Application inflation: How one college successfully responded to its stacks of incomplete applications

Ruffalo Noel Levitz

November 7, 2016

This is part one of a two-part blog post published with the permission of Simmons College.
See part 2.


Simmons College was in a good place in fall 2015. One year after enrolling the smallest class in its history, the freshman class of this Massachusetts college was now its largest ever. Not a small feat for this private, liberal arts women’s college in Boston. It was the type of success you’d want to replicate. So—for many people—it was a bit of a shock when the college completely changed its recruitment and marketing approach for the class entering in fall 2016. Why make such a seemingly risky move?

Dr. John F. Dolan, vice president of enrollment management at Simmons since 2014, explains, “Our system was full with applications that didn’t necessarily behave the way we needed or wanted…and required too much time and energy to manage.” He chose to partner with Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL) to more effectively manage the college’s enrollment stream.

The perils of inflated applications

In making this decision, Dr. Dolan had taken a close look at the numbers. Applications had more than doubled since 2007: to the casual observer, a positive indicator of demand. Yet the number of offers of acceptance remained steady—and not by a concerted decision to become more selective. Rather, it was because the number of completed applications actually remained flat over the same period.

This meant the college’s system was handling a growing number of applications and the admissions team was becoming increasingly bogged down with trying to get them to an actionable status. Having to focus on the logistics of application materials limited the meaningful conversations counselors could have with interested students and their families—and lower yield rates showed it. Dolan believed it was time to reconsider how they built and cultivated the college’s inquiry and applicant pools.

Refocusing on genuine interest: It’s all about getting the right applicants, not just generating more applications

In partnering with RNL to recruit and enroll its class entering for fall 2016, Simmons College utilized the company’s Enrollment Marketing Solutions and Enhanced Search Strategies. RNL employed its customized predictive analytics and its multi-channel creative communications approach to strengthen Simmons’ search program, which included rising seniors. RNL also surveyed students in the inquiry pool, scored their enrollment propensity using predictive analytics, and engaged with them via its Comprehensive Inquiry Management.

Finally, the company targeted potential applicants and managed the logistics of the application-seeking process with RNL’s Targeted Application Generation solution.

An effective search builds a solid inquiry and applicant pool, attracting inquirers who are more likely to apply, complete their application, and enroll. Like its applicant pool, Simmons’ recent inquiry pools were inflated with inquirers who weren’t converting through the enrollment stream. The RNL-managed search program identified and targeted the students most likely to be a fit for and be interested in the Simmons experience, resulting in a smaller but more interested pool. The focus was both on educating students about the college and providing them opportunities to learn about the institution on their terms.

As students entered the inquiry pool, RNL worked to survey their interest level and interests. This allowed the Simmons counselors to shift their focus toward the students who were the best fit for the college and to provide those students the specific information they sought. The Targeted Application Generation program then focused on the nuts-and-bolts of asking students to apply: it cultivated true applicants rather than simply generating applications. Because RNL kept staff apprised of the status of each potential applicant, the team could spend its time encouraging enthusiastic applicants, addressing the specific concerns of on-the-fencers, and devoting time to effectively counseling prospective enrollees—rather than endlessly pursuing missing application documents.

With this partnership, Simmons College was able to realign its energies away from simply generating more applications toward getting the right applicants. The team’s first priority was building relationships with prospective Simmons students and their families, and the success of the partnership had positive effects on the institution, its students, and the admissions team itself.

Continue reading part 2 of this post.

Read More In:
Enrollment, Student Success