Data gets a lot of talk. Trade publications for higher education leaders frequently cover data-driven decision making. There are more tools available for capturing, tracking and analyzing data than ever before. People now even wear devices to capture data about themselves.

But when work teams seek to improve the way they capture data, things can suddenly become intimidating. It can be hard to know where to begin. Many people get sidetracked by questions surrounding tools and technology. But, if you focus instead on what data is most valuable to your college, which fields are included on your forms, and how they are formatted, increasing the value of your data can be approached more simply.

Jason Meek, Collegis Education’s director of analytics, presented tips on how to improve the value of data captured by admissions in a webinar on July 26, 2017. Below are highlights of his presentation. The full recording is available here, and the slides are available here.

Meek covered how admissions teams can use data to focus on their greatest recruitment opportunities by prioritizing which data is most valued, standardizing processes for capturing data and implementing a regular reporting schedule.

Are You Overlooking Critical Data Sources?

Improving the data you capture may be simpler than you think. Every admissions team has touchpoints that are meaningful to them — so, start with those that you already use most often. First of all, are you able to get the insights you’re looking for from your data reporting tools?

Once you’ve identified the metrics that are most useful to you (this will vary from one college to another), you can begin to improve the way this data is collected. Consider what the following metrics indicate about each phase of the college-selection journey.


Type of DataPhase of Student’s Selection Journey
Number of website visitsAwareness
Number of inbound/outbound phone callsAwareness
Website analytics (what pages are viewed)Consideration
Number of online requests for informationConsideration
Interactions with prospective students by admissions teamYield

Many colleges focus on the the awareness stage of the marketing funnel, however, Meek recommends prioritizing efforts to capture data from the consideration phase. This area is often overlooked by colleges, mainly because it’s been challenging to keep up with the outpouring of new digital marketing tools that impact this phase. Website conversion improvements, search engine optimization and social media ads are some of the useful tactics that fall into this category.

The benefit of harnessing data from these tools is that it allows you to gain strong insights into your prospective students. These insights can tell you what your students are seeking answers to and help you arm your admissions team or website with the information that prospective students most want.

Inputs and Formatting

One element that can make data collection challenging is a form that allows for open-ended answers in too many spots. When possible, drive students to respond via a checkbox, drop-down menu or radio button. This ensures consistency and accuracy. Consider, for instance, how you’d find the answer if you wanted to know how many prospective students should get an email reminder about an upcoming deadline. It’s a fairly quick and easy process to pull data that was captured in a checkbox. In contrast, open-ended answers would have to be reviewed one at a time by a staff member. The time saved by standardizing data collection on the front end quickly adds up to hours, and perhaps even days, of additional work time per staff member.

Key Question: Quality vs. Quantity

Every admissions office should consider the pros and cons of seeking a high volume of applications or seeking a smaller pool of higher-quality applicants. The onset of coalition-based applications has flooded admissions teams with paperwork and has made it difficult to identify which students are truly interested in your school.

If this is an issue for your team, it may make more sense to seek quality over quantity. One way to influence the type of applicant you get is through the number of data fields required in your forms. Short forms tend to result in many responses — many of which are from prospects with only low to mild interest in your school. A longer form forces the prospect to consider whether it’s worth it to take the extra time to complete it. Meek uses the example of a job application. If it takes an hour to two to complete it, candidates that complete the process are likely more serious about the opportunity. The premise is that those with less interest will move on.

No two schools are alike when it comes to understanding the right mix of quality vs. quantity for student recruitment. Schools may also want to vary the settings depending on the program. For popular programs, you may want to be more selective. For programs that are more difficult to get into, you may want to widen the pool in order to attract as many qualified students as possible.

Always Be Testing

Meek advises that admissions teams should test their theories and “Let the data prove you right.” If it does, you can build on that knowledge and apply it to your admissions tactics. If it doesn’t, you may find out about a critical change in your market — and in that case, the sooner you can react, the greater your advantage.

Make it a routine to evaluate what data is collected and how. Quarterly reviews can generate insights that you can implement into the next recruitment cycle. Also, be sure to engage your admissions team and end users such as your marketing team to ensure that data is getting to people outside your department who would also find it useful.

Marketing and admissions should work together to explore new theories on what may be drivers for your prospective students. Our world is changing quickly — and prospective student interests, fears, constraints and goals may shift within a season’s time. As you work to understand how prospects are engaging with you, keep your data entry points updated. Allow your forms to become “living documents” that may be revised to improve effectiveness on a yearly or quarterly basis.

A Worthwhile Effort

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then a few minutes of consideration of how data is captured can save you hours of sifting through incongruous data later. Benefits of having usable data include being able to empower staff to use their time more efficiently, allocate marketing funds for effectively, respond more quickly to inquiries, and set the foundation for predictive analytics. The data is there — and a few small tweaks can begin removing the barriers to its use.