Marketing Strategies for Colleges

Marketing Strategies for Colleges

I have many of my students come to me letting me know about the emails and mail they receive from colleges.  Many feel that they are being singled out and the school is very interested in them attending their college.  Although this may be the case, colleges are competitive for a variety of reasons and have a marketing strategy to increase their applicant pool.  Below is a link to a Bloomberg Business article about schools strategies to increase their applicant pool. This provides good insight into the numbers game and how it can affect everything from the schools rankings to credit ratings.

If you have any questions about the college admissions process or the above information please do not hesitate to contact me at or by phone, 845.551.6946.

Read this article online here.

Colleges Use ‘Bag of Tricks’ to Juice Application Numbers

from Bloomberg Business, by Janet Lorin

Bucknell University, the alma mater of novelist Philip Roth, attracted almost 8,000 applicants last year for 940 spots in its freshman class. That wasn’t enough for an admissions office seeking to enhance its image.

So this year, Bill Conley, the vice president for enrollment management, reached into what he called his “bag of tricks.” He cut Bucknell’s application fee to $40 from $60 and eliminated one of three required essays. The number of students seeking admission soared 40 percent, to almost 11,000.

“This is not about being greedy,” Conley said. “We thought—at 11,000—that was appropriate for a school of Bucknell’s size and reputation.”

Thanks to amped-up recruiting tactics, applications are surging at selective colleges even as U.S. high school graduating classes are shrinking. Like Bucknell, in Lewisburg, Pa., many schools aggressively pushing for more applicants—by dropping fees and essays, eliminating entrance exams, and introducing social media campaigns—are located in states where the youth population’s decline is sharpest.

The tactics are provoking soul-searching at colleges and criticism from high school advisers about whether universities are helping their images more than their prospective students.

“I don’t know when it is going to stop,” said Darby McHugh, a college counselor at Bronx High School of Science in New York City. “It’s an arms race to nowhere.”

Over the last month, schools including Colby College in Maine and Swarthmore and Franklin & Marshall in Pennsylvania have seen one-year jumps in their application numbers of as much as 50 percent, a swing that would seem more at home on the Nasdaq stock exchange than a college campus. While admissions offices have occasionally reported big increases in the past, they generally occurred when the number of high school graduates was increasing.

A decade ago, even a 10 percent increase in applications would have been significant, according to Susan Fitzgerald, a senior vice president at Moody’s Investors Service, which tracks enrollment trends for investors in bonds issued by colleges. This admissions cycle features among the biggest one-year jumps ever, except for when colleges started gathering prospects online through the Common Application, Fitzgerald said.

Since the college-age population isn’t rising, application growth offers “an artificial and inflated view of increased demand,” the credit rating company wrote in a recent report. Moody’s warned investors that many of the institutions will end up with applicants who have no interest in attending, so their admissions statistics may be misleading.

“The selectivity rates today don’t mean what they meant a decade ago or even five years ago,” Fitzgerald said.

Lucas Philips, 17, completed an application to Colby, even though he didn’t especially want to go to the 1,820-student school in Waterville, Me., because it felt too small for him. He did so because the college dropped a required supplemental essay, so he could just push a button on the Common App, which features a piece of writing that can be used for all colleges. Colby’s applications this year soared 47 percent, to 7,591.

“I wasn’t super excited about it,” Philips said of applying to Colby.

Philips, a senior at Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York City, ended up getting accepted through an early-admissions program at his top choice, Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill. He never sent in his online Colby materials.

