Note: This article was originally published May 2017. Due to recent demand, we are re-issuing this piece. 

Most admissions leaders see search (list buying) and direct mail as basic block and tackle but the market is no longer responding as it used to. The time is ripe for a new approach. Online conversion rate optimization (CRO) and other tactics that are geared toward the lower end of the marketing funnel have been the most fruitful for Collegis Education and its partners — and we’re not alone.

In “Colleges’ Endless Pursuit of Students,” an April 2017 article in The Atlantic, college enrollment tactics are summarized as being highly entrenched in search/list buying, a method that focuses on the top of the marketing funnel, the awareness stage. Simultaneously, reports The Atlantic, yield rates have been declining at all but a few schools over the last several years.

Collegis has seen this play out among the colleges in our network. And our employees with high-school-aged kids have firsthand experience with the deluge of direct mail and email marketing from colleges. (see image)

But a portion of college direct mail received by one student within a school year.
This collection weighed in at 17 lbs.

I have personally observed, in my visits to colleges around the nation, a geographic pocket of six colleges that were all using the same college search vendor. Prospective students in the surrounding area were receiving emails from all six schools on the same day — which were all sent by the same vendor. The emails were identical, save names and contact information.

It’s no wonder prospective students become tone deaf.

On top of this, what evidence is there that the vendor, rather than the school, should take credit for a school’s final enrollment list?

It’s time to lay down your lists and update your toolkit.

Solution: Flip Your Funnel

In agreement with The Atlantic’s article, Collegis Education also finds that looking past the top of the marketing funnel and focusing instead on the middle to lower segments, consideration and yield, is where there is opportunity to improve enrollment numbers. What’s more, this method is cost-efficient and allows colleges to retain control of their data. Additionally, when expenses are tallied, schools are likely to find more visibility into which marketing tactics did and did not have impact.

Lower-funnel tactics like search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search work because they are geared toward students who are in the act of searching, rather than passively sifting through mail. Rather than get lost in the sea of sameness that pervades direct mail and email marketing, when your school appears in a prospect’s Google search results, it’s as if you’ve already begun an individualized, prospect-driven conversation.

A good lower funnel strategy incorporates end-to-end tactics to provide prospective students with a seamless, rewarding experience as they move from consideration to application to enrollment. The rewarding part to the prospective student is that:

1. Information sought is easy to find.
2. The right information is received at the right time. (A lot of consumers are sent information at the wrong time – before they’re ready for it. Well executed lower-funnel tactics help ensure that information is received neither too early nor late.)
3. Next steps required of the prospect are clearly identified and easily carried out.
4. The prospect’s questions and concerns are well tended by the school. Thanks to efficiencies gained, a good system of lower-funnel tactics often helps schools respond in a more timely and personal manner.


By prioritizing existing student interest over lists of random names purchased from testing organizations you will maximize your reach and create higher-quality interactions with prospective students. Your school will stand out as being prospect friendly — a rare find among today’s institutions.