When planning for a college fair for recruiting students, your guiding question should always be… “What do the students in my area need to achieve a successful college-to-career journey?” To answer this question, start by getting the information from the source – HIGH SCHOOLS! Talk with counselors, principals, and students. From casual conversations to more formal surveys, this is where you dig for gold.
Once you know what the students in your area need, find out if there is a “circuit” in your state. Connect with neighboring counties to see if they are part of a schedule where college reps travel across the state to meet with students. (This is important before you set a date for your student recruitment event to make sure you are not in conflict with any other fairs and thus competing for reps.)
Now that you have a date and an idea of what to provide, begin networking with community partners who may want to co-sponsor the event. Once you know who is on board and how much funding you have to produce the program, set a budget and secure a location! (Depending on the size of your county, you may need a venue that can accommodate anywhere from 200 to 8,000 attendees). If you decide that a physical (face-to-face) fair is not feasible or ideal, consider a virtual college fair! So many improvements in the world of technology have been made in just the last few years and a virtual fair may be the perfect fit for you.
So, at this point, you know what your kids need, you’ve set a date, you’ve secured the funding and you’ve reserved a location or decided on a virtual college fair… now it’s time to nail down the details. Here are some things to consider as you move through those next steps:
- Do I need to assemble a planning committee?
- It’s highly encouraged! More heads are better than one when planning large-scale events. Reach out to local colleges and high schools to recruit admissions reps and counselors to be on your planning team.
- What colleges should be invited to this fair?
- As many as you can fit/afford! The more variety the better for your students. Start with all the local institutions and branch out from there. (Private, state, community, specialty, military – ask them all!)
- Should we offer breakout sessions?
- These are a GREAT way to give targeted information to your attendees on subjects like Financial Aid, Scholarships, Admissions (for different college and university types), First Generation College-Bound Student Support, etc… / you will likely get a lot of ideas for sessions during your initial research! (HINT: Have your planning committee each take a subject area and be the lead planner for that session! EXTRA HINT: Consider recording one or more of these sessions and make them available on your website for students unable to attend the college fair.)
- What time frame is best for a college fair?
- It depends on the target audience! If it’s a small fair at a school site targeted to just those students, it will likely be during school hours. If it’s targeted to multiple schools, students and guardians, you’ll want to consider an evening fair after work hours. If you have a VERY large audience, consider multiple days.
- How will I get everyone registered?
- If you’re not requiring students to register and you just need to keep track of your colleges, you can probably handle this with a simple Google doc requesting all the information you need. For increasing student recruitment AND college registration, it’s best to partner with a resource like GoToCollegeFairs to help you. They provide online registration services with college matchmaking benefits if you utilize their registration portal.
- Should I charge a fee for participating colleges?
- If you can afford not to, don’t. You never want a reason for a college NOT to attend your student recruitment fair. But you can certainly charge for “premiere” space (better location or more tables) and advertisements in your event program.
- For a virtual fair, there is usually a cost associated with building each school’s virtual portal, however, virtual college fairs do typically yield more leads per college than in-person college fairs. If you are not able to cover these fees with your sponsorships, you may need to pass some of the cost onto the colleges. This is always a balancing act. Just make sure the schools are getting great access to kids and feel that their money is well spent.
- Should I create a printed event program?
- This is great for an in-person student recruitment fair as it can have a floor map of the participating colleges and a guide to your breakout sessions. This is also an opportunity for participating colleges to put in an ad to help fund the fair!
- Are there any guidelines or rules I need to be aware of?
- Yes!! Depending on your location and type of fair, there are guidelines that participants must adhere to i.e. staying behind their vendor table, not recruiting in walkways, etc. So, it’s important to research these guidelines and provide this information to your participants. (HINT: Most college reps are already aware of and follow these rules.)
Last bit of advice… college fairs are FUN events. So, make sure the planning and execution reflect that at all levels. Consider closing the street outside the venue and hosting music and food trucks an hour or so before doors open. This is also a great opportunity to get students registered and hyped for the event. It’s also a good way to engage your sponsors and the community with volunteer opportunities. Bottom line… this event is what you make it. You are providing a wonderful resource to students in your area where they can CONNECT, ENGAGE and DREAM… and I hope you (and they) enjoy every second of it!
College recruiting is getting tougher every year. On top of the pandemic’s blow to enrollment, tuition costs keep rising, and the pool of students from which to recruit keeps shrinking.
When the competition is this fierce, it’s imperative that you continue to fine-tune your college recruitment strategies. Here are six ways to level up your college recruitment efforts.
- Get Targeted and Stop Guessing
Targeted college recruitment efforts will save you money and time. College Matchmaking® offers a flat-priced, student-driven solution that eliminates the practice of blindly guessing at which student demographics to purchase from standardized testing lists. Here’s how it works: Both colleges and students complete a matchmaking questionnaire, providing fresh and accurate responses.
