My first year of admissions (*ahem,* many moons ago), we made the class with some elbow grease, events, notecards, and phone calls (gasp!). We worked hard, we did at least the minimum number of contacts per week, and the algorithm just…worked. Inevitably someone would always say, “Our jobs are based on the whims of 17 year old kids.”

Sound familiar?

While true at its core, there are quite a few things within our control to help read into those “whims” and use the data to direct our efforts. We’ve gathered up some of the biggest topics from this fall and winter for you to consider as you develop your yield plan this spring.

Direct Admit Agreements Are the Latest Wave — But Will Students Matriculate?

Direct admit programs, while not new, are better organized on a larger, more accessible scale. In November 2023, nearly 300,000 students received admission decisions via the Common Application’s Direct Admit Program — without even applying first. While some students interviewed said it was a “nice option,” many said it would not change their list of top schools. But it does contribute to the “noise” in the market.

So how do we respond to this new admissions trend? A focus on strong, authentic, admitted student communications is paramount. Make sure you are clear and concise about your outcomes and student experiences. Speaking to students about their interests and goals directly will help them (and you!) understand if your school is a best-fit for them. Add in well-timed student and family surveys for feedback. These kinds of data points, coupled with consumer behavior data points, will create informed outreach strategies for you and your team.

Students Continue to Apply to Many Colleges

While the stories of students applying to 100+ colleges have circulated our networks, we can assure you this is not the new normal. Students and families are concerned about getting in, so they are casting a wider net, but not to the extreme. For example, in our 2023 College Bound Student Survey, 39% of respondents said they applied to 10 or more colleges, up from 37% in 2022. The increased accessibility to applications through common platforms, the incentivization of free applications, and the proliferation of marketing through social media have all played a role in the initial increase and the continued 10+ average.

While many students can be serious applicants, the key to driving yield is to break through the noise of the market with your authentic voice, and by speaking directly to the needs of Gen Z. Have you spoken about your campus climate? Mental, social, and academic support? Does your campus reflect your brand and mission as a whole? Do whatever you can to help students feel more connected to your institution.

(Of course, not every student will choose your school. Take a moment to reflect on the “why,” and collect that data to inform your future efforts.)

Application Submission Issues Have Plagued the Process Once Again

This year, the chatter around application and supporting documentation issues seem to be on the rise. What does that mean for you? Opportunity! Helping students to understand that there is still time to apply allows your campus to be the hero in a stressful year. Can you help by removing barriers? Can you streamline the process by prepopulating application data from your CRM? What do you really need to make the admission decision? Think creatively about how your staff and your campus can support families to make college a reality.

This issue extends to the delayed FAFSA process, as well. Early anecdotes suggest that some families who are reliant on federal and state aid were waiting to even apply to college until the FAFSA was released. Getting into spaces where you can help families complete both applications will give you a bump, and help create trust toward future matriculation.

Delayed Release of the FAFSA and Financial Aid Process

Speaking of FAFSA… The delayed launch has caused several layers of concerns: delayed data management system updates, delayed download and testing of institutional methodology, and — more seriously — delayed family notification, greatly shortening the timeline for families’ considerations.

It will be important for admissions teams to clearly communicate timelines and next steps. You may not be able to initially give families the full financial picture, but what can you give them? Scholarship amounts? Likely eligibility? FAFSA completion assistance? Taking the time to think through a well-crafted plan here will help you be first to market. How you treat families through this delicate time will set the tone for how they perceive your campus treats students.

We here at Spark451 love to dive in and look at the trends, analyze the data, and work towards our partner institutions’ goals. As industry veterans, many of us sat where you sit now. But the days of being at the “whim” of others have passed. We want to help you reach your class goals with some of the tactics here, and more. Reach out today — we’d love to connect!