People research their grad school options for a long time

How long do people research their grad school options? If you ever wondered, now we have an answer for you, from some data we’ve managed to wrestle out of our system. The average person spends about 18 months researching where to go to graduate school for their masters degree or doctorate. Half take longer than that.

time spent researching grad school options
The average and median time spent researching grad school options is 18 months

Let’s give that some perspective. “Time to decision” is the bane of every academic’s existence. That’s the period between when you submit an article to a journal to when the journal accepts (or rejects) it for publication. Good journals tend to be pretty quick…they’ll take about a month for time to decision. It’s not unheard of for other journals to take as long as 3 months.

The average future grad students tends to take about 6 times longer to make up his/her mind about their grad school options then the worst least author-centered academic journal.

Whereas slow academic journals have process problems, the extended timeline for future grad students is almost certainly driven by uncertainty. They won’t make that decision until they’ve convinced themselves its in their best interests. As they should. They’ll know the right program when they find it.

The take home message: Graduate student recruitment is a long game that rewards the patient mentor, while punishing the quick turn marketer

The Gradschoolmatch hypothesis is not really complicated. When program experts reach out to prospects to explore whether there is a fit, they convey expert advice. Those prospects learn more quickly. That one-to-one interaction provides the help they need to shorten their timeline to a decision.

That’s just not something marketing can do.

Be human. Be yourself. Market less. Mentor more.

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From Insights to Action: How To Develop A Recruiting Action Plan

Wondering why you need an action plan? Having data is great, but using it is far more valuable.

Collecting data is only half the battle; it’s what you do with it that really matters. In the words of McKinsey’s big data specialists, “Data is meaningless unless it helps make decisions that have measurable impact...Generating value from [data] is a matter of connecting data to insights to action in a fast, repeatable way.”  (Source: Forbes).  Long story short: collect data and use it to inform your strategy and subsequent action plan.

Your Dashboard provides the data you'll need for your Action Plan
Your Dashboard provides the data you’ll need for your Action Plan

Our new Dashboard tool has the first half covered, but it’s up to you to complete the second half. Continue reading for all the tools you’ll need to put your insights to work.

To develop your program’s tailored (and well-informed) plan, follow these four steps:

1. Figure out where you stand

The first step in deciding on a realistic plan of action is figuring out where you are today. Take a look around and be honest. From 90,000 feet, what do you see? Look over your recruiting results over the past few years – how close are you to where you’d like to be?

Consider the answers to questions like the following to get the full picture:

  • How do your incoming Bookmarks compare to your outgoing Bookmarks?
  • What percentage of your total Matches from 2016 became applicants? Is this a number you’d like to increase? If so, by how much? (Remember, Gradschoolmatch acts as a funnel to deliver your best Matches, but like any funnel, nothing will come out if nothing goes in!)
  • Are your Collaborators bookmarking prospects, responding to incoming Bookmarks and, most importantly, engaging with Matches through personal messages? If not, who could you add as Collaborators to be more effective – current graduate students, faculty, admin, etc – based on the type of questions you’ve gotten from prospects?

Asking yourself these questions will help you analyze your success in different areas of recruiting.

2. Decide where you want to go 

Imagine your action plan as the keys to hitting a bullseye this year.
Set your targets for the year and keep your eye on the prize.

From a bird’s eye view, you might see many possible paths to take, but you’ll need to decide which direction to go. You may choose to address your biggest weakness or you may choose to support a larger initiative your program has already decided to undertake. The point here is to be specific in what you’re trying to achieve THIS year and to limit your scope.

3. Plan your path forward

With your destination in mind, it’s time to plan your route. As a first step, consider which of these three categories you fall into based on your answer to the questions in Step 1 about your Bookmarking performance.

Did you find that your program:

A) Had an equal number of outgoing and incoming Bookmarks,

B) Received more Bookmarks than you sent (incoming>outgoing) or

C) Sent more Bookmarks than you received (incoming<outgoing)?

Your Action Plan should ultimately get you from your starting point to your desired destination.
Map out your starting point and destination and develop an Action Plan that will get you from Point A to Point B.

No matter which category you fall into, you are not stuck there, nor are you guaranteed to stay there. The process of developing an Action Plan is your first step to improving your success.