College Matchmaking then matches student interests with college attributes in five key areas: campus size, campus setting, areas of study, institution type, and geographic region. Colleges who subscribe then pay a flat price for the names of students who have already declared their institution to be a good fit (by virtue of interest–attribute matching!), thus receiving an immensely more qualified list of student candidates.
- Conduct A/B Testing
Other data-driven approaches, like A/B testing, can help you optimize your marketing assets, such as your institution’s website. The process is fairly straightforward: You create two versions of a digital asset (webpage, form, pop-up, etc.)—A and B—and then test variables such as the order of information on a page or a call to action. By determining what grabs the attention of your target audiences, you can adjust the asset accordingly. Ultimately, you’ll gain confidence that your marketing choices are, in fact, achieving the results you want.
- Attend Virtual College Fairs
Another way to boost your online presence is to attend virtual college fairs. They’re great for students who want to meet as many colleges as possible without leaving the comfort of their homes, and they’re great for colleges looking to collect qualified leads.
To help you maximize your return at virtual college fairs, GoToCollegeFairs provides a custom-built virtual college fair platform that mimics the in-person campus event experience, while adding resources and capabilities that are simply not possible at a traditional college fair.
When students enter the virtual lobby, they can use customized filters to identify participating colleges, presentations, and education sessions that interest them most. Once they hit the exhibition floor, they can bookmark and engage with select colleges in one-on-one or group formats, watch videos, and even apply on the spot. Moreover, every student’s activity and preferences expressed before, during, and after the virtual fair are tracked and analyzed to support your follow-up recruiting efforts.
- Use a Personal Touch
While it does take extra time and effort, setting up face-to-face meetings virtually or in person will show future applicants that you care about hearing directly from them and answering their questions about your school. Alumni are a great resource to engage in this aspect of college recruiting. There are many more of them than there are of you, and they can help be the face of the institution while judging whether an applicant is a good fit for your school. Alumni are also ideal for providing firsthand information about your college’s curriculum, classes, faculty, resources, and community to curious applicants.
- Go Where the Students Are
Consider visiting the high schools where your best-fit students are enrolled. By showing up in person for a high school visit, you are telling those students that they are wanted by your college.
Many applicants today also have a strong internet presence, so you should engage with them online, as well. Start with these four tips to strengthen your virtual connections to prospective students: 1) identify the most-used social media platforms on campus and focus your community-building efforts on those platforms; 2) build your follower base; 3) make consistent, creative, and interesting content; and 4) make sure an easy-to-follow application process is linked in posts and, most importantly, on your profile page.
- Demonstrate the Value of a Degree from Your School
None of these college recruitment strategies will get you very far unless you are able to convince students of the value of a college degree. And what do applicants care about? Finding a job after graduation. Therefore, it’s essential that you detail the real-world outcomes of your institution’s programs.
Job placement stats are a key factor for applicants deciding which college they want to attend. Explain what companies tend to employ graduates of programs at your school, what percentage of graduates have won those jobs, and what specific skill sets your school is teaching. Additionally, highlighting alumni who have achieved success on your social media channels, on your website, and in email campaigns will show applicants that there are better horizons ahead when they attend your college.
When it comes to college admissions, name-brand (e.g., Ivy League, NCAA Division I) schools are finding their footing amidst a difficult landscape. However, this only accounts for a few of the thousands of colleges nationwide. Enrollment in U.S. higher education institutions is, unfortunately, continuing its downward trend; fall 2022 saw another 1.1% decline compared to the year prior.
As student behaviors continue to shift, here are three college admissions trends to watch—and steps your institution can take to gain a foothold on this precipice.
Trend 1: Enrollment declines are worse for less-selective colleges.
While U.S. college admissions saw an overall decline in 2022, highly selective colleges like Ivy Leagues saw undergraduate enrollment gains of approximately 0.5% that fall. Some larger, public university systems also saw gains. In spring 2022, the University of Texas system—including the highly selective University of Texas at Austin, which accepts slightly more than a quarter of applicants—saw a 2% growth in total enrollment.
In comparison, less-selective universities saw college enrollment decline. The University of Maine system (UMS), for instance, admits more than 95% of applicants across its seven schools. According to their most recent enrollment data, UMS’s student headcount fell from 26,394 in fall 2019 to 24,817 in fall 2022, with enrollment for the University of Maine, the flagship school, falling 5.1%. Rural institutions are also struggling more than their urban counterparts, in part because they are less well-known as well as less selective.
How to beat the odds:
If your school is caught in declining enrollment, you need to double down on finding new opportunities to get in front of prospective students. Direct admissions, for example, can help smaller and less-selective colleges access and compete for talented students by offering your school as a concrete and immediate option compared to the usual apply-and-hope model of college applications. This admissions model is hugely beneficial to recruitment because it simplifies the application process for eligible students, brings more attention to your college, and may even be cheaper in the long run.
