April 21, 2023

The Changing Landscape of College Admissions: How New Behaviors Are Making it Harder to Predict Enrollment


Jose Flores

The Hechinger Report highlights the challenges colleges and universities face in the admissions process due to shifting behaviors. Factors such as the decline in SAT/ACT testing, students applying to more schools, and multiple deposits make predicting enrollment numbers difficult. To adapt, institutions must leverage new recruitment strategies, improve communication, and focus on measuring student engagement.

The discourse from The Hechinger Report appraises the shifting behaviors that have rendered the college admissions process an arduous task for colleges and universities. The customary approach of colleges and universities, which depends on years of experience and past data to predict how many students to accept and enroll, is now faltering.


Several factors contribute to this unpredictability in the college admissions process. Firstly, the SAT and ACT tests, which were once an essential source of recruiting for colleges and universities, are now losing their appeal. A new generation of students is choosing not to share their personal information, and fewer students are taking these tests due to the test-optional policies of many colleges and universities. It's like asking someone to share their deepest, darkest secrets without even offering a slice of cake!


Colleges and universities must find new ways to attract students and generate leads. One option is to focus on digital marketing and outreach. Colleges can build  relationships and generate leads through referrals by partnering with community organizations, high schools, and other groups. Additionally, admissions offices can focus on building their databases of potential students through lead generation forms on their website and other digital channels. By expanding their reach and leveraging new technologies, colleges and universities can continue to attract students and generate leads even in the absence of traditional recruiting methods. It's like trying to catch a unicorn by luring it with a digital carrot.


Secondly, students are now applying to more schools than ever before. Thanks to the Common Application, students can apply to multiple colleges with just one application, and the number of applications sent out by the average student is up from five to six. This means that colleges and universities are receiving 20% more applications, without knowing if the students behind them are serious about enrolling. It's like a game of "Guess Who" but with hundreds of faces and no clues.


In the eyes of the students, after all the hard work that goes into submitting an application, it can be discouraging for them to not receive any follow-up communication from the institution. Therefore, it is essential for admissions departments to prequalify prospective student interest after they apply. Pre-qualification allows admissions departments to identify which students are most likely to enroll in the institution. By reaching out to students who show the most interest, admissions can provide them with the information and support they need to make an informed decision about attending. It's like trying to decipher a secret code, except it's in plain English.


Thirdly, students are putting down deposits at more than one school, making it impossible to know which one they will ultimately choose. Finally, a recent policy change means that admissions offices can now poach students who have already put down deposits at other schools, which further complicates the admissions process. It's like trying to juggle with slippery eels.


Universities need to continue engaging with parents and students. Unfortunately, families can face challenges when trying to contact admissions, billing, and financial aid departments. The college had three online portals, which only made things more confusing. I felt lost and disconnected from the institution, with no clear channels for communication or support. It's like a labyrinth with no exit.


It is clear that colleges and universities need to adapt their approach to admissions to remain competitive and ensure their long-term sustainability. The unpredictability of college admissions numbers is a complex issue with many contributing factors. While colleges and universities can make changes to their admissions processes, the only solution to truly understanding and predicting enrollment numbers is measuring engagement. By tracking student engagement with the college or university, admissions offices can gain a better understanding of their level of interest and likelihood of enrolling. Tools like VisitDays can help colleges and universities measure engagement