Student Search Strategies for Graduate Recruitment

Christine Kramer Apr 19, 2022 Christine Kramer SVP, Marketing Persona The Analytical and Discerning Detective

Student Search is a marketing effort traditionally associated with undergraduate recruitment, but with major demographic changes upon us, we’re focusing our attention on non-traditional audiences. I propose we consider shifting our strategies too—specifically Student Search for graduate recruitment.

Graduate Student Search must account for the realities of our landscape: the cycle is long, the path is indirect, lead sources must be diversified because standardized test lists aren’t dependable sources, and the channels for engagement are primarily digital. And it should build on the strategies that we’ve already mastered, like digital marketing and creative lead generation. It should also be a comprehensive effort, not unlike the undergraduate campaigns this audience will have already become accustomed to. So with the spotlight shining on us now, we might take a page from the undergraduate Student Search playbook and build a comprehensive Student Search for graduate students.

Let’s build on what we’ve done well and consider new strategies for an ecosystem approach:

Student Search for a graduate audience: Strategies to keep

  • Diversified lead sources: What graduate recruitment offices have done well for a long time is the investment—both time and money spent—on diversified lead sources. Graduate offices already use test and organization lists, third-party sites (like’s Graduate Colleges & Universities), and holistic ecosystem digital strategies from awareness and creative lead generation to registration communications. Which leads to the next strategy to keep…
  • Digital investment: Paid digital strategies provide precise targeting on platforms where audiences are engaged. From awareness to enrollment and re-engagement of micro-credentialing students, digital strategies are prime for graduate student recruitment. Continue leveraging LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and lean on your favorite Digital team to make recommendations on emerging platforms.
  • Web pages that work: Digital-first thinking starts with your website. Continue to invest in rich programmatic page content and smart UX that removes friction for your site visitors. Maximize your home page with website personalization to greet prospective grad students and make them feel like a primary audience (whether they are or not).

Student Search for a graduate audience: Strategies to adopt

  • Market research: The Carnegie Student Search model advocates for market research, so in addition to your enrollment data, you’re gathering critical intel about your institution or school’s perception or program viability in a market. Research can inform your market, platform, and communication strategy. The better data you have at the outset, the stronger strategy you will deploy.
    • Application example: One of your programs has had declining enrollment for three semesters in a row, and without a clear reason why. You engage in a Program Viability Study to help diagnose the problem. The study supplies information on supply and demand, digital trends, and direct insights from graduate degree–seeking students. Through the study, you learn that demand is steady, so that’s not the issue. You also learn that students are doing program research at an increased rate on YouTube, and you don’t have a program channel set up—yet. Finally, through direct insight from graduate students, you learn there’s a more widely accepted and searched-for title of your program. Now you have a way forward to improve your program position in the market.
  • Surveying and segmentation: We need to know more about our prospective students to develop communications that resonate, so let’s go right to the source. A Prospective Student Needs Survey can yield actionable data points on communication habits, reasons for attendance, financial need, desired program timing or length, travel flexibility, and any number of specific concerns—it’s custom, so you decide the inputs. Additionally, those data points can be segmented by gender, income, stage in the pipeline, or other influential factors. This is a custom and dynamic research tool that will inform your recruitment and messaging strategy.
    • Application example: One of your 2022 growth strategies is to increase the number of adult learners in a particular program, which has typically attracted students directly from undergraduate programs. You put a PSNS survey out in the field to learn more about this audience and their needs. In your responses, you learn that adult learners are influenced more by family members and rely more heavily on employer resources than your typical enrollee who is a self-starter and searches only online. With this information, you immediately have two points for optimization: feeder businesses and family awareness. You might re-engage your community business relationships and deliver program kits and/or buy onsite advertising. To increase awareness with your audience and their families, you might invest in OTT and streaming media or support your on-site strategy with Mobile Footprints. You now have a targeted strategy because you invested in understanding your audience.
  • CRM integration: If you’re not taking advantage of your enrollment CRM for your graduate program management, you should be. Call your institution’s CRM admin today to learn how you can stand up a graduate instance in your institution’s CRM. A Student Search execution from your CRM will give you real-time reporting, the ability to automate and optimize email campaigns, and integration with email, digital, print, and web efforts. If you’re working in Slate and with Carnegie’s Slate Optimization team, you also have a team of Slate experts to help you build and run your Student Search. This is an incredibly important step to ensure you’re ready for the increased demands on your recruiting efforts. Automation and transparency in reporting are going to revolutionize your multicycle recruitment efforts, not to mention your day-to-day operations.
    • Application example: You’ve spent time and money recruiting a student who then determines now is not a good time to tackle a graduate degree. Disappointing? Yes. End of the road—absolutely not. In the past, you’d likely set a reminder to reach out to that individual in some near-ish term; maybe you even had a report to identify these individuals. But either way, it required you to remember and take action to get a student back on track to enrollment. With Slate, you can simply subscribe them to a deferment campaign that triggers a series of emails at your predetermined timing and frequency. Even better, you can deploy dynamic campaigns that trigger emails based on an individual’s actions or inactions (an open or a click, no open, etc.) so you’re delivering the exact information they need—and when they need it—to continue their journey. No one is slipping through the cracks here!

The demographic cliff is here, so if your campus isn’t already talking about a focus on graduate enrollment, be the first to start the conversation. If you’re already planning, I hope this blog gives you a couple more ideas to bring to the table.

One last mention: After you call your CRM admin, call your undergraduate colleagues as well. You can give them tips on recruiting in a long-cycle, nonlinear, digital-dependent, test-absent world (which is now their world too), and they can provide you with their top Student Search tips. Your landscapes have never been more similar than they are today, and as a graduate program marketer, you have never been in a better position to ask for the resources you need.

If you’re looking for a Student Search partner for your graduate audience, Carnegie is ready to provide a model that works for all students and all institution types. Reach out today to build your custom and comprehensive Student Search.

Never miss an update.