Trend 2: Underrepresented student enrollment has taken a hit.
Recent years have seen a college enrollment decline of underrepresented groups, specifically minority, first-generation, and low-income students, in colleges and universities across the nation. Over the last several application cycles, FAFSA submissions have declined significantly, especially among students attending low-income high schools. This trend is most evident with Hispanic students, whose undergraduate enrollment declined by 7% between 2019 and 2021. Two likely drivers behind this trend are the rising cost of higher education and the debate about college’s return on investment.
How to beat the odds:
It’s up to you as an admissions officer to show these populations of students how they can afford your school. Few students—especially underrepresented students—have the financial literacy necessary to understand the differences between grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans. By breaking down available financial aid options and explaining what each means for the student now and later, you can help ease some of the fear and uncertainty that comes with “money talk.” Moreover, personalizing this experience—by hosting financial aid and scholarship open houses or offering to connect with students one-on-one—can demonstrate to applicants that you are invested in making your college work for them.
Trend 3: Online undergraduate institutions are seeing an uptick in enrollment.
Undergraduate enrollment at primarily online institutions, where more than 90% of students attended virtually before the COVID-19 pandemic, rose 3.2% in the fall of 2022 compared to the year prior. In fact, even at traditionally in-person institutions, online learning has become popular, especially among adult learners. At William Paterson University in New Jersey, for instance, matriculation rates fell by over 10% in fall 2022, while enrollment in the university’s online programs grew by 57%.
How to capitalize on this trend:
Assuming your institution has a reasonably robust online program, now is the time to emphasize these offerings in your marketing materials. Make sure that there is a clear and dedicated path to learning more about online courses, certificates, and degrees in your brochures, social media posts, and website. Then, expand the geographic reach of your promotions to students who can’t or don’t want to attend in person—because online programs aren’t bound by geography!
One way to break geographic barriers is by hosting virtual campus events. OnCampusEvents is a campus event planning platform that includes modules for in-person and virtual events, providing a custom-built experience that adds resources and capabilities which go beyond what can be achieved at a traditional campus event. Engaging with students virtually from the outset will help you showcase your school’s online offerings and get in front of the populations who are interested in them.
Not every trend shared here will apply to your college or your university, but they’re called “trends” for a reason: because they change over time. Therefore, keep an eye on the landscape and be prepared to react. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be adaptable and responsive. With these strategies as a starting point, you’ll be prepared to think boldly and creatively about how to recruit the best students for your school, no matter how the enrollment landscape is trending.
As postsecondary costs go up and enrollments go down, it’s becoming ever more imperative for colleges to demonstrate that the education they provide will lead to students’ ultimate aim: getting a job.
One way to do this is, of course, by imparting valuable knowledge and critical thinking skills students will need to succeed in the working world. But, given that this is the understood purpose of every college and university, another way to stand out is by strengthening relationships with organizations that might hire students after graduation.
Doing so can help connect students with prospective employers long before they “need a job,” equip them with real-world work experiences and raise your institution’s profile with both students seeking a competitive career advantage and employers seeking a pipeline of reliable workers. Having this sort of “light at the end of the tunnel” can help boost undergraduate college enrollment.
Increase Emphasis on Real-World Work Experience
One way colleges can help students increase their overall career readiness is through experiential learning. The most traditional route colleges take is facilitating internships with companies and nonprofit organizations, either during the semester or over the summer. However, if your institution only offers traditional internships, it might be time to think more broadly.
For instance, micro internships are short-term professional projects that offer experience, academic credit, and the chance to build professional relationships. Getting such an endeavor off the ground is no small feat, but it also isn’t something that a college needs to undertake alone. Organizations such as Parker Dewey partner with schools to facilitate micro internships between students and companies spanning a variety of industries.
There are also numerous work experience opportunities that go beyond internships. Three noteworthy options are Credegree programs (earning industry-recognized credentials along with a degree), co-ops (alternating academic study with full-time periods of paid work), and work-study placements.
Some organizations, like Riipen, are even taking the idea of work–college integration further by encouraging companies to embed professional projects within college curriculums. By setting up these experiential learning opportunities for students, your college can forge connections with prospective employers and position your institution to students as a stepping stone toward employment.
Raise Your Profile with Prospective Employers
As helpful as it is for students to be connected with internships, work-study placements, and co-ops so they can gain real-world experience during their college years, it is just as helpful for your college to raise their profile with potential employers; year over year, the direct funnel of hardworking students you have created will generate a good brand name for your school as one that produces quality workers. (And, of course, this funnel also gives employers the advantage of “trialing” students before electing to hire them full-time!)
Finally, you can increase your visibility with prospective employers via your institution’s alumni. Former students are in a great position to promote their alma mater as a source of top talent, ultimately influencing which students’ résumés are selected for review and who gets an interview. Depending on their level of seniority, alumni may even influence their company’s decision to recruit new workers directly from your school.
