How to Attract the Right Kind of Applicants to Your Program

Attracting the right applicants isn’t an exact science, but there definitely is an art to it.

The short of it: Approach prospective students on a personal, one-to-one level, and be yourself.

The magic happens when a one-way conversation becomes a dialogue between applicants and programs.
The magic happens when a one-way conversation becomes a dialogue.

That’s it. That’s all you need to know to attract the right applicants to your program.

It’s surprisingly THAT simple, and so is the rationale. They need (and value) your expertise and willingness to offer some guidance. If you provide them with what they need, they will respond in kind.

Why is operating on a personal level the key to attracting the best applicants? 

  • You are an expert at spotting the right student.

    Your experience enables you to easily identify someone likely to have the proper credentials and interests for your program. You can see in them what they might not see in themselves.

  • Going to grad school is a HUGE decision.

    They are in the process of making a life-changing decision based on imperfect (and often conflicting and confusing) information. They don’t want to make a mistake.

  • The clarity you can provide is invaluable.

    Prospects have far too many options –often there are a few hundred programs a student might reasonably consider– which makes focusing on “the right few” very, very difficult. The choices can be overwhelming and your guidance here is both valued and welcomed.

  • They operate in a guidance vacuum that only you can fill.

    Applicants coming straight out of undergrad don’t find their campus’ career guidance centers helpful for graduate school decisions. Their college-grad, working counterparts aren’t any better off. They’re likely disconnected from the academic world and are mostly on their own to navigate the process.

  • Influencer networks are everything.

    The set of programs prospective students consider come from recommendations by people they know – their influence network. This network is usually made up of colleagues, family, friends and just about anyone reasonable with something to say on the subject. You can make an incredible impact as an expert in a field they are interested in pursuing. Applicants greatly appreciate information coming directly from the source and they will heed your advice.

  • Spam messages don’t cut through the clutter, but personal messages do.

    Grad student hopefuls don’t pay attention to spam or intrusive advertising any more than do you. Plus, they have spam guards and ad blockers and are bombarded with somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 messages daily, depending on who you ask. At some point, all the marketing messages and perfectly prepared websites start to look and sound the same. This is when a personal message speaks the loudest.

On the last point, we’d like to reiterate that spam messaging and general advertising (including your website) are very poor substitutes for a human connection.

Advertising can’t:

  1. Spot the right student
  2. Hear what students dream of doing with their lives
  3. Validate (or invalidate) conclusions already reached or provide guidance
  4. Build the relationship you need with applicants in order to attract them to your graduate program

Graduate schools are in a continuous cycle of relearning how to attract top applicants and understanding where the internet comes into play in that process. As Wharton professor and information systems expert Eric Clemons wrote,

“The internet is the most liberating of all mass media developed to date. It is participatory, like swapping stories around a campfire or attending a renaissance fair. It is not meant solely to push content, in one direction, to a captive audience, the way movies or traditional network television did.”  (Source: Why Advertising is Failing on the Internet)

In other words: harness the power of the internet to create a dialogue with applicants and spread good quality information. The key to making good use of the internet to attract the right graduate students is to lean towards participatory systems.

We built Gradschoolmatch to help address this need and allow you to reach and connect with the best students for your program, and we’d be more than happy to help you make the most of it. Feel free to reach out with any comments or questions you might have.

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