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5 min read

Breaking Down the Admissions Funnel Flow Chart

Breaking Down the Admissions Funnel Flow Chart

Not all recruitment marketing is created equal. Experienced higher education marketers know that students who have barely heard of your schools have very different needs and expectations than those you have already admitted.

To accommodate those needs and expectations, it pays to categorize your prospective students into specific segments and categories. The most common organizational tool for this purpose is the college admissions funnel, which includes three basic categories to help you better plan your channel and messaging to move prospective students from initial awareness to enrollment. 

Table of Contents:

Introducing the Admissions Funnel

Simply put, the college admissions funnel describes the steps potential students take on their enrollment journey. It consists of three core stages:

1. The Top of the Funnel, or Awareness. 

These are students who are just starting to learn about your school. They might be website visitors, inquiries, or search names you've purchased from an organization like College Board. 

2. The Middle of the Funnel, or Consideration. 

These are students who have visited your school or have started their application. The average student applies to six colleges, and that number has been rising. So, this audience still needs reasons to move to the next stage.

3. The Bottom of the Funnel, or Decision. 

These are your admitted students. You'll need to continue to engage them to ensure they end up as enrolled students. In fact, between 10% and 40% of deposited students may not end up at your school.

4. The funnel metaphor is simple. 

Only a portion of your audience moves from awareness to consideration, and only a part of that audience moves to decision. Your goal as an admissions marketer is to maximize the number of prospects funneling through, ultimately increasing enrollment. A funnel-based marketing strategy can help you get there.

The Top of the Funnel: Reaching Out to a Broad Audience

Prospects at the top of the admissions funnel are just beginning their college search. They browse, look around at different schools to see what matches their preferences, and sometimes are still determining their preferences.

Marketing at this funnel stage has to be sufficiently broad as a result. Some of the most common tactics include:

  • Search engine optimization to make sure your website is easily found by potential students just browsing.

  • A solid organic social media presence that showcases your campus life and academics to prospective students and their parents.

  • Digital ad campaigns that are targeted based on your geographic and demographic target audience and highlight general selling points about your school.

Of course, more traditional recruitment tactics also have to play into the equation. This is the place for college fairs, viewbooks, and other general materials introducing your institution to largely sophomore and junior high school students.

The Middle of the Funnel: Turning Interest Into Action

As prospective students research different colleges and universities, they'll start narrowing down their list of potential schools. For example, they'll only visit a few schools and only inquire to learn more or apply to even fewer schools. At this point, they're entering the middle of the admissions recruitment funnel. 

In the middle of the funnel, different channels begin to take priority. Examples include:

  • Targeted email campaigns to students interested enough to have entered your database.

  • Blogs, virtual tours, and other in-depth content that tell your audience more about your school.

  • Mailed materials that dive deep into topics like academics and financial aid at your institution.

Of course, some of the top-of-funnel channels still matter. Your organic social media presence, for example, will still be a valuable resource for students in the middle of the enrollment funnel.

But the messaging begins to change. Now, they'll want to learn more about specific topics, like the major they plan to study. Comparative content, like comparing your costs and financial aid package to your competition, also becomes more resonant at this stage. 

The Bottom of the Funnel: Keeping Future Students Engaged

Do everything right in the early stages, and your funnel will yield a healthy number of admitted students. But the job of the admissions marketer is not done. You still have to ensure that your admitted students attend after they've committed to your school.

The bottom of the funnel is about keeping future students engaged to maximize your chances of enrolling them. Some common tactics include:

  • Specific social media groups, like an invite-only group for the incoming first-year class or parents of the incoming class.
  • List-based digital ad campaigns that push narrow messaging only to students already admitted to your school.
  • Targeted email campaigns related to financial aid, orientation, and preparation for move-in.

Many schools also host admitted student days at this funnel stage and build some digital campaigns around those days. Messaging should focus on preparing the incoming class, from maximizing financial aid to sharing a packing list for move-in day.