Boosting college enrollment starts with listening to what students need for their life after college. And what do they need most? A job. Therefore, it’s to your school’s advantage to connect and partner with companies and other organizations looking to employ people with college degrees.
These connections will ultimately help students find career success faster, improve the institution’s career placement statistics (and bragging rights!), and bring more students in the door when they can confidently answer, “What’s the value of enrolling here?”
Graduate enrollment rose in 2020 and 2021, but that doesn’t mean admissions officers can rest on their laurels. With undergraduate admissions falling behind, colleges and universities with graduate programs are relying on those student admissions more than ever.
Unfortunately, while expectations have risen, few graduate admissions offices have seen an influx of new resources. This means that, as a graduate admissions officer, you need to do more with less and work smarter, not harder. One of the best methods to do this is by leveraging virtual college fairs.
Convenience Is Key
Compared with high schoolers applying for undergraduate programs, graduate student prospects are notoriously hard to reach because they’re often working professionals and/or parents with numerous day-to-day responsibilities. As of 2015, about 76 percent of graduate students work at least 30 hours a week, and about 19 percent of all working learners (including undergrads) have children.
Since graduate applicants’ time is so limited, it’s up to graduate enrollment officers to decrease the investigative burden of exploring schools and bring the information to them. A virtual college fair is a great option because it’s convenient for applicants and admissions officers alike, resulting in more productive engagement and recruitment.
Potential applicants can attend virtual college fairs from anywhere, whether that’s the comfort of their home, a coffee shop, or a break room at work. This not only eliminates the logistics of traveling to an in-person event but also makes it easier to fit the event into a hectic schedule. Meanwhile, virtual fairs help time-crunched admission officers by allowing them to participate in multiple fairs without the time-consuming effort or expense of traveling to different schools or communities. It’s a win for everyone involved.
Reaching More Diverse Applicants
Convenience doesn’t just increase the number of overall prospects who can learn about your school; it increases the number of diverse applicants you can engage, as well. International students in particular are far more likely to attend a virtual college fair than to get on a plane to investigate schools. Given that international student admissions have been trending upward for the past decade, participating in virtual college fairs will help you take advantage of this trend and attract these interested students to your school.
Virtual fairs can also help admissions officers reach applicants who have difficulty attending in-person recruitment events, such students with mobility restrictions or visual or auditory disabilities. A virtual fair once again removes the burden of travel and enables these individuals to use whatever tools they need in their home environment. By removing the stress and difficulty of in-person events, virtual fairs are one way colleges can demonstrate that they are able and willing to accommodate all students.
Finally, virtual college fairs are attractive to graduate student applicants because they are an efficient, effective way to learn about multiple schools at once. To maximize the return on student and university participants’ time, GoToCollegeFairs provides a custom-built virtual college fair platform that mimics the in-person experience while adding resources and capabilities that enhance the event for all involved.
When applicants enter the virtual lobby, they can use customized filters to identify participating colleges, presentations, and educational sessions that best align with their interests. Once they hit the exhibition floor, they can bookmark and engage with select colleges in one-on-one or group formats, watch videos, and even apply on the spot. Virtual fairs allow potential applicants to strategize and personalize their experience in a way that is simply not available when investigating schools one by one.
Admissions officers can also benefit from GoToCollegeFairs’ unique virtual fair tools. With College Matchmaking™, for instance, you won’t need to guess who will be the best fit for your institution; the attendees will tell you themselves. When they register for a college fair with GoToCollegeFairs, prospective students select the attributes of the college experience they find desirable, and this data is pushed to the College Matchmaking™ database. As a subscriber, you’ll pay a flat price and receive the names and contact information of students who, through their selections, have declared your institution to be a good fit—providing a far more qualified list of student candidates than the typical demographics guessing game. Virtual college fairs can be a win-win for graduate school applicants and graduate admission officers. Their biggest benefits are convenience and efficiency: applicants can learn about many schools and admission officers can meet more students all at once, in a shorter amount of time and without the need for planes, trains, or automobiles. In an era of increasingly packed schedules, virtual college fairs are a great option for graduate students and admissions officers alike.
During the 2008–2009 economic recession, the already declining birthrate took an even bigger hit. This decline, known as “birth dearth,” has been affecting colleges for years; fewer babies means fewer high school graduates and, ergo, fewer college freshmen. And now that those 2008-2009 babies are approaching the end of their high school careers, the birth dearth is about to have an even more significant impact on college enrollment.
Here are five college recruitment strategies to help you overcome birth dearth:
- Set expectations with key players.
College leaders need to be prepared for the upcoming slump in potential applications, particularly the board, trustees, and financial advisors. Actions will need to be taken internally (e.g., cutting certain programs, expanding others) as well as externally (e.g., relying on different recruiting techniques) to mitigate this imminent challenge.
