Want to increase graduate and online enrollment? Start by strategically growing your prospect pool.


Want to increase graduate and online enrollment? Start by strategically growing your prospect pool.

3 strategies to build a robust and right-fit prospect audience

After four years of helping schools grow their graduate, online, and adult learner enrollments, it has become clear to me that one of the biggest contributors to enrollment growth is having a robust pool of students well-suited to that particular program. This is especially important now as schools experience two different but interrelated audience generation challenges: traditional sources of students—such as test-taker lists—are diminishing, and cost per lead is increasing. Because there are fewer testers, and known audiences like recent graduates are becoming smaller, institutions must often pay more to identify prospects through other channels such as LinkedIn or Google. Enrollment leaders need to ensure they are leaving no stone unturned and identifying students from a range of sources.

Given these challenges, it’s critical to balance saturating known markets and identifying new, productive lead sources while ensuring you are being as efficient with marketing dollars as possible. Here are my top three strategies to ensure you reach a robust prospect audience.

Strategy 1: Diversify Your Sources of Students

The graduate, online, and adult learner markets are volatile, so enrollment leaders certainly cannot focus all of their audience generation efforts on just a couple sources and hope they hit their goals. Our team of audience generation analysts recommends diversifying the sources you use to identify students and piloting new sources of prospective students regularly.

In order to produce both immediate and long-term results, it’s important to mix traditional and innovative sources. For example, pulling from your inquiry pool, deploying paid search campaigns, or utilizing test taker lists may produce direct results for the most upcoming term, reaching out to current students and young alumni will have more mid-term results, and using digital prospecting may create longer term leads that you can continue to nurture.

Illustrated chart shows EAB's multi-part approach to generating your best audience through consumer analytics, test takers, your institutional inquiry pool, young alumni and undergraduates, first-party digital targeting, and other pilot opportunities

Consider Investing in Paid Search

Paid search is an especially important piece of the puzzle when you need leads that will convert to applications in a very short time span. On average, prospects who enter our partners’ marketing campaigns via paid search apply within 32 days from initial engagement.

While paid search can be expensive, you can get in front of prospects who are actively searching for education opportunities in the areas where you want to drive the most enrollment gains. It’s critical that your team monitors and optimizes paid search campaigns daily relative to market trends and to your goals. The cherry-on-top for paid search is ensuring seamless integration into your nurture marketing campaigns. This integration allows you to facilitate the speed to application which makes the higher investment worthwhile.

Strategy 2: Make Data-Based Decisions to Find Your Right-Fit Students

Our audience generation analysts have found success using consumer analytics to identify ideal student audiences—and the best ways to reach them. By analyzing your institution’s historical student data relative to several different data sets (including a national consumer database), you can gain a deep understanding of your right-fit prospects based on over 100 different variables including personality type, hobbies, and lifestyle. Understanding where your students come from and how they make decisions allows you to not only identify the most productive sources of prospects but to also inform how and when your enrollment team reaches out to them.

By using this combination of data and consumer analytics, you can optimize your search parameters to ensure that you maximize reach among high-potential prospects. Rather than wasting time and money on generating a huge audience with poor yield results, using a data-driven audience generation strategy allows you to prioritize the audience and sources where  you can get the greatest return on your investment.

Strategy 3: Identify the Right Moment to Reach out to Each Prospect

Timing truly is everything. We talk to partners about “speed to lead” all the time. And it’s true that getting in front of prospects sooner rather than later will have significant impact on enrollment funnel outcomes.

In our recent survey of 2,000-plus prospective adult learners, we found that about one-third of students explore graduate programs for 18 months before application. As such, aim to deploy multichannel campaigns as soon as records are available from audience sources. And do so on a highly coordinated, year-round schedule that is customized to your start dates.


of students explore graduate programs for 18 months or longer before application

It is important to recognize that while generating a robust audience is the first step in enhancing your recruitment strategy, it is also important to customize your communication with prospects based on their unique intent and behavior. And the way you communicate with a prospect should be informed, in part, by where you first identified that student. To best nurture prospects, your enrollment team must recognize where they came from, ask what motivates and worries them, and respond accordingly.

Expand your audience strategically

Watch our on-demand webinar to learn more strategies for expanding your audience intentionally.

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