Enrollment Blog

Learning to love the 11th hour

by Peter Farrell

One habit I developed pretty quickly after I started working for Royall & Company was to keep an open mind. While I’ve learned a lot across a 20-plus-year career in enrollment, there continue to be new approaches to what works best that can challenge even the most seasoned practitioner’s assumptions. Late-stage recruiting is a perfect case in point.

Desperate measures, unexpected insight

One February a couple of years ago, a school's enrollment officials came to us for help—desperate for our help, actually, because they were set to miss their enrollment goals for the year by a wide margin.

Given where we were on the calendar, we were honestly not sure that hiring us was the wisest use of their dollars—we figured they’d just as well bite the bullet and ratchet up their discount rate. Even so, they were really determined to make sure they’d left no stone unturned in pursuit of their goals. In that spirit, we agreed to fire up a late campaign to recruit new applicants.

And then we saw the results. We weren’t surprised that we helped generate some new applicants, but we were totally unprepared for the scale of the impact—all the way to enrollment. Clearly, there was potential in this approach that we hadn’t previously imagined.

What’s to like about late-stage recruitment

A critical thing we learned from the project was that a lot of senior names become available outside of what most of us would consider normal recruitment time frames—after, say, November. As a proportion of your total applicant pool, it can be as high as 10%.

More importantly, we found that seniors remained willing to initiate totally new application discussions through the winter and into the spring. It’s a result we’ve seen repeated, for a broad range of school segments and geographies—selective or not, public or private, Common Application exclusive—it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

And the effect is big enough to make you sit up and take notice. It’s not uncommon to see an additional 5% or 10% of an entering class come out of late-stage campaigns.

The late-stage group also represents a tremendous opportunity for schools looking to shape their classes. First off, it tends to include a significantly higher percentage of minority students relative to names that come available earlier in the year. Secondly, you can get the exact same quality of students from late recruitment as you do from “normal” campaigns; we’ve consistently found late names to include more than enough right-fit candidates to support any conceivable range of admissions goals.

Finally, it’s important to understand that this group is under-recruited. It just hasn’t occurred to a lot of schools that you could influence a student’s decision that late in the game. This means there’s less competition over these students, which makes engaging them easier.

Don't go it alone

That said, “easy” is probably not a word to throw around lightly here. While it’s true that the late-stage group responds similarly to your standard enrollment populations in many ways, there are pitfalls and challenges that can easily trip you up if you haven’t engaged this population before.

List sourcing, for one, can be a challenge since the release schedule and list composition never seem to be quite the same from one year to the next. Another issue is that late-stage recruitment overlaps processes that typically happen during different times of the year—you’re soliciting and processing new applications into the spring, even as your staff is tied up with yield management efforts. Finally, it’s a fundamentally different kind of campaign you’ll need to run, one in which you’re simultaneously selling a student on you and getting him or her to apply—more like speed dating than a long courtship.

A hedge against growing uncertainty on yield

I’m eager to share these findings with you because I honestly can’t imagine a school that would not be interested in late-stage efforts, regardless of its aims. I’m all the more interested in doing so given what many expect to be a wild ride in the next admissions cycle, as FAFSA changes promise to wreak havoc with yield rates and other core measures of success.

I’d encourage you, in this context, to think of late-stage recruitment as a buffer against that prospect. It should, I believe, provide enrollment leaders everywhere with an additional measure of comfort in the face of growing uncertainty.

Learn more

Contact us if you’re interested in learning more about late-stage recruitment of seniors. Our experts would be happy to share case studies with you, tell you more about how it’s done and offer feedback on your current needs and capabilities. Contact us.


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