Therefore, it’s important for admissions officers and HR executives to have regular conversations with senior leaders so that everyone is on the same page regarding the details and nuances around enrollment decline. Through these discussions, you can help generate and influence college-wide discussions about finances, curriculum programming, and data mining—all factors that implicate the recruitment process.
- Assess what programs are (and will be) in demand.
Knowing what programs are of most interest to incoming students can help a college better brand itself and reprioritize and reallocate resources to support the programs with the greatest demand. For example, Whitworth University has taken steps to expand their engineering program and add other in-demand undergraduate degrees and graduate programs.
Similarly, the University of Tulsa has shifted its focus to a STEM-heavy curriculum, with increased emphasis on practical and professional training, all of which helps the university promote career readiness of the students it graduates. By identifying and optimizing your university’s strongest and most in-demand programs, you can then focus your marketing materials on these selling points.
- Target recruitment efforts.
The more targeted you can make your college recruitment strategies, the better. One way to improve your targeting is to look at data from high schools of “feeder states”—the states that are most likely to funnel students into your college. Do applicants from particular high schools tend to come in with a specific major or group of majors in mind? What does your institution do best?
If you are a recruiter from a STEM-based college like RIT or MIT, for example, it is likely more worthwhile to focus your efforts on technical high schools than performing arts high schools with your college recruitment strategies.
New tools are also available to help you target students better than ever before. For example, College Matchmaking™ offers a flat-priced, student-driven solution that eliminates the need to blindly guess which students will be most interested in your school—a necessary evil when purchasing names through the SAT/ACT.
Here’s how it works: when students register for a virtual or in-person college fair with GoToCollegeFairs, they select the attributes of the college experience they find desirable, and this data is pushed to the College Matchmaking™ database. Colleges who subscribe can then pay a flat price for the names of students who have already declared their institution to be a good fit, providing a hugely more qualified list of student candidates.
- Remove obstacles (even slight ones) from the admissions process.
With the present landscape in flux, now is the time to review your college admissions process and consider progressive reforms. Removing certain obstacles, like standardized testing requirements, or even offering fast-tracked ways to apply—like direct admissions—may encourage more students to apply to your institution.
- Increase support for first-generation college students.
If a student is the first one in their family to apply to college, they may be unsure how to navigate the process. For these students, a little support can go a long way in finding colleges for first-generation students. Show you value them (and stand out from the competition) by hosting first-generation student information seminars and creating a separate webpage with answers to questions they are likely to have. Make sure you continue to provide support once they arrive at your college, as well, to ensure the success of this student population.
Even though high school senior classes are expected to decline in the coming years, these five college recruitment strategies can help you focus your recruitment efforts and attract qualified applicants. You may not be able to implement them all at once, but even a slight tweak to your admissions process can provide a valuable edge.
With financial challenges, alternative career paths, and birth dearth leading to shrinking freshman classes, colleges must find new ways to increase student recruitment in order to remain solvent. One method that has begun to gain traction in the United States is direct admissions. In this admissions process, the roles of the college and the student are flipped—instead of students researching and then applying for admission to colleges, colleges look through student profiles (gathered either by state organizations or companies like Concourse), and “apply” for students by admitting them.
The benefits of direct admissions are numerous: the process helps with recruiting more diverse applicants, it brings more attention to your college, and in the long run, it may even be cheaper than the traditional admissions process. However, there are reasons it hasn’t caught on in a big way yet—direct admissions does not necessarily guarantee college enrollment, and the process may make it more challenging to recruit the students who best fit what your college has to offer.
There are Other Fish in the Sea
In an era when the advantages of a diverse student body have been made apparent, direct admissions presents a unique opportunity to increase diversity by eliminating some of the bias that exists within the college recruitment process. Underserved or underrepresented students face critical barriers to getting into college, such as acquiring quality letters of recommendation and biased standardized testing [[link to GTCF Standardized Tests blog]]. Offering direct admissions—which eliminates these and nearly all other elements of the application process—opens doors for underrepresented and underserved students.
There is already some evidence of success: When Concourse sent out acceptance emails to students who qualified for direct admission, students of color, first-generation students, and low-income students were three to four times as likely to apply to the admitting institution, and they sent out more applications overall, as well, making it one of the more effective strategies for increasing student enrollment. By admitting underrepresented and underserved students, colleges can reap the benefits of greater diversity in their student population.
More Visibility in Deep Waters
Not only will colleges see more diverse applicants as a result of direct admissions, but they may increase their overall visibility with all potential applicants. The number of postsecondary options in the United States can be overwhelming, and students often opt to apply to the colleges they find most familiar. Direct admissions can help smaller colleges access and compete for talented students by raising their profile and offering their school as a concrete and immediate option compared to the usual apply-and-hope model of college applications.