A few quick suggestions depending on where you ranked (before we move on to the nitty gritty):

  • If your Bookmark counts were equal, that’s great! It probably means you like everybody who likes your program. Go through the Stop-Continue-Start framework (below) to make sure this year is at least as good as last year. Analyze how many of these Matches became applicants (and how many of those were accepted, and subsequently enrolled). To increase the number of applicants and subsequent enrollees you’ll need to increase your engagement with the Matches you have, or generate more. Bookmark a few more prospects each month and follow up with personal messages explaining what about their profile caught your eye, and be specific. Schedule phone calls. Make yourself available to answer any questions they have. Your expertise is your greatest recruiting asset.
  • If your incoming Bookmarks exceeded your outgoing Bookmarks – you are probably missing out on great students! Your program is getting a lot of attention that is going unreciprocated, and if that’s not intentional (as in, they are not students you are interested in), your recruiting funnel has a leak! Consider adding more Collaborators who can review incoming Bookmarks and potentially send a Bookmark (and a message) back, and schedule those phone calls! You’ll definitely want to make the most of students seeking YOU out since they’ve already expressed interest on their end.
  • If your outgoing Bookmarks exceeded your incoming Bookmarks, analyze why your outgoing Bookmarks may not be reciprocated. Is your profile page missing information that may attract students? Are you following up Bookmarks with a warm, personal message to students to tell them why you are interested in them specifically? If not, you may be missing out on making quality connections (students may think you are blanket Bookmarking anyone who fits your criteria). Could your program benefit from having more collaborators engaging with Bookmarked students?

You may also consider using the Stop-Continue-Start framework to connect the dots from your current state to your ideal state.

Stop: Identify activities or initiatives that were unsuccessful or not as productive as you had hoped. If you’re not getting engagement with group messaging, stop sending them. Did you try something new that didn’t work out the way you thought they would? These are the types of things that should be stopped, as the time you spend on these things could be better used in the future (e.g. on the activities you will be continuing or starting).

Continue: Identify areas of strength and past success. What has your team done that has produced great results? Are these initiatives repeatable or scalable? List those activities in this category, as these are the types of initiatives you should definitely continue to leverage (and scale, if possible) to achieve recruiting success. Note: This category can also include activities that may not have been hugely successful, but can be modified to produce better results.

Start: Identify a few tactics you’d like to start this year. These may be things you have seen other programs do with great results or just new ideas you’d like to test. Based on what you decided in Step 2, specify a few tactics that will help you better achieve your stated goals.

The list you just created will allow you to see clearly where your energy is best spent and how to trim the fat. From this list, write out a specific Action Plan that outlines particular goals. These goals should be realistic and quantifiable, and can include things like:

  • How many Bookmarks you’d like to send each month (outgoing)
  • How many Bookmarks you’d like to receive each month (incoming)
  • How many Bookmarks you’d like to send to prospects who meet certain criteria (e.g. URM, particular background or experience, etc).
  • How many candidates you’d like to send personal messages to
  • How many prospects you’d like to schedule calls with
  • How many active collaborators you’d like to have (Pro Tip: Set up different kinds of users – faculty, current students, admin, etc – as Collaborators so that interested students are getting all of the information and attention they need and deserve. More is usually better, but definitely prioritize quality over quantity)

Using the S.M.A.R.T. goal format, try to structure your goals as follows: Reach out (actionable) to ________ (specific, measurable, agreed-upon) students using Gradschoolmatch by _________ (time-based).

3. Go forth and prosper!

This step will take a little longer than others, as you probably guessed. This is when you put your plan to work, where the rubber meets the road. Leverage your team’s strengths to implement your Action Plan – divide and conquer, if you will. Using your Gradschoolmatch account, identify students who would be a great fit for your program(s) and make a personal connection early on. Refer back to your Action Plan to make sure you are staying on track, from time to time.

4. Don’t forget the feedback loop

Rinse and repeat AKA review your action plan and make a new one.
No Action Plan is foolproof or universal so make sure to revisit it every year to make necessary changes based on the outcomes you achieved.

This is the “rinse and repeat” portion of the activity. You must revisit your plan after each recruiting cycle for this process to work well. Refer back to your S.M.A.R.T. goals to see how your results stacked up. Go back through the Start-Stop-Continue framework and adjust your goals for the following year.

Need help collecting insights from your dashboard or developing an Action Plan based on what you’re seeing? Contact us! We’d love to help you make the most of your account using our new Dashboard tool and get you set up for a successful 2017!

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Gradschoolmatch is to guidance like the microwave is to cooking

radarange_so_newI’m not only old enough to remember the first microwave ovens, I’m old enough to remember that they were called radar ranges. Ack! But these machines have been on my mind since the early days of the Gradschoolmatch project.