Colby says dropping the essay isn’t the main reason for the surge in applications. The school increased its admissions staff to 15 from 11 and is recruiting more outside New England, as well as reaching out to sophomores and juniors, according to Steve Saunders, the school’s interim dean of admissions and financial aid. David Greene, Colby’s new president, is seeking to double the number of applications.
“The lack of an essay really doesn’t affect a student’s first choice of college,” Saunders said. “We dropped the essay this year, but we also did a lot of other things that account for more of the gain.”
New England colleges such as Colby are trying to draw more interest from across the country, in part because the number of potential applicants in the region is shrinking faster than in other parts of the U.S., according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

Pennsylvania has the same problem, inspiring a broader search for students at colleges such as Bucknell. Conley, the school’s enrollment executive, said Bucknell is looking for applicants in California, the Southeast, and the Southwest. The $20 fee cut will bring Bucknell in line with what public universities charge in those regions, Conley said. The new hopefuls are diverse, including more blacks and Hispanics, and two essays provide enough information for the admissions office, he said. Unlike some other colleges, Bucknell doesn’t plan to increase applications even more by eliminating the requirement that students take standardized college entrance tests like the SAT, Conley said.

“My bag of tricks isn’t inexhaustible,” he said.

During this admissions season, Bryn Mawr, near Philadelphia, for the first time made the SAT or ACT tests optional for U.S. applicants. The women’s college, alma mater of actress Katharine Hepburn, said it wanted to broaden its applicant pool and that the tests had little predictive value beyond students’ high school records. Applications increased, though the school declined to say by how much.

Also near Philadelphia, Swarthmore College this year dropped one essay and reduced another to a maximum of 250 words, as well as stepping up recruiting and waiving fees for students from low-income families. Applications jumped 42 percent, to 7,885. The year before, they had fallen 16 percent because the college had added an essay. Its acceptance rate rose to 17 percent from 14 percent, still among the lowest of all liberal arts colleges. It will likely be 12 percent to 13 percent this year.

“With a few tweaks, we can make a big shift,” said Jim Bock, Swarthmore’s dean of admissions, who wasn’t expecting such a large increase. “That is our job to spread the good word about Swarthmore and we achieved that. The discomfort is the ability to treat everyone equally in the process with the same size staff.”

Neighboring Haverford College is feeling pressure to ease its own application requirements. The institution, like Swarthmore, is known for its Quaker heritage. Haverford has long asked for a one- to two-page essay about its famed honor code, a challenging topic that can weed out all but the most enthusiastic. For the last two years, Haverford has drawn about 3,500 applicants and admitted a quarter for its freshman class. Now, Haverford is concerned that acceptance rate may turn off families and hurt its standing with credit rating companies when it borrows, said Jess Lord, the dean of admission and financial aid.
“I’ve been pretty resolute about not changing this, but I’m worried the tide is against us,” Lord said. “When we notice changes in the marketplace, you certainly have a responsibility to examine that and how that might affect us.”

Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pa., stepped up recruiting through its parent and alumni networks and its president. It also bought more names of promising students from the organizations that administer standardized tests, according to Daniel Lugo, vice president of admission and financial aid. As a result of those efforts, as well as simplifying the format of its application, he said, the number of students seeking admission jumped 30 percent this year.

Even Harvard University, with 34,295 applications last year, couldn’t get enough. The Cambridge (Mass.) school said last week it attracted 3,000 more aspirants than in the previous cycle—a 9 percent increase—by reaching out to them via a new blog, Twitter, and Tumblr. The year before, applications had dipped. Harvard attributed the decline to fewer applicants in the Midwest, which has had a steep drop in the population of high school graduates.

Still, some colleges are finding such efforts to be overdone. Last week, Yale University said 2 percent fewer students applied to the New Haven (Conn.) school because it had intentionally mailed 20 percent fewer promotional “viewbooks” to students with high test scores. Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions, said he wanted only the most interested and qualified students to apply.

In Philadelphia, Drexel University cut its pool even more. It added a $50 fee, charging for online applications for the first time in a decade. It also eliminated its “VIP application,” where most students weren’t required to submit essays or recommendations. Applications fell 41 percent, to 28,057. Randall Deike, senior vice president for enrollment management, said he sought fewer applications because he was concerned that only 8 percent of students accepted ended up enrolling. That was down from a third in 2004—a typical level for similar institutions.
“It was an unsustainable path to continue to try to inflate the pool in that way,” said Deike, who joined Drexel in September. “We weren’t serving students well.”