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To Maximize Admissions Yield, Engage Students

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The College search process certainly has changed over the years. We adults recall visiting with our guidance counselor at the end of our junior year to chat a bit about our goals and where we sought to be after high school. The counselor would then haul out a few guidebooks, pinpoint maybe eight to ten schools he or she thought we should look into, and send us on our way. From there, we may have ultimately applied for admission to three or four of these schools, gotten admitted, then made a fairly simple decision of which college to attend.

Today, with the Internet and other technologies driving the process, most college-bound high school students are foregoing a lengthy discussion with the college counseling office and heading directly online to research their opportunities for higher education. With sites such as Zinch, CollegeView and Naviance leading the way, students may create a profile of who they are and what they are looking for, and find dozens of options with a press of a button. And there would be no need to whittle down these choices. Students can apply for admission to all their top schools through one Common Application -- done, instantly, online in several keystrokes.

The new environment, of course, has simplified matters for the college bound, but it has made the task of we admission professionals a bit more challenging. With savvy students applying to dozens of colleges, our coffers are expanding with hundreds -- even thousands -- more applications. With so many applicants, how do we determine which ones are really serious about our school?

According to a recent report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), over the past two decades, the number of students submitting three or more college applications increased from 61 to 79 percent. Further, the number of students submitting seven or more applications increased from nine to 29 percent. The more applications an individual student sends in, of course, the less likely he or she will actually enroll at any particular institution. Moreover, a student's choice is further muddled by the lure of wait lists: maybe something better will come along.

Here at Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences, the number of applications for admission we receive annually has more than tripled in just the last decade. Relatedly, our admission yield --the percentage of admitted applicants for admission who actually matriculate -- in the first few years dipped slightly. We knew, henceforth, that we had to go the extra mile to make Syracuse University stand out to students as the choice to make.

We do this now through personal engagement. We post letters, send e-mails, provide electronically accessed newsletters and videos, and make phone calls, certainly. But what really affects students and their decisions are the face-to-face interactions: coming to campus, joining a tour led by a current student, questioning an advisor, hearing directly from a faculty member. When students can experience first hand what their future might hold, they are able to make meaningful decisions about where they may spend their next four years.

Each April, we host admitted students and their families on campus for a series of Spring Receptions. These comprehensive events provide information, present academic options, and showcase facilities. The afternoon ends with a meal and exposition in Syracuse's impressive Carrier Dome. Yield for students attending these events this year has approached 70 percent. Significantly, yield for this year's festive overnight stay in the Dome has reached nearly 90 percent.

So, we have determined that the best way to combat the uncertainty of today's impersonal admission process is to become more personal. Our advice to you: look your prospects in the eye, smile, and say, "We want you!"