Our goal was to do what we have done: create a space where guidance happens. The conceptual premise is based upon observations that interactions with someone knowledgeable is how most people end up choosing where to attend graduate school.

At one early point we were advised by an insightful businessman that in Gradschoolmatch we may have another microwave oven story on our hands.

Briefly, in the early days, people were reticent to adopt the microwave because they had perfectly good stoves and ovens with which to accomplish the same result. Sales only grew after the microwave manufacturers were able to convince consumers that microwave cooking could be effective, not to mention quick and convenient.

A similar friction probably exists in the graduate school recruiting space. The old way of doing things is to hope enough applications fly in over the transom and that enough of them are good. At the same time, everybody agrees the status quo is crappy. Really good prospects struggle to find the right place and need our help. Many of them end up in the wrong programs. Meanwhile, seats in really good programs go unfilled.

All of the evidence indicates that one-to-one engagement with prospective students is the driver of better matriculation rates. Still, there is a lot of skepticism that something novel and innovative, like Gradschoolmatch–which promotes one-to-one engagement between programs and prospects–can be a solution.

Here are the most common reactions we get from people, and our responses.

“I don’t know how to recruit.”

You don’t have to. Just offer guidance to someone considering an advanced degree in you specialty. That’s actually very effective recruiting because you know everything about what they are looking for.

“We have a perfectly good program website.”

Great program websites are only useful when the prospects you want find them. Still, they are no replacement for the human touch.

“We have plenty of applications.”

Matriculates are more important than applications. Meanwhile, how many do you lose to other programs in your specialty?

“I don’t have enough time.”

Think of guidance as immunization against dropoutitis. You’ll spend far more time on dealing with the latter.

“Our faculty won’t get involved in recruiting.”

Did they ever have a tool that makes engagement with prospects and offering guidance so easy?

“We just buy email lists.”

The people receiving your spam don’t like spam any more than you like spam.

“Does it work?”

Absolutely. When used the way it is designed.

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“The Right Match”: How Gradschoolmatch Launched One Student’s Career

The Right Match (Diverse Issues in Higher Education, September 8, 2016).

Student who found perfect match in her new graduate program.
Source: Diverse Issues in Higher Education

“The first time Alyssa Rodriguez applied to graduate school, she ended up being waitlisted. But when no spot opened up, she began work as an associate scientist at a small biopharmaceutical company in San Diego.

“My original plan was to work in [the] industry for at least two years and then apply to graduate school again,” says Rodriguez, who graduated from the University of San Diego in 2015 with a degree in biochemistry. Once I had accepted the fact that I would not be starting graduate school in fall 2015, I started my graduate school research once again that summer.”

Only this time around, Rodriguez discovered and ultimately decided to use GradSchoolMatch.com – a new website that seeks to match prospective grad school students with graduate schools.

It only took a day before Rodriguez started to see results.

“The next day, I checked my profile and was very surprised to see that I had already received messages from various graduate school program directors,” Rodriguez says. “I was in such shock that I shared the news with my mom that programs were interested in my profile.”

Rodriguez says what surprised her the most was that she could clearly see that the messages were “not spam and that truly there were assistant deans and directors on the other end of the message.”

One of those messages came from Beth Bowman, assistant director of graduate programs in biomedical sciences at Vanderbilt University.

Bowman considers GradSchoolMatch.com a “fantastic avenue for graduate programs to get to know individual candidates in the global applicant pool.”

“This sort of individual communication not only allows programs to showcase what they have to offer, but also allows a program to individualize their communication to a specific student,” Bowman says. “Personal recruiting is the best avenue to bring students to any program and GradSchoolMatch makes this ideal recruiting strategy a reality.”

Asked if the website was simply a nice thing to have or a necessity to attract and engage candidates, Bowman says: “I think more and more, this site is getting close to being a necessity for graduate program recruiting for any program interested in getting to know their applicants.

“These days, there are so many programs on the site that a student may miss out on a program that doesn’t have a presence here.”

Bowman says the website – which is free to students – helps facilitate the diversity of candidates as well.

“In my mind, this site helps to promote diversity of candidates in the program simply by being a free site and avenue for programs and candidates to get to know each other,” Bowman says. “This helps to remove any cost barrier that is typically present in a graduate program application process.”

Bowman says the website has helped Vanderbilt by increasing the number of candidates that the school can communicate with during the application process. “We are pleased to be able to pick the candidates that fit our program best,” Bowman says.

