Colleges are using sophisticated new recruiting tools, and while that may unfairly influence some high school juniors by pampering or pressuring them, the new methods of communication also can benefit students.
"The centralization of data and automation of communications has made the traditionally overwhelming process much simpler for many students," says Sasha Peterson, CEO of TargetX, which helps colleges develop recruitment and student record systems.
TargetX and other companies let students access information about colleges while allowing schools to collect information during the application process that allows them to remind students them about deadlines, update the status of applications, and communicate if paperwork is incomplete or missing. Those records later help schools provide course schedules and academic supports, and track student performance.
Gil Rogers, who sells recruitment technology to colleges for Chegg Enrollment Services, says many schools also are "thinking outside of their traditional box” and using mobile and social media campaigns.
A recent survey shows over 80 percent of colleges now use Facebook in some form for recruiting. And, more than a third of students use their phones as their primary college research tool, according to TargetX research.
In the last 10 years colleges have been moving to "customer relations management" systems, Rogers says, similar to those used in the retail industry particularly well by companies like Amazon and Apple. The systems collect data with each interaction.
"Gone are the days of scripted tour guides awkwardly walking backwards across a pre-plotted path," The Ohio University's director of undergraduate admissions Candace Boeninger says. Too many schools put on “shows” that might not portray college life accurately or provide them with important information, she says. "Families rightly demand an authentic experience — even if the visit is virtual — and it means as much as it ever has in a student’s decision."
While this all benefits schools searching for applicants, it also makes it "much easier for students to engage and succeed at school,” says Peterson.
Less hype, more info:
Recognizing that potential applicants and their parents have multiple sources for information, schools are better educating admissions staff and making actionable information more readily available. "These students may know more about the school than the admissions representative," says Jean Norris a college recruiting expert, writing about the topic for University Business magazine.
At Case Western Reserve, students interested in engineering see a link about news in that department each time they sign on. Ohio Weslyan University holds live video chats between prospects and enrollees or school officials.
Schools give applicants a feel for the school through social media groups, videos by students, webcasts, Twitter, and websites that have everything from virtual tours to pages where students can design their dorm rooms.
Academic and other supports. As schools move to increase the thorny problem of low retention, they’re using data gathered in the search and application processes to provide targeted services – tutors for those who struggle or "buddies" for those who are anxious and homesick or club connections for those with specific interests.