Here’s one thing I love about Underscore (and there are many): all of our Slate Strategists have worked in admissions at some point in their careers. We spend a lot of time talking with our clients throughout the year – at different points in the admission cycle – identifying opportunities, solving problems, and ultimately helping our schools recruit their students.
With so many of us having an admissions background, we can relate to many of the challenges they go through, and that includes one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking times of the year: yield season.
In my first admissions role at Kalamazoo College, the list of new deposits was posted in the break room every day. With incoming classes between 300-400 every year, the daily list could vary from just a few students to a couple dozen. It’s hard to describe the emotions felt from seeing the names of ‘your’ prospective students finally deciding that K was the place for them. After months of hard work connecting with students, that feeling is why we do what we do in admissions, and why yield season is so critical.
The importance of a coherent yield strategy in our current environment cannot be understated. As recently as 2019, NACAC struck some longstanding ethics practices from their guidelines; not the least of which that directs schools to cease recruiting students once they deposit at another college. Without a normal year in 2020, we have yet to observe the full force of such a change.
Last year, the introduction of COVID-19 obviously had a significant impact on college recruitment and yield as schools dealt with how best to operate during a pandemic. Even now, schools are still figuring out how best to approach enrollment this fall, with Rutgers and Cornell being the most recent and high-profile to require students to be vaccinated to attend in-person this fall. Communicating effectively with admitted students in such a turbulent era has required agility and adaptability from admission offices across the country.
Underscore assists a number of our clients with their yield communications, and the strategies implemented must be fine-tuned year over year. Over the years we’ve identified some tools and strategies that help our client schools finish strong during yield. As always, any of these can be done in Slate:
Building out a brief survey to email admitted students midway through the yield cycle can gauge how interested they are at this stage. At this point they aren't explicitly depositing or withdrawing, but your staff can spend the build of their recruitment efforts on those still heavily interested. If anything, finding out a particular student is NOT interested in engaging is just as important as those that are.
Throughout the year, hopefully you have been logging Ping data for your prospective and admitted students on your admissions website and Slate pages. This is a great time to reach out to those students with very recent engagement, particularly on specific websites or portals. There is a fine line between "cool" and "creepy" when utilizing Ping data, but identifying which students show demonstrated interest but need additional information can help focus your efforts.
For example, you can see when a student logs into her portal and when she opens her admit and financial aid letters. Use that data to your advantage and reach out with your counseling staff to answer any outstanding questions students may have after reading their letters.
This time is make-or-break, and over the course of several months, your school is trying to stand out and make that final plea to draw in admitted students. For many of the schools we work with, they haven’t yet fully utilized all the functionality Slate has to offer, particularly in the communications realm. That isn’t to say they aren’t trying; the most common feedback we get from clients is they just haven’t had the time or staffing to dedicate to the level of service they want to provide. Maybe your admission office hasn’t jumped into Slate Print yet, or read up on Technolutions’ updates to Slate Voice (checkout Alexander Clark’s March 25th webinar), but yield is a great time to mix up your strategy and communicate to your students in ways they haven’t seen yet.
If you aren’t customizing your communications with dynamic content, then you’re missing the opportunity to really present your best selves to the students. If a student has taken the time and effort to apply to your school and jump through all the necessary hoops to be one step away from enrolling, the last thing you want to do is send an email that says, “if you haven’t deposited yet, do so here!”
Not only is it best practice to separate your admitted students from your enrolled students in your populations, but you should acknowledge where they are in the admission funnel at every step of the process. In addition, you have access to a wealth of information about the student through the application, and that can and should be leveraged in every interaction.
As with any communication plan, a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t cut it. Putting together a coherent, structured, intentional yield strategy will remain an important challenge. There are a limited number of high school seniors in the entire pool every year, and soon that number may shrink.
According to the most recent WICHE data, the projections indicate that growth in graduating seniors will level off in the next several years as the Great Recession’s impact will soon be felt. Competition for the same group of students will only increase, particularly as many schools find themselves needing to rebound from the effects of the pandemic.
Underscore’s approach to recruitment has always been to focus on the quality of applicants over the quantity. Many schools aim for application growth year after year, but fulfilling a class requires admitting students that are truly interested, those that will stay engaged throughout the process and will ultimately respond positively to your outreach. A strong yield strategy means putting in the work and really listening to what the students are saying.
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