Nine effective ways to recruit high-ability college students

Sarah Coen

Senior Vice President, Consulting Services

October 20, 2014

In my enrollment management consulting with campuses around the country, many ask me how they can recruit more high-ability college students. They want students who are engaged, self-motivated, and eager to learn. Furthermore, those students are much more likely to persist and complete their educations, an outcome every campus desires and one that legislatures are increasingly demanding. Those high-ability students also have a good likelihood of becoming successful alumni, which has implications for fundraising as well as alumni outcomes that can be promoted with prospective students during future recruitment cycles.

Be prepared to invest time and resources into recruiting high-ability college students

Ways to recruit high-ability college students
The competition for high-ability college students is fierce.

Of course, what campus doesn’t want more high-ability students? The competition for these students is very fierce, and these students also have many tools at their disposal for researching campuses and comparing offers. You have to invest the time of faculty and staff to woo these students, and you may also need to spend some additional recruitment dollars. In addition to marshaling resources, I encourage campuses to consider incorporating these nine recruitment strategies if they want to enroll more high-ability college students.

  1. Host a scholarship recognition event in the spring to honor these students. Invite the students’ families to attend as well, as it’s a great opportunity to woo their parents or guardians and turn them into recruitment advocates for your campus. Consider allowing the student to invite a teacher/mentor of their choice along and let their guest speak about that particular student.
  2. Have faculty members call high-ability students/admits. Students are used to hearing from an admissions representative, but to hear from faculty about their particular academic interest might allow high-ability students to feel more confident in your institution. It is also an excellent opportunity to engage them and allow them to have some organic interaction with your campus during the recruitment process. Keep in mind that you need to get faculty involved as early as possible if you use this tactic, and choose faculty who will be good communicators with these students.
  3. Send a letter from the academic dean/provost to the parents of high-ability students. The letter could promote the honors program, study abroad, research opportunities, or other programs for these students.
  4. Create student-to-student communications. One idea is a postcard series highlighting current high-ability students and what they have been able to accomplish while on campus. Social media, videos, and emails from those students could also be very effective.
  5. Promote outcomes to these students. It is very important to get the career center involved in this process. Communicate internships, jobs, and graduate school placement to the high-ability students you are targeting as well as their parents or guardians. The more you can communicate about their future opportunities for post-graduate success, the better.
  6. Provide special or restricted research, internship, or travel opportunities to this group. Exclusivity tends to convey value, and these students may feel extra valued if they are allowed to participate in exclusive learning or travel events.
  7. Focus on study abroad research opportunities with faculty. Study abroad can provide these students with a unique class experience, a valuable internship, and an unforgettable cultural experience.
  8. Create honors cohorts in residence halls. High-ability students may appreciate the opportunity to live with similar high achievers, and these cohorts may prefer living arrangements that will be more conducive to studying and academic achievement.
  9. Ask prominent alumni in key markets to host receptions. This is a great, inexpensive way to reach out to both alumni and students. An alumni panel is an effective way to reach students/parents, while also providing these students with valuable contacts moving forward. Corporate facilities, boardrooms, research centers, and homes are all preferred venues.

Track your success with these strategies and adjust as needed

While these strategies have been effective for a number of campuses, some will be better suited than others for your campus. As you adopt them, track your results systematically. For instance, if you have faculty contact high-ability students, track your yield rate for that cohort and compare it to your general yield rate. Being able to document the influence of these strategies on the enrollment of high ability students could help you get buy in from groups like faculty or help with budgeting strategies for recruitment.

I hope you have found this information helpful. I would encourage you to try a few of these tips. I am happy to discuss these with you in more detail. I invite you to email me your questions or share your ideas.

About the Author

Sarah Coen

As Senior Vice President, Sarah Coen leads the consulting team and serves on the senior leadership team for RNL. Her 30-year career in higher education spans the enrollment, student success, and fundraising sectors. She is...

Read more about Sarah's experience and expertise

Reach Sarah by e-mail at Sarah.Coen@RuffaloNL.com.

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