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5 Optimization Methods for Your Admissions Recruitment Funnel

5 Optimization Methods for Your Admissions Recruitment Funnel

Make no mistake: a sound understanding of your admissions funnel can make all the difference in building a successful recruitment and admissions marketing strategy. But of course, building that understanding is only the beginning. In addition, you also need to know the next step: how to continue optimizing your college admissions funnel for successful recruitment.

That optimization process can take significant time, data analysis, and audience preference research. But the time invested is well worth it. Optimized admissions funnels can become the engine that drives all your recruitment strategies, from digital to in-person and print to email.

So let's get started. 

These five optimization methods can help you build a better admissions enrollment funnel, jumpstarting your recruitment efforts for 2023 and beyond.

Table of Contents:

1) Conduct Prospective Student Research

Every enrollment marketing strategy has to start with a close understanding of your audience. That means digging into the numbers and conducting qualitative and quantitative research on who you know your audience to be. The goal: learn as much as possible about their behaviors, preferences, and pain points while they decide what school to attend. 

An almost infinite number of possibilities exist to help you conduct this research. Which of these menu options you choose depends on your budget, expertise, and available time:

  • Information from your prospective student database, including information about when and how often in the funnel they visit the campus, what triggers applications, etc.
  • Third-party research on the college search behavior of high school students, like what channels they prefer and what types of messages they expect to appear on those channels.
  • Qualitative information, from your counselors or directly from high school students, about your current messaging, channel strategies, and admissions materials.

There are other possibilities, as well. For example, some schools conduct student experience or admitted student surveys that offer invaluable information about student preferences. The goal here is to gather as much data and form as many insights as possible about your audience's college search. 

2) Create Your Student Journey

Based on the research and insights you've collected, it's time to build your student journey. Here, even seasoned enrollment professionals can get confused between the terms admissions funnel and student journey. The two concepts build on each other and are closely related, but allow us to explain the differences:

  • The admissions funnel consists of the linear, pre-defined stages your audience takes, from inquiry to application, admittance, and enrollment. At each stage, some students drop off - hence the funnel metaphor.
  • The student journey consists of all the non-linear steps your students may take on their way to enrollment. These steps can be categorized into funnel stages. Still, many occur separately or outside the stages, like browsing college ranking portals, visiting your website, attending a college fair, etc.

Creating a funnel is relatively simple - the data is all there to let you know how many inquiries, applications, and enrolled students you have each cycle. The student journey, though, is necessary to understand precisely how that funnel can be optimized. The more you can outline your students' steps on their way to college, the better you can build those optimizations.

3) Map Recruitment and Marketing Efforts to the Journey and Funnel

So far, we've considered everything related to the recruitment funnel from the student's perspective. Time to turn inwards, looking at how all your owned channels play into and intersect with your student journey

Start by outlining everything you do to attract students, including:

  • Recruitment pages on your website
  • Digital ads on all the channels where you're active
  • Emails to prospective students
  • Printed materials for prospective students
  • Print ads in relevant publications
  • Any TV or out-of-home ads
  • Campus visit programs like tours and open houses
  • Admissions counselor visits to high schools and college fairs
  • And more

Once a complete inventory is in place, map it to each stage of the student journey--and the funnel. This allows you to gain a comprehensive overview of what's being done at each stage of the enrollment funnel to nudge prospective students toward the next stage naturally.

4) Analyze Each Stage of the Admissions Recruitment Funnel

The next step returns to your admissions funnel. A full inventory of communications efforts, coupled with in-depth audience insights, allows you to analyze where your funnel succeeds and where it falls short. Look for answers to the following questions:

  • Which stages of the funnel are oversaturated with messaging?
  • Are there gaps in the funnel that you might need to fill with additional or adjusted marketing efforts?
  • At which stages does your funnel perform above average, or has seen significant improvements in recent years?
  • At which stages does your funnel perform below average, or has seen major downward trends in recent years?
  • Are there any nuances to consider within each funnel stage, like students from your state converting differently than those from other states?
  • Does your core messaging flow through the different funnel stages, or are you light on some of your messaging pillars at a given stage?