For instance, Augsburg College officials recently shifted all of their applications to direct admissions and saw a 70% increase in applications from a year ago. They admitted 487 of those students (up from 150 the previous year).
There are a few drawbacks to direct admissions. While it’s assumed that colleges will see more applicants through direct admissions, the new method hasn’t been fully assimilated across the higher education landscape. Right now, students need to know about and proactively enroll in databases like Concourse and SAGE—a hurdle due to the fact that these college recruitment strategies are so new and therefore less likely to be promoted by high school counselors.
Then, assuming that direct admissions becomes commonplace and attracts more students to a given college, how can the institution know it’s reeling in the right ones? Direct admission decisions are based off of more limited information like a student’s GPA, class rank, and transcript; no essays, no letters of recommendation, and no standardized test scores are provided. As a result, admissions officers may have to employ more guesswork to identify the students that are the right fit for their college, at least until more data are collected.
Finally, although direct admissions can get the word out about your college, admission does not guarantee enrollment. While offering direct admission to students gives them a stronger push toward enrolling, there are other, oftentimes bigger factors at play. For instance, students still need to consider the cost of college and what financial package can be made available for them.
One of the arguments that is still up for debate is whether direct admissions will prove cheaper for colleges. Direct admissions has been shown to be exceptionally low-cost; for example, in Idaho, participating institutions require only a student’s school records (which are provided by the state), plus paper and postage for acceptance letters (which could also be sent electronically).
However, for institutions in non-participatory states—which right now is most states—and who want to draw students from across state boundaries, they must engage with direct admissions services, some of which are cheaper than others. For instance, Sage Scholars, which intends to launch a direct admissions service this year, will be free to colleges, whereas Concourse charges colleges through a commercial agreement. Furthermore, most colleges won’t use direct admissions in lieu of traditional admissions, meaning they will need to support both traditional and direct admissions.
Eyes on the Horizon
While direct admissions has had a slow start in the United States, it is picking up momentum. The state of Minnesota, for example, is now offering every high school in the state the chance to participate and has over 50 colleges and universities opting in. Meanwhile, Concourse is facing new market competitors like Sage Scholars, which will increase the reach and popularity of direct admissions.
Even if your school is currently unprepared to adopt this admissions process, it’s a space to watch—because eventually, it may no longer be a matter of “if” you adopt direct admissions, but “when.”
By now, it’s a well-known problem: rising college costs have increasingly become a barrier to college enrollment. Since 2003, U.S. News reports that tuition and fees have risen by 134% at private universities and 175% at in-state public universities.
Inflation of course has contributed, but that index has only increased by 65% in the same timeframe, accounting for half (or less) of the jump in college costs. Students are struggling to find out how to pay for college. Therefore, it’s no wonder rising high school seniors are second-guessing the decision to plunk down many thousands of dollars for a four-year degree.
In the face of declining enrollments, colleges are recognizing this problem and taking measures to help students and families as best they can. According to data from the National Association of College and University Business Officers, the average tuition discount rate for first-time undergraduates at private universities hit a record high of 54.5% in 2020.
Grants, fellowships, and scholarships are all vehicles to improve access and affordability, and they are effective. Yet if a student and their family don’t know about these opportunities or understand how they affect the “sticker price,” they may forgo your institution. Therefore, it’s essential that you communicate effectively, efficiently, and often.
Here are three ways to show students how to pay for college and afford it.
1. Help them fully understand the financial aid they’re getting.
Financial aid letters are too often written “from the university” rather than “to the student.” They tend to foreground the message “here is your package, here’s how we calculated it” rather than “this is what your financial aid means, so here’s how you’re going to pay for college.” Few students have the financial literacy necessary to understand the differences between grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans.
By breaking down these financial aid options and explaining what each means for what the student will owe both now and later, you can help ease some of the fear and uncertainty that come with “money talk.” Then, once they see that paying for an education at your institution is feasible, you can get them excited by including a little preview of what’s coming next (e.g., housing selection)!
2. Create more opportunities for them to ask questions.
Every financial aid letter should include contact information for financial aid officers and a message encouraging students and their families to reach out with any questions they have. However, that shouldn’t be the only opportunity they have to ask questions. Hosting financial aid/scholarship “open house” days on your campus is another way to demonstrate that you really want accepted students to understand the implications of their financial aid options. Invite students to come learn more and ask whatever questions they might have, and you’ll reap the added benefit of gaining a reasonable enrollment benchmark; a high percentage of students who attend on-campus financial aid events ultimately choose to attend that university.
3. Customize communications as much as possible.
Communications around financial aid are often written as one-size-fits-all—which, while efficient, is not necessarily the most effective. The amount of support a first-generation college student and their family need to understand a financial aid package is far greater than a student who is the third child of college-education parents to attend college. Furthermore, it can go a long way to acknowledge the student separately from their family, and vice versa.