Inside the site

GradSchoolMatch.com was started by T.J. Murphy, an associate professor of pharmacology at Emory University.

He says that the website has around 400,000 user profiles and that the number is growing daily. About 30 percent of the student users are underrepresented minorities and about 20 percent are from overseas, he says.

The students come from a range of academic disciplines and specializations, Murphy says.”

Please click here to read the complete article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education (September 8, 2016).

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Find students and engage them on Gradschoolmatch

control_panel
The Gradschoolmatch Director’s control panel

Most students have an influence network and start their graduate program search on the basis of word-of-mouth. That’s always been our key insight. As a result, Gradschoolmatch operates on two very simple premises. First, people in graduate programs are in the best position to guide prospects because they have incredible expertise to offer. Second, prospects benefit greatly when receiving expert guidance.

If word-of-mouth is how they find programs, the most effective way for graduate programs to recruit new students is to join their influence network. Simply find those with the proper backgrounds and interests for your program and offer them some guidance. Recruiting success lies on the human scale.

This is not at all complicated. Take these four simple steps to do that on Gradschoolmatch.

Step 1: Edit Your Profile

Why? Our search engine reads everything that you enter into your graduate program profile. Sure, you want prospects reading all of that. But we take your profile information and turn it into a sophisticated search query. Running automagically in the background, this delivers continuously to your program the prospects who fit best. That saves you from having to run search queries over and over.

How? Click on ‘Edit Profiles‘, then click on the green buttons with white pencils for each section. Fill out everything, find a save button and click it. Most especially, be sure to select a dozen or so academic fields to describe what your program offers. Do the same for the academic fields you like to see in your prospect’s backgrounds.

Step 2: Find Students

Why? Well, it seems obvious, but which is better? Hoping students discover your program, or finding students you’d like to see in your program?

How? After you’ve completed step 1, click on ‘Find Students‘. The students on this list are the output from that sophisticated, running-all-the-time search query I mentioned above.

These prospects in our system best match your program, from top to bottom. We think. If you don’t like who you see, go back and edit your profile until you start seeing the kinds of students you like. To search for others, click on the green button on the top right labeled ‘Search for specific criteria‘.

Step 3: Bookmark Students

Why? Now that you’ve found them, you want them to see you. Bookmark does that. To Bookmark a prospect is to say, “Hi, my program is interested in you!” Students notice that.

How? Open a student’s profile by clicking on their name. If you like who you see, click the big green ‘Bookmark‘ button. Two things follow that. First, Gradschoolmatch delivers an email notifying the student of your interest. Second, their profile automagically transports to your ‘My Prospects page‘, where you can track, sort and rate everybody you’ve Bookmarked…and who has Bookmarked you.

Some student profiles don’t have a lot of information. That just means they haven’t signed in. But they see those emails come in and open a lot of them. A Bookmark from you might be all it takes to get an engagement started.

The data are very clear. Bookmarking generates interest. The programs that pro-actively Bookmark prospects draw the most interest from prospects on the site. Passive programs receive less interest.
Step 4: Message Students

Why? Remember the part about word-of-mouth? Here’s where that really happens.

How? Click on ‘Message‘ on a student’s profile. Type your message and–after giving the Golden Rule some thought–hit the send button.

About that Golden Rule. Do you like spam? Neither do they. So please omit the canned, copy-and-pasted marketing message. Nobody reads that.

Just be yourself, which is undoubtedly personal, friendly, helpful, encouraging, sophisticated and even humorous. And if that is not your personality, then ask one of your grad students who has some to help out!

Provide some quick and to-the-point guidance, and please be sure to key off of something that impressed you in their profile. Then ask for a phone call, or a Skype, or for more information. That’s engagement.

And good grief, if you see enough information that you’d like to see their application, then tell them so!

Please remember that you’re offering to join their influence network. That’s a privileged space.

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Choosing a grad school program is a classic forked-path problem

I’ve just returned from a long overdue break out west, spent in part on the streams and trails of the spectacular Absaroka wilderness area in Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest. I intended to unplug from the grid completely and not consider work at all, but the mind doesn’t always cooperate.

On trail one day a thought suddenly struck me: Choosing a grad school program, at one level, is the same problem a traveler in unfamiliar territory faces running into a forked path.

I admit this metaphor is not particularly novel. But it serves as a handy launching point to think through the extraordinary problem students and graduate programs face every application cycle.

How do you go about choosing a grad school program that is right for you?

