Is Student Search Broken or Just Being Redefined?

by Bob Campagnuolo and Jonathan Steele, principals, GDA Integrated Services

The process of identifying solid prospective applicants among the tens of thousands of names on college search lists can be perplexing. Despite the best efforts of colleges, student response to paper and email search mailings remains stubbornly low.

Since it is clear that college-bound students no longer respond as they once did to search appeals, we at GDAIS asked ourselves:

“What’s the point of search?”

If the point of search is simply to generate responses, of course there are ways to do that. The most common is the least expensive: repeat emails, which do have an impact on response. Another option is incentives: offering students something in return for their response.

The problem with both of these options – especially the latter – is that they don’t necessarily generate responses from students who are seriously interested in your institution. The result? Institutions must maintain and service ever larger and more expensive inquiry pools filled with students who are unlikely to attend a given school.

Unsatisfied with this, we dug deeper to find the root issue.

Rather than accept low response to search mailings as the new norm, or relying on gimmicks to artificially boost response rates, we realized that the true value of student search programs is as visibility campaigns to build awareness among the best-fit students.

We based this conclusion on some important facts we found when studying our research. We discovered that:

Students (and parents) are paying attention to your search messages.

However, this attention is not reflected in the return rates of traditional response mechanisms.

The current generation of college-bound students would agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment “The trouble with instant gratification is that it takes too long.” They want what they want when they want it (which was a few minutes ago).

The challenge? To develop a visibility campaign that connects strongly with best-fit students and that also incorporates mechanisms for tracking students who connect with your messages, whether or not they respond traditionally.

Next: How to Create a Visibility-Focused Student Search Campaign

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