Finding the answers to these questions requires thorough analysis and will likely take time. However the insights gained can go a long way towards finding improvement opportunities and optimizing your enrollment funnel.

5) Set Goals for Admissions Funnel Improvement

The final step is, in some ways, the simplest: based on your analysis, it's time to set some enrollment goals. All these goals should be related directly to your funnel, ideally improving the conversion rate between different funnel stages over time.

As you set goals, staying realistic is vital. The SMART framework can become helpful here, ensuring that your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Consider setting multi-year goals with more realistic year-to-year conversion increases.

Summing it Up

From the goal setting, it's time to move to implementation. And that's where you need a partner on your side, helping to ensure all of your higher education marketing pieces are just right. 

Are you ready to optimize your admissions funnel - from research to execution? Let's chat! 

let's chat >



FAQ Recap:


What is the difference between the admissions funnel and the student journey?

The admissions funnel represents the linear stages prospective students go through, from inquiry to enrollment, with some drop-off at each stage. On the other hand, the student journey encompasses all the non-linear steps students may take, including researching colleges, visiting websites, attending events, and more, which may occur both within and outside the defined funnel stages.


Why is conducting prospective student research important for optimizing the admissions funnel?

Conducting research on prospective students helps institutions understand their behaviors, preferences, and decision-making processes. This data allows for targeted marketing efforts and optimizations throughout the admissions funnel to better meet the needs of potential students.


How can I map recruitment and marketing efforts to the student journey and admissions funnel?

Start by inventorying all recruitment and marketing channels, including website pages, digital ads, emails, print materials, campus events, and more. Then, map each of these efforts to specific stages of the student journey and admissions funnel to ensure a comprehensive and cohesive strategy.


What should I analyze at each stage of the admissions recruitment funnel?

Analyzing each stage of the admissions funnel involves assessing the effectiveness of messaging, identifying oversaturation or gaps, understanding audience nuances, and evaluating performance trends. This analysis helps identify areas for improvement and optimization within the funnel.


How do I set goals for admissions funnel improvement?

Setting goals for admissions funnel improvement involves establishing specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound objectives. Goals should focus on improving conversion rates between funnel stages and may be set for multi-year periods with realistic year-to-year targets.


What is the SMART framework, and how can it help with goal setting?

The SMART framework is a method for setting effective goals, ensuring they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. By applying this framework, institutions can create clear and actionable objectives for optimizing their admissions funnel.


How can partnering with a higher education marketing agency assist with admissions funnel optimization?

Partnering with a specialized agency, like Sonority Group, can provide expertise, resources, and support to ensure all aspects of admissions funnel optimization are executed effectively. Agencies like ours can help with research, strategy development, implementation, and ongoing analysis to drive recruitment success.


What are some common challenges in admissions funnel optimization, and how can they be addressed?

Common challenges include data collection and analysis, aligning marketing efforts with audience preferences, and adapting strategies to changing trends. These challenges can be addressed through robust research methodologies, continuous monitoring and adjustment, and collaboration with experienced professionals.


How long does it typically take to see results from admissions funnel optimization efforts?

The timeline for seeing results can vary depending on the scope of optimization efforts, the complexity of the admissions process, and external factors such as market conditions. Generally, institutions may start to see improvements within a few months to a year, with continued progress over time.


What resources are available to help institutions optimize their admissions funnel?

Institutions can leverage various resources, including data analytics tools, industry reports, professional development opportunities, and partnerships with specialized agencies. These resources provide valuable insights and support for implementing effective optimization strategies.


How can I get started with admissions funnel optimization for my institution?

To get started, institutions can begin by assessing their current recruitment processes, identifying areas for improvement, and conducting research to better understand prospective students' needs and preferences. Partnering with a trusted agency, like Sonority Group, or a consultant can also provide guidance and expertise throughout the optimization process.

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