August 2020 has arrived, and as fall semesters begin throughout the country, the stage is set with four undeniable enrollment management facts:

  • The profound effects of COVID-19 will linger in the upcoming year—forcing admission offices to communicate, think, and work differently.
  • Admissions and enrollment officers who have been laser focused on this fall’s class will be rapidly shifting their attention to the Fall ’21 start.
  • The vast majority of institutions are beginning the recruitment cycle with a deficit in Fall ’21 prospects due to the lack of spring recruitment and summer campus visits.
  • You are likely being asked to accomplish more than ever on the tightest budget you’ve ever seen.

With traditional in-person recruitment tactics still largely off the table for the next several months, you’re going to have to rely even more heavily on strategic marketing tactics to build your Fall 2021 class. While the thought might seem daunting at first—we know your overall budget is likely down—it is possible to get the results you need by simply reallocating some funds you might normally set aside for your road warriors’ travel expenses. Here, I’ll break down the true costs of in-person recruitment and demonstrate how you can get as much, or more, bang for your buck with the right strategic enrollment marketing efforts.

Analysis: Dissecting the Real Cost of an Inquiry

Over the years, I have been asked an all-important question by presidents and senior enrollment leaders: How much should we be spending per inquiry? To answer that question, the Spark team took a mathematical approach with a focus on the inquiries traditionally achieved through in-person recruitment. Below are the typical costs associated with three common scenarios, and an average of the three:

Note: Some of the numbers we present, such as cost of personnel, are based on industry standards and confirmed by a few institutions. For the sake of brevity, we have chosen to omit those details here, but we’re happy to discuss how we arrived at any number we present. Just reach out and chat with us.

Scenario 1: Regional High School College Night (Goal of 25 Inquiries)

In this scenario, a regional association in your state is hosting a college night. Over the past few years, your institution has participated by sending a counselor. Your goal is to achieve 25 inquiries. The high school is 100 miles from campus and will not require overnight accommodations.

Cost Analysis

Average fair registration fee: $150
Counselor’s time (9 hours including travel): $299.97
200 miles @ .575: $115
Dinner allowance: $25
Recruitment materials allowance: 25 @ $3: $75
College swag (pens or giveaways): 25 @ $1.50: $37.50
Card and data management: 25 @ $2: $50
Total Cost $752.47
Total Cost per Inquiry $30

Scenario 2: Out of State, Secondary Territory (Goal of 55 Inquiries)

In this scenario, a counselor is planning to travel to Virginia from New York to visit several target high schools during the day, as well as participate in the VACRAO College Tour, Week 7, evening college fairs. The counselor will require travel, lodging, and meal accommodations for the week. The counselor’s goal is to secure 55 inquiries between the 12 high school visits (4 per day) and the 4 evening college fairs.

Cost Analysis

Total fair registration fees (3 events): $500

Counselor’s time:

  • Depart Sunday, October 20 at 10:30 a.m. (12 hours)
  • Return Thursday, October 23 at 4:30 p.m. (9 hours x 4 days)
    • 48 hours @ hourly rate of $33.33
Car travel allowance for 950 miles: $546.25
Tolls estimate: $55
Food (Per diem rate: $55) x 4 $220
Recruitment materials allowance: 55 @ $4: $225
College swag (pens or giveaways): 55 @ $2: $112.50
Recruitment support infrastructure: 55 @ $13.63: $750
Total Cost $4,008.59
Total Cost per Inquiry $72.88

Scenario 3: National College Fair, Remote Distance From Campus (Goal of 60 Inquiries)

In this scenario, a school in the Boston regional area is planning to attend both the Orlando and South Florida National College Fairs in one weekend. The counselor representing the school will require air travel, car rental, lodging, and meals from Friday through Monday. The counselor’s goal is to secure 60 inquiries between the two events.

Cost Analysis

Total fair registration fees: $1,000

Counselor’s time:

  • Depart Friday at 8 a.m.
  • Return Monday at 5 p.m.
    • 4 work days @ 9 hours per day (42 hours)


  • BOS to MCO: $200
  • MCO to MIA: $150
  • MIA to BOS: $200
  • Luggage fees for suitcase and recruitment materials @ $75/flight

Rental Car

  • Rental Car 1: Orlando @ 2 days: $200
  • Rental Car 2: Miami @ 2 days: $200
Gas: $60
Food: (Per diem rate = $55) x 4 $220
Recruitment materials allowance: 60 @ $4: $240
College Swag (pens or giveaway): 60 @ $2: $120
Recruitment support infrastructure: 60 @ $13.63: $800
Total Cost $5,014.86
Total Cost per Inquiry $83.58

Solutions: Transforming Analysis into Action

Now that we’ve established the average you can expect to spend per inquiry, you have a metric you can use in discussions with your president, CFO, or board to establish the budget you’ll need to get back in line or even above last year’s pool size. For example, if you are down roughly 1,000 inquiries, you’ll require a marketing investment of roughly $70,000 to get back on track with where you might have been in a season in which typical in-person recruitment efforts were possible.

Of course, the figure mentioned above is elastic. If your need is much greater than 1,000 inquiries, we should experience efficiencies that bring the average down. At the point of 3,000, we should experience an efficiency of about 10%, which would bring the average down to $63 per inquiry.

Alternatively, if you are seeking a smaller increase of 100 to 200 inquiries, the average is likely to increase dramatically. (Marketing costs are always less efficient on micro populations.)

To be clear, by recommending these marketing investments, we are not suggesting a reduction in staffing to afford it. (Keep in mind that once your prospects are generated, someone needs to nurture them, whether that be in person or virtually.) Rather, we are suggesting that you will likely see a significant decline in your travel and recruitment costs this year, and you would be well-served by reallocating those funds to cover your increased marketing needs.

Weighted Average of the Three Scenarios:
$69.82 per inquiry

We Can Help

As strategic marketers, the experts at Spark451 have a vast set of tools and programs at our disposal to generate real prospects for your school—without your team having to travel at all. From direct marketing to digital media, we are confident we can quickly construct and implement a strategic solutions package that will help you achieve your goals. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with you and prescribe a set of actions that will build your confidence for the Fall 2021 start. Reach out to start discussing your options.