inquiry.
- A TUMAY (Tell Us More About You) card or electronic response mechanism that allows students to provide additional information about themselves for your CRM. A more sophisticated version of this strategy is to ask one or two self-disclosure questions at a time, providing multiple opportunities to engage with the inquiry.
- An invitation for a campus visit or to a campus event.
Co-written with Andrea Gilbert.
When talking about student search, campuses usually think about search campaigns for high school sophomores and juniors. However, colleges and universities can also have success generating applications and enrollment with a focused senior search.
In many respects, a senior search is very similar to a traditional search for sophomores and juniors. You buy fresh names of seniors, develop a search campaign for them, and engage as many inquiries as possible. At the same time, the compressed period for a senior search does require campuses to adjust their traditional search strategies as there is much less time for relationship building. The list purchase in particular needs to be comprised of qualified leads who can quickly turn into inquiries, applicants, and enrolled students.
I can illustrate an effective senior search campaign by discussing how one of our Noel-Levitz Direct marketing campus partners, Midwestern State University, conducted one.
Building a qualified senior list through predictive modeling
Midwestern State University is a regional four-year institution that, prior to working with us, had declining local enrollment. It suffered from limited brand awareness and was squeezed between two large metropolitan markets that were within a two-hour drive. The campus had an immediate need to boost enrollment, which meant increasing the application pool as quickly as possible. A senior search would be an ideal strategy.
However, given budgets and the shortened time frame of a senior search, campuses have to be very strategic about the names that they buy. Frankly, we do not recommend conducting a senior search without some kind of predictive modeling qualification. Predictive modeling allows an institution to use advanced statistical analytics to assess the likelihood of a prospective student enrolling. For a senior search, this means a campus can zero in on prospects who have a good chance of not only applying, but enrolling if accepted, which makes for a much stronger list purchase.
That’s what Midwestern State did. They used the Noel-Levitz SMART Approach system, which applies a predictive model to the data-rich NRCCUA database of high school students. This allowed them to cultivate names that had a higher propensity to enroll and that had other desired characteristics as well. Not only did Midwestern State use this method to uncover senior prospects in their traditional markets, they also found students in new markets they would have otherwise overlooked.
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.
My daughter, Olivia, started middle school this fall. She’s now a full-fledged “tween.” I know this because the following events are now daily occurrences: requests for money to hang out with friends, multiple requests for a cell phone, my asking for her to turn down the Taylor Swift blasting too loudly from either her speakers or head phones, and the smile on my face from the fact that rotten teen-aged boys aren’t knocking on my door yet. She’s not grown up yet, but she’s growing up quickly. Too quickly. I can still look in her closet and see the old princess dresses and play shoes she used to incessantly wear at a time that doesn’t seem that long ago. That was back when she used to teach me applied lessons about prospective student searches.
There was a day back then when we were outside and she was dressed up in a princess dress while trying to build a dam to block a small stream. (Anyone with a four-year-old daughter should be familiar with this scenario.) A few feet away I found a frog. Being the goofy dad I am, I offered it to the “princess” and invited her to kiss it to see if it would turn into a prince. She demurred and scoffed at me. I asked if it was because princes (boys) or frogs were icky. Again, she scoffed at me and offered this logic I’ve always remembered since: “No, Daddy. It’s because how do I know THAT exact frog will be a prince if I kiss it?” I was so proud of my daughter. Budding prospective student search genius indeed.
Noel-Levitz recently published the 2011 report, Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices at Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions. It compiles answers that campuses provided in a survey we sent them. Before I comment, let me first thank all of the participants. They shared great information with us and the rich data represents a powerful research set.