After all, the decision to attend a given college is typically a joint decision, so acknowledging the agency and even interests of the students separately from their parents or caretakers can make an even more favorable impression. After all, every touchpoint with a prospective student is an opportunity to recruit! Financial aid communications are no exception.
The competition for students in higher education is fierce, and it will get even fiercer due to the birth dearth from the 2008 recession. The sharp decline in births that year has translated to fewer high school students graduating and attending college, leading to challenges for the college recruiter profession.
With an ever-smaller applicant pool, it’s imperative to expand your recruitment efforts to reach more potential students. One way to do this is to leverage burgeoning technology strategies. Here are four college recruitment strategies that can help you beat the birth dearth and recruit students who will flourish at your university.
- Generate Leads Strategically
Colleges see more applications, higher enrollment numbers, and higher retention rates when they engage students who are the right fit. But how can you determine which students will fit best at your college?
Historically, colleges and universities have relied on purchasing lists of student data, sold at cost per name, from the SAT and ACT to drive their recruitment efforts. However, this data is limited to basic information like test scores, high school, and street address. If only they allowed you to select more granular student attributes to assist with your college recruitment strategies! Or, even better: if they let the students tell you exactly what they want.
This last option is not a pipe dream; College Matchmaking™ has made it a reality. College Matchmaking™ is a flat-priced, student-driven solution that not only provides an alternative to SAT/ACT name-buys but eliminates the accompanying practice of blindly guessing at which student demographics to purchase.
Here’s how it works: both colleges and students complete a matchmaking questionnaire. The system then matches college attributes with students’ interests in five key areas: campus size, campus setting, areas of study, institution type, and geographic region. Instead of simply buying a list of leads based on demographic data, colleges get leads that show the preferences of potential applicants in real-time. Colleges who subscribe can then pay a flat price for the names of students who have already declared their institution to be a good fit, providing a much more qualified list of student candidates.
- Lean into Virtual College Fairs
In addition to generating more promising leads, another part of beating birth dearth requires recruiting underrepresented populations like international students or first-generation college students. These larger applicant pools are not always easily reached with traditional in-person recruiting efforts. In this case, a virtual college fair is the way to go.
Virtual college fairs are often extremely cost-effective, allow you to reach a broader geographic footprint, and generate more leads and greater discoverability of your college. One virtual college fair platform, GoToCollegeFairs, is reporting over 500 student leads on average per college at their virtual college fair experiences.
To help you maximize your return at virtual college fairs, GoToCollegeFairs provides a custom-built virtual college fair platform that mimics the in-person experience, while adding resources and capabilities that are missing from a traditional college fair. When students enter the virtual lobby, they can use customized filters to identify participating colleges, presentations, and education sessions that interest them most.
Once they hit the exhibition floor, they can bookmark and engage with select colleges in one-on-one or group formats, watch videos, and even apply on the spot. And just like the in-person fairs which use the GoToCollegeFairs system, every student’s activity and preferences expressed before, during, and after the virtual fair are tracked and analyzed to support your follow-up recruiting efforts.
- Embrace Mobile Recruitment
To recruit the top candidates and meet college enrollment goals, schools need to engage today’s tech-savvy students on a more personal level across a variety of platforms, particularly via mobile and social media. Going mobile can help you reach out to students worldwide with just a click of a button, highlighting your school’s brand and offerings on a regular basis. But don’t rely on a single touchpoint; consider reaching out to potential students using email, text messaging, and phone calls to keep everyone informed.
A mobile app containing all the information a potential applicant needs to know can also be useful, and many are available. Prospective students can download the app and learn about the upcoming online and in-person recruiting events. The app can then be carried over to support students once they are enrolled to ease the transition to college life and aid in student retention. By embracing mobile, you’re interacting with students where they are: on their phones!
- Use AI in the College Recruitment Process
With college recruiting continually expanding, it’s time to automate some of the more traditional practices. One automation tool is an online chatbot equipped with sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) that can help provide answers to prospective students looking through a college’s website. A chatbot’s 24/7 availability provides greater convenience for students and families who are unable to call during business hours and reduces the time spent by staff answering admissions inquiries.
Through machine learning, these chatbots can even adapt to create a personalized and supportive environment as they field students’ questions and concerns. Other tools, such as CRM systems, can help to automate manual administrative tasks, improving speed and accuracy and enabling admissions personnel to spend more time engaging students and parents.
New technologies can seem daunting, but if you’re going to triumph over birth dearth, they’re necessary to expand your modes and methods of recruiting. With these four strategies, you have the potential to maximize your reach in the search for students who will thrive best at your college.
Since their conception, the SAT and ACT have been required as part of undergraduate college admissions; high schoolers take the tests to prove their level of preparedness with college entrance exams. However, in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a nationwide pause on standardized testing. According to the Common Application, the nonprofit behind the standardized college admissions form of the same name, only 5% of about 850 member universities required scores in 2021–2022, compared to 55% in 2019.
