If they don’t commit, then quit

As in all courtships, if a person you’ve shown an interest in doesn’t reciprocate that interest it’s probably because (s)he’s just not that in to you.  For this reason, many colleges are paying extra attention to those students who show early on that they’re ready to commit.  

According to a report this week in the Boston Globe, “In the increasingly tense courtship of college admissions, more selective schools are smiling upon high school students who show sincere interest in attending, closely tracking such things as whether they visited campus, responded to recruiting messages, or even joined an online chat with an admissions officer.”

Makes perfect sense doesn’t it?  Why show some love to someone if you know your love will go unrequited?

Many schools waste precious time going after students simply because they meet a set of demographics or academic criteria that the school is targeting. It’s assumed that the prospect’s a good fit. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple.  In today’s economic climate where students and families are evaluating their financial options closer than ever before, predicting yield is becoming an even bigger challenge for many colleges.  This is one reason why many have opted to focus on interest first.

How are you identifying those with the most interest in your school?  Some admissions directors like Kelly Walter of Boston University (quoted in the article) are putting greater emphasis on tracking every single interaction with students.  In its annual survey of admissions trends, the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that 22 percent of colleges gave interest “considerable importance” in admissions, up from 7 percent in 2003. Another 30 percent of schools rated it as moderately important.

All other things being equal, a student that shows a high level of interest throughout their interactions with your institution are more likely to enroll than students that are just window shopping.

How can you get them to commit once they’ve shown interest?  One key is to stay relevant.  Once a prospect has displayed initial interest in your institution you’ll be tempted to blanket them with information about your institution. However, you may want to be a little more selective about what you send to them.  Before you continue the conversation, ask yourself these questions:

1) Did they request more information to begin with?  

2) Is the information relevant to their areas of interest?  

3) Is the information still timely? 

As a recent survey by MarketingSherpa finds, relevance is the key to keeping your lists engaged with your marketing messages.

Knowing the different motivations of individual students ahead of time will give you a much better picture of whether or not they’re ready, willing and able to commit to your institution.  Taking time up front to identify key indicators of interest, and then tracking and acting upon them (by delivering relevant content to prospects) will help go a long way to helping you find those students that are most enthusiastic about joining your institution.

Moving away from a traditional mass marketing approach and moving towards a more personal approach can also help you get there.  Conventional wisdom holds that having a wide funnel will help you reach your admissions/enrollment goals.  However, the benefits of “narrowing” your funnel up top and focusing on highly interested individuals can have tremendous long-term benefits for your school.  

As stated by the Globe, “Admitting more students who truly want to be there, college officials say, creates an energetic and close-knit culture on campus. And by producing loyal alumni with soft spots for their colleges, it also pays long-range dividends in fund-raising.”