Post-Pandemic Recruitment Planning

Month: April 2021

Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|April 29, 2021

There is no denying the challenges many institutions have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher education experienced an accelerated growth of already-ongoing trends, such as test-optional admissions, value-forward marketing, and outcomes-driven decisions by consumers. Looking past the Fall 2021 enrollment cycle, colleges and universities have an unparalleled opportunity to expand on certain policies and practices implemented due to the pandemic. In fact, we firmly believe that with the right planning, institutions can not only survive—but thrive—long beyond the pandemic.

Here are a few key things enrollment managers like yourself should keep in mind when planning for the long term:

1. Continually innovate ways to identify new leads

In the last year, the shift in test requirements for admission and test-source list availability left many schools scrambling to supplement their normal name purchasing strategy. It will be imperative to expand and pioneer ways in which you build your enrollment funnel with sources outside of the typical name buy.

To get started, meet students where they are—online. Digital media lead-gen campaigns and influencer marketing are both great ways to capture new leads.

2. Promote contemporary career-focused programs

Capitalize on what’s hot. Pandemic-driven lockdown inspired many to explore ways in which they could help not only our first responders, but also help our world overcome the challenge we were collectively facing. This movement really resonated with Gen Z students, who have been described as “highly focused on having a positive impact on the world, which may be even more important than their jobs,” to shift their major and explore new careers in areas such as health care, nursing, public health, even politics. Many are even returning to school for a second degree in those disciplines.

To tap into this movement, try creating a multi-media and dynamic recruitment plan for trending careers. Utilize student outcomes stories and highlight job placements to connect with prospective students through storytelling. Make it clear how the degree programs you’re highlighting provided these individuals the credentials and experience to make an impact in their area of focus.

3. Keep your delivery formats nimble

After a year of hybrid or online learning, students expect institutions to implement virtual delivery formats seamlessly. At the same time, many students are itching to be in person on the campuses they love. When planning for your new normal, make sure you know your specific audiences and have the data to understand which learning methods they desire so you can meet their needs.

4. Don’t completely shift back to “what we used to do”

When the world shut down, so did all traditional recruitment tactics such as travel, campus events, etc. (all of which can carry a pretty hefty price tag). To compensate and carry our institutions over the Fall 2021 recruitment finish line, most enrollment managers reallocated their budgets and invested in non-traditional tactics such as ramped up digital media efforts, unconventional mailing touchpoints, and list buys from newly identified sources.

Now, as the world starts to shift back to a bit of normalcy and traditional recruitment activities resume, be sure to analyze the effectiveness of those non-traditional survival tactics and think twice before jettisoning them for the sake of regaining your travel budget. Leverage performance analytics and showcase the ROI they provided during a time of uncertainty and advocate for additional budget, if needed. In your effort to thrive, consider maintaining a mixed approach of traditional recruitment efforts and your most successful “survival tactics.”

Let's Plan Together

As your enrollment strategy and marketing partners, all of us at Spark451 are here to help you determine specific tactics that will keep your enrollment funnel full of qualified students for years to come.

Reach out so we can discuss specific ways your institution can prepare for the post-COVID recruitment era.

It’s the Final (Enrollment) Countdown

Month: April 2021

Bill SliwaBy Bill Sliwa|April 1, 2021

I recently had the great honor of co-presenting at the virtual Indiana ACAC Conference and offering my and Spark451’s collective insights on the student and parent trends we’ve been seeing over the prior eight weeks. A core part of the healthy discussion centered on how critical it is to take action now to meet your institution’s fall enrollment goals. A number of attendees reached out afterward and encouraged me to share some of these tactics with more of you in the field, which is what brings us all together here.

First, a little context: Spark451’s original research continues to show that many current high school seniors are still considering which colleges to apply to and attend. Also, many may be scrambling to adjust their plans once decisions and aid are distributed. These are no longer “late applicants,” rather, they are this year’s norm. Treat them as you would Early Decision applications—develop a fast track system to evaluate them, and if they qualify, get them admitted. Upon application submission, reach out immediately to make sure the family has filed for financial aid. You may even consider throwing your preferred financial aid cut off date in the trash and extending or eliminating it altogether!

Now, here are some proven strategies you can implement right away that have the potential to pay dividends over the coming weeks:

1. Don’t give up on your inquiry pool—engage them

We’ve all seen the news: The big-name schools are receiving more application submissions than ever before. But what these applying students and their families might not realize is that those same schools will not be admitting more students, and there will be plenty of rejection, waitlist, and deferral letters hitting homes and inboxes this month. If you are among the professionals at the some 2,500 smaller, regional schools throughout the country, you might be asking yourself, “What does that mean for me?” A lot of those non-engaged names on your list may soon be looking for an attractive financial aid package at a school close to home. Now’s the time to be sending out engagement communications and action-prompting tools for high school seniors. As examples, Spark451 utilizes tactics like Prospective Student Surveys, Express Applications, and web retargeting ads to re-engage those students and drive in late-cycle applications.

2. Check in with key stakeholders at your feeder schools

School counselors are just as stressed out as you are, or perhaps even more. They are the direct link to the families of your prospective students and can be your greatest ally right now, especially if students are not getting into the schools to which they applied. You’ve built strong relationships with these colleagues over years, so don’t let COVID get in the way of checking in on your friends.

3. Release your summer or fall opening plans as soon as possible

Students are eager for the traditional college experience, on campus and in the classroom. Give them hope by releasing your fall plans as soon as you can. Reassure students, and their families, that their experience at your school will have some sense of normalcy. The best way to do this would be to utilize video assets to show them what your on-campus experience was like before COVID. Also, plan homecoming events now, as alumni will wish to get back on campus as well. Your reopening will be a major event, and we can assist you with executing this.

4. Find a way to get admitted students to your campus safely

COVID has not completely diminished, so it is important that your admitted students and their families know they will be able to visit campus safely. Anti-melt efforts for admitted students are important during this non-traditional time. Get students excited by explaining how your campus will look in the fall, and get their families excited by showing them that their child will enjoy a safe campus experience.

Spark451 is ready and well equipped to assist you in reviewing your current strategies, developing new initiatives and seeing this through to the finish line. Feel free to reach out so we can discuss specific approaches for your institution.

Author's Note

As I put together this blog, I couldn’t help but to reflect more on the most trying year of our careers…

As we enter the traditional ACAC season, it appears that all of the regional conferences will be virtual again, and this concerns me when I think about the missed professional development opportunities for young staff members (some of whom have not yet even had a traditional fall travel experience!). In order to help replace these opportunities with in-house solutions, I suggest having your staff members attend webinars—we have a whole library available here on our blog at

As you review year-over-year reports, I suggest looking at day-over-day reports from this time last year. You may be pleasantly surprised. Evaluate what you did last spring, and reflect on what went right and what did not.

Consider the impact of a second straight spring without college fairs and what you can do to mediate that. Do you have a solid digital marketing plan in place for lead generation and nurturing campaigns? Are you using all of the right platforms? The strategy and digital media teams at Spark451 are happy to audit your activities and provide guidance.

Lastly, check in on your staff—it has been a challenge for them, as well. They may have children at home or in college, a spouse who has lost a job, or family and friends who contracted COVID. Take care of your people, and they will take care of their jobs. The time-honored staff retreats and in-office birthday celebrations are not the same in a virtual format, so make sure to connect on a personal level. Taking care of your staff, and yourself, is critical as the past year has taken its toll on all of us.

I hope you all continue to stay safe as clearer skies are on the horizon. Looking forward to seeing you all again soon.