Measuring the Success of Your Admissions Funnel Recruitment Efforts

Naturally, the ultimate goal of all enrollment marketing is just that --recruiting the best-fit students for your institution. But segmenting your campaigns in alignment with the admissions recruitment funnel also means changing the KPIs at each of its stages:

  • At the top of the funnel, your core goal is generating inquiries and campus visits.
  • In the middle of the funnel, your core goal is generating applications and ensuring those applications are completed.
  • At the bottom of the funnel, your core goal is turning admits into attendees.

Segmenting your KPIs in this fashion allows you to make more targeted campaign adjustments if recruitment is not moving as intended. You'll be able to see exactly where in the funnel your success is dropping off and adjust your channels or messaging accordingly. 

A low number of attendees may be due to a lower top of the funnel, lower conversion numbers in the middle of the funnel, or the bottom of the funnel.

Ready to Optimize Your Recruitment Marketing Along the Admissions Funnel?

In today's competitive enrollment landscape, it's no longer enough to run some ads and hope for the best. You need a targeted campaign that aligns with the entire enrollment journey, from initial research to enrollment. Aligning your marketing efforts with the admissions funnel can help to accomplish just that.

That sounds complicated. The good news is that you're not on your own. Working with a dedicated higher education marketing agency like Sonority Group ensures that you have a reliable partner, from planning all the way to executing and measuring your campaigns.

Ready to take your marketing strategy to the next level? We're here to help you every step of the way. Let's chat! 

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FAQ Recap:


What is the admissions funnel, and why is it important for recruitment marketing?

The admissions funnel is a model that describes the stages potential students go through on their journey from initial awareness to enrollment. It includes three core stages: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. Understanding this funnel is crucial for recruitment marketing as it helps tailor messaging and strategies to effectively guide students through each stage toward enrollment.


How can we effectively reach students at the top of the admissions funnel?

Prospective students at the top of the funnel are just beginning their college search. To reach them, strategies like search engine optimization (SEO), organic social media presence, and digital ad campaigns targeted toward a broad audience are effective. Traditional recruitment tactics such as college fairs and viewbooks also play a role in raising awareness.


What channels and tactics are most effective in the middle of the admissions funnel?

In the middle of the funnel, where students are narrowing down their list of potential schools, targeted email campaigns, in-depth content like blogs and virtual tours, and mailed materials become more important. Messaging shifts towards providing detailed information about academics, financial aid, and other specific aspects of the institution.


How do we keep admitted students engaged and encourage enrollment?

Keeping admitted students engaged is crucial for maximizing enrollment. Tactics such as specific social media groups, targeted digital ad campaigns and email campaigns help maintain communication and excitement. Hosting admitted student days and providing relevant information for preparing to enroll are also effective strategies.


How do we measure the success of our recruitment efforts along the admissions funnel?

Success at each stage of the admissions funnel can be measured using specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These may include inquiries and campus visits at the top of the funnel, applications and completion rates in the middle, and enrollment rates at the bottom. By segmenting KPIs, institutions can identify areas of improvement and adjust their strategies accordingly.


How can a higher education marketing agency help optimize recruitment marketing along the admissions funnel?

A dedicated higher education marketing agency can provide expertise in planning, executing, and measuring recruitment campaigns aligned with the admissions funnel. They can offer strategic guidance, creative solutions, and data-driven insights to help institutions effectively engage prospective students and increase enrollment. Working with such an agency ensures a comprehensive approach to recruitment marketing that maximizes results.


How can we get started with optimizing our recruitment marketing strategy?

If you're ready to enhance your recruitment marketing strategy and align it with the admissions funnel, consider partnering with a reputable higher education marketing agency like Sonority Group. By collaborating with experts in the field, you can develop targeted campaigns tailored to each stage of the admissions journey, ultimately driving enrollment success. Reach out to start the conversation and explore how we can support your institution's goals.


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