Using senior search to generate more college applications

Pegi Anton

Vice President

May 1, 2014

Co-written with Andrea Gilbert.

When talking about student search, campuses usually think about search campaigns for high school sophomores and juniors. However, colleges and universities can also have success generating applications and enrollment with a focused senior search.

In many respects, a senior search is very similar to a traditional search for sophomores and juniors. You buy fresh names of seniors, develop a search campaign for them, and engage as many inquiries as possible. At the same time, the compressed period for a senior search does require campuses to adjust their traditional search strategies as there is much less time for relationship building. The list purchase in particular needs to be comprised of qualified leads who can quickly turn into inquiries, applicants, and enrolled students.

I can illustrate an effective senior search campaign by discussing how one of our Noel-Levitz Direct marketing campus partners, Midwestern State University, conducted one.

Building a qualified senior list through predictive modeling

Midwestern State University is a regional four-year institution that, prior to working with us, had declining local enrollment. It suffered from limited brand awareness and was squeezed between two large metropolitan markets that were within a two-hour drive. The campus had an immediate need to boost enrollment, which meant increasing the application pool as quickly as possible.  A senior search would be an ideal strategy.

However, given budgets and the shortened time frame of a senior search, campuses have to be very strategic about the names that they buy. Frankly, we do not recommend conducting a senior search without some kind of predictive modeling qualification. Predictive modeling allows an institution to use advanced statistical analytics to assess the likelihood of a prospective student enrolling. For a senior search, this means a campus can zero in on prospects who have a good chance of not only applying, but enrolling if accepted, which makes for a much stronger list purchase.

That’s what Midwestern State did. They used the Noel-Levitz SMART Approach system, which applies a predictive model to the data-rich NRCCUA database of high school students. This allowed them to cultivate names that had a higher propensity to enroll and that had other desired characteristics as well. Not only did Midwestern State use this method to uncover senior prospects in their traditional markets, they also found students in new markets they would have otherwise overlooked.

Cultivating communication with seniors

MSU Student Letter
Click to enlarge.

With the list in hand, the campus was ready to communicate with these seniors. Because Midwestern State was new to the search and was starting pretty late in the cycle, they needed to include a communication cultivation phase to the campaign. The cultivation campaign increased the brand awareness of Midwestern State in those two large metropolitan markets, introducing students to the university’s academic offerings and other benefits.  Even on an accelerated timeframe, it’s necessary to introduce your campus and establish benefits of attendance before asking students to take the significant step of applying.

When Midwestern State did send the application communications, they pushed students to use the state application rather than the common application or a campus-specific one. This kind of application flexibility can help a campus direct seniors to the application that is the most effective and appropriate for the campaign.

The results: A big boost in applicants and enrollment in a short time

The senior search was a big success:

  • After the campus conducted two senior searches (one in the fall and one in the winter), the applicant pool grew 43 percent compared to the previous year.
  • The admit pool also rose 41 percent, a testament to using predictive modeling to also produce a strategic list of prospects who were qualified to attend the university.
  • First-time freshman enrollment increased 33 percent.
  • 30 percent of the enrolled class for that year came from seniors targeted in the Noel-Levitz Direct senior search campaign.

Not surprisingly, Midwestern State was ecstatic about these results. What started as a late measure to plug an enrollment gap turned into a highly successful campus marketing campaign that not only produced big enrollment returns, but also a class the university was proud of. We have seen the power of senior search with other Noel-Levitz Direct clients as well and wanted to share this strategy with other campuses.

Hear more about senior search and other direct marketing strategies

I will dive into this and other direct marketing strategies at a free webinar on May 14, Building a Smarter Prospective Direct Marketing Program With Noel-Levitz Direct. I invite you to join me. I am also happy to share marketing strategies with you individually—please feel free to send me an email with questions or if you would like to arrange a time to talk.

Whatever you do, just remember that it’s almost never too late to generate applications, if you have the right strategies and take advantage of the many tools available.

About the Author

Pegi Anton has worked in higher education marketing for 25 years. She offers extensive experience in campus marketing, market research, communication flows, and digital and print strategy. Her specialty is developing branding and marketing communication...

Read more about Pegi's experience and expertise

Reach Pegi by e-mail at Pegi.Anton@RuffaloNL.com.

Read More In:
Enrollment, Student Success