Magazine article University Business

10 Ways Students Search Colleges Today-And How to Adapt: Understand How Students Choose a School and Recalibrate Your Approach for Recruitment Success

Magazine article University Business

10 Ways Students Search Colleges Today-And How to Adapt: Understand How Students Choose a School and Recalibrate Your Approach for Recruitment Success

Article excerpt

These days, institutions can't say they fully "control" their recruitment and enrollment process--but they can adjust to how prospective students and their families are navigating it. Five years ago, RuffaloCODY set out to understand the student perspective by conducting what is now an annual survey of high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. "The goal was to learn what students think about the ways institutions communicate with them--and how they prefer to interact with schools. In 2013, a second survey focused on how rising seniors' perceptions of cost and the aid process influence their college search.

How can institutions adapt based upon this intelligence?

Forget the "admissions funnel"

If you needed any proof that the paradigm has changed, here it is.

1. Just 3 percent of student respondents are following "funnel rules," and waiting for a school to contact them before they reach out to the institution. The other 97 percent will initiate contact with a school if they have an interest. This number has shifted upward over the last four surveys: in 2010, 84 percent would initiate contact.

Adapt: It is absolutely critical to build and maintain a relevant digital presence. And robust search functionality is key. Students are exploring schools online before formally engaging. So ask yourself, can they readily access all of the information they want? What content do formal inquirers receive that unofficial "explorers" could benefit from?

2. The traditional concept of "response" isn't one students recognize. Search-and-reply isn't so straightforward anymore. When a direct mail piece piques students' interest, six in 10 explore the school online. Just under a quarter "respond," either online or via a paper reply card. Similarly, when an email interests them, 44 percent react by doing their own online research and almost the same percentage click on interesting links in the email. Just 2 percent actually reply.

Adapt: Use research to identify those unofficial inquirers who are looking at you on the web or in other informal ways. Just because they aren't raising their hand as they would in the funnel, it doesn't mean they are any less interested or are uninterested in hearing from you.

3. Less than half of seniors surveyed reported completing all applications they started. This number has crept slowly downward over the last two years. When asked why they didn't complete, 94 percent indicated it was because, as they learned more, they realized the school was not a good fit.

Adapt: Expand application and yield communications. While students may be more informed about you (without talking to you) than ever, they seem to lack an ability to accurately determine, on their own, if the institution is a good fit. Consider segmenting application-stage messages based upon students' prior engagements, catching later inquirers up with what they need to know. Asked what was most helpful in convincing them to complete their application, 45 percent indicated information sent via email; 26 percent, direct mail; and 21 percent reported a call with an admissions staff member was most helpful.

Get more strategic with how you engage

Consider the purpose each communication channel serves and how it can relate to--and enhance--the others. The objective: less general information and more facilitating engagement.

4. When it comes to hearing from an institution, one in five students prefers a phone call. It may seem "old school"--and is probably why only 8 percent report receiving calls. But, done well and timed properly, picking up the phone is one of the most powerful ways to engage students and provide the information they seek.

Adapt: Use the telephone strategically. The data shows that calling is particularly important for males, students later in their high school career, average ability students, and those interested in playing a sport. …

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