Several years ago “stealth applicant” became the buzzword in undergraduate enrollment offices. As they struggled to deal with the dramatic rise in prospects that applied without having contacted the school before, admission professionals began searching for ways to communicate with these elusive students. Since we work across all areas of campus, we were able to see that while undergraduate offices were plagued by this phenomenon, graduate offices were experiencing it on a much lighter scale.
Enter 2013. These stealth undergraduate students are growing up, and as they do they are bringing the same behavior to graduate offices. In executing online marketing campaigns for our graduate program clients, we are beginning to see trends indicating a possible decrease in inquiry form completions and other direct response metrics. To combat this shift, many of the accommodations put in place to entice undergraduate students to complete forms are now being implemented by graduate schools as well. This has us wondering, have stealth applicants aged and made their way to graduate school? If so, will we need to shift how we measure those marketing results?
Using metrics other than inquiries to examine the success of online marketing campaigns would mean a shift from purely lead-generation-based campaigns. While the lead will always be the optimal end goal, an overall increase in visitor engagement is quickly becoming necessary. Since our campaigns are continually optimized for performance, it is necessary to identify what that performance success consists of. We are seeing tremendous increases in the engagement levels on our clients’ websites. Prospects are spending more time on the sites researching programs in depth. It seems as though the Internet provides so much information at our fingertips that we now have graduate students who feel they can discover all they need to know without reaching out, making it more important than ever that we no longer depend solely on the number of leads generated.
We must become smarter about what to measure, how to define success, and using data to guide strategy. Working with our clients to analyze data and ask questions about some of the changes we are seeing, we will continue to monitor this behavior and share our findings, in aggregate, with graduate schools across the country. If you represent a graduate program, we would love to hear from you and learn about what you are seeing within your offices.