The decision on the trail is pretty simple compared to what our future graduate students face. On the trail, typically only two options are at hand…left or right.

Still, there is always a sense of apprehension and uncertainty. Left might take you up a hillside occupied by a momma grizzly bear lording over the valley with her cubs, whereas right might take you down to that cool stream full of big trout.

The only possible error is one of commission–choosing the wrong path under the worst case could take you to a very large unwelcoming bear, or under the best case to a missed fishing opportunity.

In a couple of key aspects prospective graduate students are faced with a far more challenging problem than a hiker. Far too many make errors of commission. But the main problem is the sheer scale of options. For a given academic specialization, a solid prospect could find anywhere from several dozen to hundreds of different graduate programs that would make sense.

That’s a lot of possible paths. Too many.

Their set size is so large that students can’t possibly consider them all. In fact, they miss knowing about nearly all the programs that would fit them well.

Instead they end up focusing on only a handful of programs, constructed partly on the basis of guidance from people they know, many of whom have no particular direct expertise in advising which programs might be better for them.

These students are making a second type of error, one of omission. Omission errors are so large that they are far more likely to completely miss the right program than they are to apply to the wrong one.

Consider a student that might be expected to fit, logically, within 100 different programs. The typical student will only research 8% of them, and then apply to only 4%.

They overlook 92% of the programs that would otherwise fit.

What all of this means for graduate programs is not all that complicated. To create a stronger applicant pool will involve getting more of the right people who don’t know about your program to take a look at it. And then offering them a touch of expert guidance while you have their attention.

That’s where real opportunity to move the needle lies.

The Gradschoolmatch solution

First, we simplify the exploration set for students while equipping programs, for the first time, with the ability to seek out the kinds of prospects they prefer for their program. We show the right programs to the right students. And vice-versa.

Our match algorithm suggests the right programs for students to consider, while also creating lists of prospective students for programs. This is all on the basis of the information each puts into their Gradschoolmatch profiles. The better the information each provides, the higher quality fits that we are able to generate for you and them.

That’s precision.

Next, our communication functions offer prospects and programs alike a way to express interest in each other.

Programs perform the essential task of informing those who they see as the the right students that that their program exists.

Meanwhile, students can express interest in programs to see if they are a fit. The exchange of interests is bidirectional. For programs and students alike all of this happens with a single click of button.

That’s simple.

Perhaps the most common feedback we hear from student users is their surprise to discover good programs they had not previously considered in places they weren’t looking. Going further, these programs can offer guidance to prospects.

How? Rather than composing a canned marketing message, try something powerful in its simplicity.

Send a message such as: “Here’s my program, take a look because your background and interests seems like we might be a good fit for you. And please let me know if you have any questions.”

That’s human. That’s word-of-mouth. And that’s something that happens all of the time in the hallway, on an elevator or out in the courtyard.

Now it can happen on the internet.

That’s effective.

Guiding prospects, not marketing to them, is the secret to recruiting success

When contemplating a proactive recruitment strategy here’s a few things worth knowing about your target.

Future graduate students are about to make a huge decision. They’ve arrived to a point in their lives where they are staking their career trajectories on this graduate school choice. What they don’t know makes them apprehensive. They struggle with the decision. They don’t want to make a mistake. And they are leery of being exploited.

Also, it should go without mentioning that their appetite for intrusive banner ads, blinking sidebars and spam is no greater than yours. In fact, millennials use ad blocker software at higher rates than any other demographic.

Finally, they use a variety of specialized apps to find information and communicate in myriad ways.

Rather than wasting your resources on inefficient and impersonal advertising, or barging into their social spaces, you should consider ways to leverage your expertise in your academic specialty and graduate program culture.

The students who you want in your program are doing a lot of homework, grinding over a big decision, and slowly discovering that’s the help they are looking looking for! Guidance is something of value that only you can offer them.

Spotting the right prospects and offering guidance is a distinguishing feature of Gradschoolmatch.

Alyssa’s simple but powerful story is one of successful guidance, not marketing.

She found her perfect match at Vanderbilt University in no small part because Dr. Beth Bowman was there, on Gradschoolmatch, at the other end to not only spot Alyssa but also offer her the guidance she needed and deserved.

By the way, while in the Wyoming wilds we managed to take the correct path each and every time.

Not because we were lucky.

We had hired a local guide whose knowledge of the trails was so deep, he probably could have led us blind-folded. He may very well have. I was lagging too far behind most of the time to see him.

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