Now that the proverbial dust has settled, university administrations decide: do they reintroduce standardized testing requirements for college applications or put these tests aside for good?
The Equity Argument
One of the biggest arguments for getting rid of standardized tests is that studies have shown them to be biased toward affluent white and Asian-American students, while disadvantaging students who are poor, Black, and Hispanic. According to the College Board, 55% of Asian-American test takers and 45% of white test takers scored a 1200 or higher on the SAT in 2019, whereas only 12% of Hispanic test takers and 9% of Black test takers achieved the same result.
There are many factors that could contribute to such a disparity in scores. Wealth is a particularly notable factor. Family and community wealth influences the quality of schooling that a child receives, with minority students, especially Black students, less likely to be enrolled in schools with advanced and high-quality courses. Likewise, wealthier students—who are, again, less likely to be minority or first-generation students—are better able to afford the test books and prep courses that help ensure a successful score on the exam, as well as multiple attempts at the test itself.
Ultimately, the primary argument against requiring standardized tests for college admission emphasizes that the tests hurt the odds of select populations of students, including students whose first language is not English, whose parents didn’t go to college, who are the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, and who come from poorer households.
However, getting rid of standardized tests would not get rid of the advantages of wealth and privilege, as these extend to other parts of the college application process, as well. Wealthy families can hire college admissions advisors to help their children craft stellar applications, as well as writing coaches to assist with application essays.
Colleges tend to prioritize applicants from alumni, again giving students from wealthy, privileged backgrounds an advantage. Even a process like asking for letters of recommendation can be fraught with biases, either in gendered differences in the writing of the letters or in differences in access to advantageous connections (i.e., who will write the letter).
Therefore, standardized tests might actually be an equalizer in the face of outsized wealth and privilege advantages. As Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of the College Board, the organization that develops the SAT, notes: “In contrast [to other parts of the admission process], the SAT is available to all students, free to practice for, and free to take for low-income students.”
Standardized Tests as Tools
Despite their complications, standardized tests are still incredibly important to universities. Universities want to ensure that the students they admit are the ones most likely to make it through to graduation. While many believe that test scores don’t predict a student’s success in college, there are some studies that claim otherwise. Yale University, for instance, found that higher scores on the SAT and ACT predicted better academic success, even when controlling for other factors.
Standardized tests have other benefits, as well. They can act as a broad yardstick to compare students across different states and countries, offering universities an easy way to sort through applicants to find top performers. They also offer a way for universities to identify talented students whose circumstances in high school negatively affected their grades. And if you work at a large university, getting rid of standardized testing can require a complete revamp of the college admissions process—retraining admissions officers, hiring and training more application readers, redoing the overall application, and more. It can even mean rethinking student recruitment strategies.
Historically, colleges and universities have also relied on purchasing lists of student data to supplement other recruiting strategies. These lists are sold at cost per name, many times from the SAT and ACT providers. However, with more schools eliminating standardized test requirements or moving to “test optional,” the efficacy of this practice has dwindled; fewer students today are taking the test, which means fewer names available for colleges.
To circumvent this issue, other services like College Matchmaking™ offer alternatives. With a flat-priced, student-driven solution that not only provides an alternative to SAT/ACT name-buys, this service eliminates the accompanying practice of blindly guessing at which student demographics to purchase.
Instead, when students register for a virtual or in-person college fair with GoToCollegeFairs, they select the attributes of the college experience they find desirable, and the student data is pushed to the College Matchmaking™ database (with student permission, of course). Colleges then subscribe to the list for the names of students who have already declared their institution to be a good fit, providing a hugely more qualified list of student candidates, and since this service is free to students, it falls on the right side of the equity argument.
There is considerably more work to be done before the standardized testing debate can be settled, as conflicting research abounds. Proponents of eliminating standardized testing have argued that doing away with the SAT and ACT will create more diverse campuses. Research on colleges that went “test-optional” years ago shows that students admitted without test scores came from more diverse backgrounds and did about as well in their college classes as peers who did submit test scores.
However, the opposite claim has been made, too. A University of California task force found that eliminating the standardized test requirement would deny automatic entry to 40% of African-American students and more than 25% of low-income and first-generation students who had been admitted.
Current State of Affairs
For now, universities have taken different stances on the usefulness of standardized testing. Even after their 2020 investigation found issues with eliminating the tests, the University of California became one of the biggest and most well-known institutions to stop requiring SAT and ACT tests for admissions, and all eight Ivy League schools have made the tests optional for prospective students. On the other hand, MIT made headlines for its announcement that it will once again start requiring test scores as a part of applications. Some universities are even considering developing their own test to replace the ACT and SAT.
Regardless of which side your university takes on this debate, keep in mind that the goal is to provide equity to students while maintaining a rigorous, robust, and useful application system. Watch this space as more solutions and research come to light—things will no doubt be changing quickly in years to come.