Engaging right fit students and parents in college admissions

Using behavioral research to radically improve awareness and admissions

100%
increase in new student inquiries
Challenge

A nationally-ranking private liberal arts college wanted to increase their ability to selectively shape incoming classes by increasing their total applicants following the 2020 pandemic.

Outcome

A deep understanding of student and parent journeys and motivations produced rich, highly-actionable insights for the marketing, admissions, and finance teams.

Impact

The college saw a 100% increase in new student inquires and a 50% increase in new student applications in only two years after our work together.

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Lots of data but little insight

The college's marketing and admission teams had lots of data about prospective students. Industry data from long-standing providers pointed to trends and patterns among prospective students like "high parental involvement" and "high social focus", but the data didn't uncover what these patterns actually meant.

Marketing and admissions lacked the insights necessary to act on this data. When and why are parents highly involved? What is behind students' high social focus?

The marketing leaders reached out to Highland to enrich their understanding through our behavior-based research and insights expertise.

Gaining clarity on "switch moments" in the journey for students and parents

Using behavior-based research methods, the Highland team interviewed students and parents in every stage of the application and enrollment journey from initial inquiry through enrollment. We included students who ultimately enrolled as well as students who did not so we could explore and contrast their journeys.

Throughout the journeys we drilled deeply into each decision they made, uncovering what moved them toward the school or away from the school in each step of their decision. This lens, drawn from the Jobs to be Done methodologies of corporate innovation, allowed us to detail the precise dynamics in their selection process.

Detailed insights enable smart action

We further validated the behavior-based research insights with quantitative analysis, generating detailed insights about:

  • The precise motivations that cause students to be interested in the school
  • Specific detractions and pain points throughout the journey
  • What drives students and parents to place the school on their "short list" consideration set
  • When and why parent and student motivations align and diverge through the journey

Working with the marketing and admissions team, we then turned these insights about student and parent journeys, motivations, and decision moments into a strong set of actionable responses, including:

  • When and how to address the fear of debt and affirm cost conservatism.
  • When and how to provide guidance throughout the decision journey.
  • When and how to address common myths held by students and parents.
  • When and how to highlight distinctive elements of the college that strongly align to student and parent motivations during specific decision moments

A 50% increase in applicants

By taking specific, targeted action to tightly align marketing efforts to the actions built on insights about student and parent journeys and "jobs to be done", the college saw a 100% increase in new student inquires and a 50% increase in new student applications in only two years after our work together.

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