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Our top five lessons on lead generation for graduate and adult programs in 2024

Insights and resources from a year of lead generation innovation

January 8, 2024, By Emily Upton, Vice President, Program Marketing for ALR and General Manager, Agency Services

As I look back on 2023, I’m struck by just how much we learned about the challenges that graduate and adult enrollment leaders face when it comes to lead generation. It’s been a year of innovation and discovery for us at EAB, and I’m eager to share some of our top takeaways with you.

Below are five key insights from our lead generation work in 2023—highlighting the resources we created to help support you and your team in the new year.


1. Adult students often apply to programs outside their declared program of interest.

In our recent research of more than 4,400 students across 18 Adult Learner Recruitment partners, we found that adult and graduate students are more likely to apply to programs outside of their previously selected program of interest than we expected. About a quarter of the graduate applicants in our research applied to a program different from the one they initially selected, and 58% of adult degree completer students submitted applications for programs outside their program of interest.


58% of adult degree completer students applied outside their indicated program of interest.

This data underscores the importance of not limiting prospective student outreach to only their selected program of interest. You might otherwise overlook the opportunity to engage a substantial portion of your target audience effectively. So how should you adjust given these findings?

2. Out-of-industry strategies like gamification can engage leads effectively.

Though you face unique challenges, other industries’ successful strategies are often applicable to higher ed. For instance, gamification is an out-of-industry tactic that my team adopted by creating a unique landing page and career quiz experience for students using Appily Advance. Gamification is the concept of using elements from games, like quiz questions, point-earning, or competition, to encourage participation in a task. In an enrollment context, it can be used to engage prospective students while getting around their aversion to traditional marketing, as well as to collect information on the quiz-takers that helps us personalize their experience. And applying gamification to lead generation has produced promising results: For instance, 82% of the students who complete the initial Appily Advance for Healthcare career quiz go on to fill out our lead collection form.

3. While many marketers are focused on the importance of lead generation, it is equally important to develop an effective lead nurturing strategy.

Nurturing leads can be a challenging task. First, it’s sometimes unclear how to best nurture adult and graduate students to application. No two students are alike, but they all need support as they return to school, often after some time away from the classroom. Some may not even believe they can succeed in school, given other competing interests (like their family and their full-time job).

A strong lead nurturing strategy addresses prospective students’ key motivators and emotional drivers, connecting with them in relevant ways that encourage further exploration and action. Unfortunately, many messages focus more on the school or program than the student, which can cause lower than anticipated conversion rates.

4. Diversifying your lead sources can help you find domestic students who aren’t test-takers.

It’s no secret that domestic graduate students can be challenging to find and recruit. Much of that may have to do with the 46% overall decrease in domestic GRE and GMAT test-takers since 2017. Though test-taker lists have consistently been a reliable lead source, they may not provide marketers the quantity of names they have in the past.

-46% overall decrease in domestic GRE and GMAT test-takers since 2017.


To capture domestic students where they are, you need to develop a diversified lead generation strategy. Each lead gen source has its own benefits and downsides. Finding a balance of sources that works for your institution can help provide the quantity, quality, and efficiency of leads you need to build your class within your budget.

5. Gen Z has research habits distinct from millennials.

By 2031, about 60% of adult learners will be Gen Z. While you may be used to marketing to millennials, some of Gen Z is already out of undergrad and looking for adult and graduate education opportunities. It’s important for marketers to understand this new audience of hyper-online, pragmatic students and learn how to best message to them. Since Gen Z are digital natives, they expect much more from digital communication than millennials. Members of Gen Z want practical facts about your program’s cost and career outcomes to be easy to find on your .edu site, but they want those facts to be balanced with social proof, like alumni success stories. They also expect a personalized and engaging brand experience from any organization they interact with, even the institutions they research.

Learning what messaging most resonates with Gen Z is one of the many things you should be thinking about to meet your enrollment goals in 2024 and beyond.

Emily Upton

Vice President, Program Marketing for ALR and General Manager, Agency Services

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