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Stealth applicants are a lost opportunity

Student recruitment challenges: Part 1

We hear many colleges and universities commenting on the number of stealth applicants they’re seeing each year, and how that number is growing. Some colleges and universities note 25% to 30%, or even more, of applicants can be designated “stealth.”

These potential students haven’t received recruitment publications or emails. They haven’t talked to anyone in admissions or taken a tour. Yet they have decided to apply. On one hand, this is good. A bigger applicant pool. But this behavior poses a few challenges to those in charge of student recruitment.

  • How many more potential students are looking anonymously but not applying?
  • How can we engage these anonymous students before they decide to apply? Or consider another institution instead?

Let’s take a look.

The cost of lost opportunities

Assuming 20% of interested students actually apply, that’s only 1 out of 5. What about those other 4 out of the 5 stealth applicants (prospects!) you don’t know about? What could you have provided to give them more reasons to look further? To decide if your school was a good fit? To answer any questions they may have that aren’t answered on the website?

The standard student recruitment process is lengthy, expensive and requires countless contacts from email to direct mail to personal visits. High school students are bombarded with information, event invitations, mail, messages and visuals from a huge number of schools. Each institution is trying to stand out from the rest while reaching a certain student profile.

It’s not surprising some students are resisting contact and trying to remain anonymous.

Today’s teens are tech-savvy, independent and want to figure it out for themselves. They don’t want to be “sold.” They don’t want to read. They want to create their own experience in channels they’re comfortable with … primarily online and in-hand on their smartphones.

The lost opportunity is … a group of interested students you can’t connect with because you don’t know who they are.

Traditional student recruitment models don’t work for everyone

Stealth applicants aren’t a new issue. Presentations have been made and studies presented that identify ways to connect with these stealth applicants. Most recommend additional emails, targeted direct mail, more events and invitations, additional searches, more focused messages.

Yet we question … will doing more of the same get a different result?

In the long run, we think not. Behaviors have changed, especially in the younger generations. And many higher education institutions are still working the old model, without fully incorporating current communication styles and channels. Those stealth applicants represent just a portion of your potential applicant pool.

Here’s today’s student …

“… consumers no longer tolerate irritating outbound marketing efforts designed to interrupt their daily lives. Instead, they know what they want to purchase, and strongly object to businesses that want to force-feed them messages. With millions of Internet pages at their fingertips, consumers actively research their own product information online. … By filtering the excessive marketing clutter produced by outbound techniques, the Internet has changed consumers’ buying behaviors in ways we never thought possible.” — Brian Halligan, CEO and Co-founder, HubSpot

Prospective students are consumers too. In fact, they’re even more choosy and technology-focused than the average consumer. So the Internet is even more important to them.

Enter inbound marketing for student recruitment

Unlike traditional outbound recruitment methods—creating and sending engaging publications and emails, visiting high schools and attending college fairs—inbound marketing is designed to reach and engage the students who are conducting their own search online.

  • Think help, not recruit.
  • Think online keyword searches, not just more website pages.
  • Think about communicating on a different level, with video and social media.
  • Think about offering what they’re looking for, rather than what you want to tell them.

A stealth applicant is doing research. They are getting information from various channels—friends and family, social media, websites, blogs, reviews, chat rooms, etc.—to evaluate and choose which schools fit their preconceived criteria.

When they’re researching, they’re looking at multiple (on average, more than ten) sources of information and evaluating many different schools.

  • Where does your institution fit?
  • How is it being presented?
  • Do you have messages and ideas that resonate with the right potential students?
  • Or do you end up blending in because you use the same ideas and key messages that others in your category use?

Your website is the keystone in student recruitment … it must reflect and emphasize the elements and ideas that make your institution unique while it delivers what potential students are searching for.

They want help deciding. They’re not looking for more of the same.

Inbound marketing and content marketing are based on being found online for what you have to offer, and then providing valuable content that isn’t selling, it’s helping. It’s about helping them choose. Not selling them on your institution. It’s about helping them see the possibilities, understand what is unique, and be engaged enough to want to visit, talk to an admission counselor or ask for a viewbook.

Read more about reaching stealth applicants with an inbound marketing strategy in Student Recruitment Challenges: Part 2

An overview of the inbound marketing methodology is shown in the graphic below.

inbound marketing methodology

For more insight on the principles of inbound marketing:

Interested in talking more about your student recruitment program, and turning your website into the keystone for all recruitment? So many institutions are challenged with integrating key messages and content from their recruitment suites into the website. We can work with you on content marketing and inbound marketing programs that will repurpose your publications and capture those stealth applicants. Drop me an email! Or call toll-free 866.363.4433.

An audit of your current recruitment process, and how your online brand integrates, will give you what you need to know to move forward … without any long term commitment.

About the author

Jennifer Larsen Morrow

Jennifer's four decades of work in the industry, starting as a designer and adding marketing, copywriting and digital marketing, has generated response for clients since 1978.

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