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5 reasons not to neglect current high school juniors during yield season

Insight from our enrollment analytics team

April 26, 2024, By Michael Koppenheffer, Vice President, Enroll360 Marketing and Analytics

In a typical spring, enrollment management teams have a laser-sharp focus on engaging admitted students. That has been even more pronounced in “unprecedented” years, such as the one we’re in right now, thanks to the botched FAFSA rollout and subsequent delays in financial aid awards and communications.

During the first year of the pandemic, schools had a similar intensity directed toward their high school senior admits, as they tried to bring all their attention and creativity to bear in turning their admit pools into next year’s entering class. We’re seeing the same kind of intensity in this year’s FAFSA-confounded season, but there’s an important difference that enrollment teams should bear in mind.

In the pandemic’s first months, many high school juniors’ lives were sufficiently disrupted to distract them from the college search, and there was relatively little risk in putting disproportionate focus on seniors. But this year, high school juniors are engaging in college-search activities and becoming available in record numbers—so enrollment leaders are taking a much bigger risk by ignoring the Entering Class of 2025.

Here are five reasons not to neglect high school juniors during this yield season.

1. Focusing on juniors will maximize your future conversion rates.

From our wealth of data on student journeys, we know that students who engage with colleges in their junior year have a greater likelihood of progressing down the enrollment funnel—applying and depositing—than those who don’t engage till their senior year.

Our analytics team delivered new analyses just this week that support this point. In a global dataset spanning every Enroll360 partner institution, we found that, on average, inquiries generated through our Cultivate campaigns in their junior year were three times more likely to apply compared to prospects who entered our Apply campaigns in their senior year. This effect was visible for the 2023 Entering Class, but is holding true this year as well.

  • 3x more likely to apply

    On average, inquiries generated through our Cultivate campaigns in their junior year were three times more likely to apply compared to prospects who entered our Apply campaigns in their senior year.

In addition, for Entering Class 2023, applicants who inquired in their junior year were 28% more likely to deposit compared to applicants who entered our campaigns as senior-year prospects; so far in the 2024 Entering Class, applicants who inquired in their junior year are 26% more likely to deposit than senior prospects.

2. Focusing on juniors can pull your applications and deposits earlier.

In our global dataset, these junior-year Cultivate inquiries also applied earlier, on average, than senior-year prospects for the Entering Class of 2024. And while it’s too early to say for sure (since yield season is still ongoing at the time of this blog), junior-year Cultivate inquiries who have been admitted seem to be depositing earlier as well.

Although the school year is coming to a close in many areas of the country, it’s not too late to take advantage of the “late juniors” opportunity. Last year, we saw that students who were added to our Cultivate campaigns and inquired in the summer between their junior and senior year were 3.45 times more likely to apply the following year, compared to prospects who were added to our Apply campaigns as true seniors.

That alone is a reason to segment at least some of your focus, energy, and budget to today’s high school juniors. But in a recent internal strategy discussion, we thought of at least three additional reasons to save focus for juniors this spring.

3. Junior students have asked for it.

In our most recent Communication Preferences Survey of high school students, 75% of students say that they began researching colleges by spring of their junior year. While that is somewhat fewer students than we have seen in previous years, it’s still a huge number of students who are seeking information and open to input from colleges and universities.

In that same survey, “emails from colleges” and other outbound communication ranked near the top for desirable college-search resources. 75% of students said they preferred to get information from colleges by email, and slightly more said they wanted emails from colleges once they’ve created a short list.

4. You can provide helpful guidance.

Many students going into the summer before their senior year are transitioning from the exploratory phase of college search to the consideration phase, where they are looking more deeply at a shorter list of potential institutions and getting ready to apply. Your communication campaigns should include helpful public-service-announcement-style guidance and resources for students making that transition; that’s been a best practice for many years. If your campaign is already designed that way, make sure that you’re reaching all the juniors you can with your content.

5. Many new students have become available.

If you’ve been diligently marketing to high school sophomores and juniors already, you might think that you’ve already picked up nearly all eligible students for your marketing campaigns. However, our audience strategy experts have been finding that, for most partners we work with, there is a significant population of students who first become available in the spring of their junior year.

In fact, our demographic analytics team reports that juniors constitute more than half of the new student names that have become available since January, across all the major sources of student information. We recently saw a surge in juniors registering for Appily, and Encoura data is showing a significant jump in availability as well across this calendar year. (For College Board, there appears to be a more modest increase in juniors, but a huge jump in juniors for whom SAT test score information has become available.)

This junior surge represents a change from how students have become available in the past, but as list sources become more dynamic and diverse, it’s likely to become more common, not less. In particular, as College Board continues to roll out its Connections program, colleges will find that many students who take school-day standardized tests will now only be findable through College Board’s Student Search Service once they have taken another qualifying action in their junior year.

Consider this a public service announcement from our strategy team, which has the good fortune of being able to look at the enrollment challenges of today’s institutions across multiple class years: In today’s fast-moving enrollment landscape, there’s no good time to ignore large populations of students, but for this spring and summer especially, don’t forget about your high school juniors.

Michael Koppenheffer

Michael Koppenheffer

Vice President, Enroll360 Marketing and Analytics

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