The #1 Reason High School Students Search Your Website (And the Closely Related Reason #2)

If you’re wondering which part of your website to prioritize for updates, it makes sense to think about what prospective students will be looking for, right?

Sure, high school juniors and seniors are searching your academic programs/degrees (was that your guess?)—that’s a close third. But, according to the 2018 E-Expectations Trend Report, the #1 thing they’re looking for is cost/tuition information (88% seniors, 82% juniors). Next on the list is scholarship opportunities (72% seniors, 77% juniors).

Since your cost page and your scholarships page are so important, we’ve summarized some tips for maximizing this space.

  • Make the information easy to find. If it takes students more than a few swipes to get to the information they want, you may lose them. And will a search on your site (or a Google search) land them at the information you want them to see first?

  • Make the page design compelling. In our Top Five Web Design Trends last year, we noted the importance of “Beyond the Home Page.” (Remember, they may be skipping your home page.) This trend is increasingly important, and your cost/financial page may be the single most important application for this principle, considering its importance for prospects. Does the photography on that page sell your school? Are the design elements as engaging as your home page?

  • Show them your school is worth the cost. Rather than leading with a chart of financial numbers, showcase your value. This is a great time to highlight recognitions you’ve been awarded related to cost/value. If you have comparison data that makes your school a favorable choice compared to other schools, include that here. Feature testimonials, job placement rates, and impressive salary statistics of your graduates. (You still need to show the tuition/cost numbers, and make sure the information is clear and visible—just don’t make that the focal point.)

  • Show them that higher education is worth the cost. For many prospective students, the first question is whether or not to invest in (or go into debt for) a college education. In the Gen Z world, the importance of college is directly connected to the potential outcome (more about that here).

  • Prioritize the net cost calculator. The E-Expectations report found that cost calculators are one of the most influential resources for prospective students, right up there with the importance of your website itself. Be sure your calculator is easily accessible and user-friendly.

  • Clearly direct them to scholarship/aid information. If they didn’t go there first, that’s where they want to go next. Organize the information clearly and simplify the list by using links for special-interest categories.

Most importantly, create opportunities for personal connection. Your website may be an entry point that motivates them to meet you in person!


Ruffalo Noel Levitz & OmniUpdate. (2018). 2018 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Available at

The Opportunity Gap in Your School's CRM Strategy

A customer relationship management (CRM) system is standard practice for most higher education institutions today. In fact, it’s by far one of the most effective practices for recruiting and marketing, according to a new report released from Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Of the 89% of private four-year schools and 85% of public four-year schools that are using CRM, 97% and 100%, respectively, say the system is effective for managing and tracking recruitment communications, online applications, etc. Most of these institutions are also using CRM to send mass emails.

But if your CRM strategy stops there, you’re missing a big opportunity.

There’s a new face of CRM, but many schools are still using outdated systems or not fully utilizing the capabilities of new systems. Destination CRM says, “Once thought of as a type of software, CRM has evolved into a customer-centric philosophy that must permeate an entire organization . . . If customer relationships are the heart of business success, then CRM is the valve that pumps a company's life blood.”

So how can you pump more life into your processes?

Critical System Functions

First, it’s time to take a look at your system and your strategy. Be sure you have these foundational components in place:

  • The right administrator. Traditionally, CRM has been simply an admissions database run by a competent database manager. Taking hold of today’s more robust system capacity requires an entirely different skill set. A CRM manager needs to have a blend of technical skills (used to configure and maintain the processes within the system), a clear understanding of recruitment communications (to contribute to the communication planning process), and a talent for strategic thinking (to recognize opportunities to creatively use the system’s resources in your school’s unique context).

  • Up-to-date email capabilities. Because of system limitations, many schools are still sending plain-text or non-responsive email messages. This pretty much looks like spam to a Gen Z-er, and (if they even notice the message), it makes a very negative impression. If they view your communication as outdated, chances are they view your school this way, too. Their world is colorful, bold, and interactive—and they’re often viewing it on a screen the size of their hand.

  • Ability to publish forms. A system that creates standard forms can be pure gold for admissions. Information from RFIs and applications is automatically captured inside the CRM, reducing the need for manual data entry (and human error) and improving timeliness in generating reports. Additionally, schools that invest in this system capability reap the benefits of a host of other creative possibilities for engaging with prospective students.

Creative CRM Engagement

Once you have the fundamental structure in place, the sky’s the limit on creative use of the system. These are just a few ideas for more effectively engaging with prospective students:

  • Tier applicants based on their desirability for your school. For example, students with test scores above a certain level could get your “top tier” strategy. Some CRMs even identify the best-fit students for your institution.

  • Add layers of communication or touch points based on segmentation. You might have specific communication pieces for first-generation students or special-event invitations for legacy students. And so much more.

  • Set up logic for form respondents and pair submissions with targeted communication. You could promote special-interest organizations or programs to identified groups, for instance, like minority students or those who have indicated a particular area of interest. For students focused on a specific major or career track, you could communicate with an acknowledgement from a faculty member in that area.

  • Automatically follow up with prospects who attended an on-campus event. If they’ve visited your school, it’s likely that their interest is increasing. Seize that moment to keep the momentum going.

Is it time to reconsider your CRM strategy? We’re available to help with a comprehensive assessment and action plan.


Destination CRM. “What Is CRM?”

Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2018). 2018 marketing and student recruitment report of effective practices. Cedar Rapids, IA: Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

Managing Printing Requires Time & Experience

Whew! You’re finally done - it’s been several long months of creating and executing a concept for a new admissions campaign, but the final round of edits is done. The last missing photo has been updated. So with final copy and design files, there’s just one last task: printing.

Ok, forget what we just said, you’re not actually done.

With hundreds of enrollment marketing projects under our belts, we’ve seen the good, bad and the ugly of printing. So how does a marketing or admissions office successfully navigate this final step? Does it make sense to handle printing internally? What are the benefits of having your vendor partner also coordinate this part of the project?

Here are a few simple questions to help you assess how to handle the production side of launching a new recruitment campaign.

Do you have the right role?

Is your team lucky enough to have a print manager on staff? If so, you’re likely in good hands. Don’t forget to include your print manager in the creative process - they will likely have valuable information that could shape the size, page count or grouping of deliverables.

If you don’t have this type of role within your team, check with the vendor who helped create your campaign to determine if they can oversee the printing process. Speaking from our own experience, we’ve been on hundreds of press checks for hundreds of clients, with projects that range from 1-color business cards to 6-color printing plus spot UV with custom die-cut and perfect bindery.

Do you have the experience?

One of the most common areas where printing goes sideways is paper selection. Whether it’s your own print manager or your vendor partner, make sure you’re working with someone who is able to suggest paper options that work best for the materials and also keep your budget in mind. Paper makes a huge difference in quality and how your pieces are received. Experience in this area is key to staying on-budget and also loving the final materials.

Do you have the time?

Managing the printing process involves a significant investment of time. After all, someone has to:

  • Get initial quotes (and likely revise them) from different printers.

  • Send all print-ready files and communicate order details to the printer.

  • Understand your proofs (likely the largest investment of time).

  • Attend press checks at the printer.

  • Communicate all delivery needs (and possibly bulk mail needs, too).

  • Coordinate in-hand dates or drop dates.

These are a lot of moving pieces to manage. Don’t underestimate the amount of time needed for printing, and definitely make sure that you’ve factored it into the overall timeline for your campaign.

Ultimately, you get what you pay for when it comes to selecting a printer and managing the printing process. With the right kind of planning and oversight, it is possible for print production to go smoothly, which means you’ll have those new items in hand right on time.

Have a small printing question or want to visit about what it would look like to partner with our team? Let’s talk.

The State of Texting in Higher Ed Recruiting

Should Text Messages Be Part of Your Communication with Prospective Students?

“My friends don’t text each other. They all use Snapchat.” That was my 15-year-old son’s recent attempt to convince us that he needs social media. Sure, his appeal is at least a bit exaggerated, but perhaps there is a hint of insight for us in thinking about communicating with Gen Z.

Social Media Messaging vs. Texting

The rise of social media for teens presents a valid consideration for college admissions professionals: If 67% of high school seniors are on Snapchat daily, is texting still relevant? For college recruiting, the answer is “yes.”

Recent data shows that only about one-fourth of seniors are comfortable receiving messages from a college on social media apps. The same report finds that more than three-quarters of those students were open to some form of text communication with colleges and universities and nearly half of seniors would welcome these messages.

Back to my son’s comment, notice that he said, “My friends don’t text each other.” As I scroll through the texts on his phone, it is obvious that this format is often used beyond peer communication—like messages from his youth pastor, his football coach, his grandmother, and me. Is he keeping up with these messages? Definitely yes. Could it be that texting is emerging as the channel for a student’s more “serious” communication?

Effectively Texting

Since texting is an under-utilized tool for college recruiters, it may be a way to stand out from your competitors. Here are some tips for how to make the most of this channel.

  • Keep in mind what students want to see in a text message. According to the report cited above, the top reasons they want to be texted are: acceptance notification, deadline reminders, and details about their applications. Avoid photos and videos, links to social media or websites, and webinar or live chat invitations.

  • Focus your texting efforts on students who have already expressed interest in your school. This is not your best tool for mass communication.

  • Never lose sight of the relationship you’re building. Whatever the statistics say, the personal touch still matters, and we often hear this first-hand from students on campus. Sentiments like, “I felt wanted here”—that’s what ultimately made the difference in their college decision.


Ruffalo Noel Levitz & OmniUpdate. (2018). 2018 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Available at

What Good is Digital Advertising in Higher Ed?


There’s so much we could say, but our short answer is this: Paid digital ads may be a powerful complement to the higher-priority elements of your branding strategy. If you’re not currently using them, it’s definitely worth considering.

Increasingly, online advertising is getting students’ attention. According to recent research from Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 45% of juniors, and 41% of seniors have clicked on a digital ad for a college. Additionally, 30% of seniors and 44% of juniors would go to a school’s website if they saw an ad but didn’t click on it. Most higher ed institutions, though, are not using online advertising as a major part of their recruiting practices. (This means your ads will stand out even more!)

While we don’t recommend moving all your advertising money into digital marketing, we do see it as a way to strengthen your brand and to reinforce important announcements like upcoming visit opportunities and application deadlines. The more often prospective students are exposed to positive presentations of your brand, the more likely they are to engage with you.

So, if you are going to pay for digital advertising, what’s the best way to make the most of it?

+ Keep your advertising part of a coordinated, multi-faceted plan. According to the RNL report, a very low percentage (12–26%) of digital ads were clicked by students who weren’t already familiar with the school. Be sure that the messaging and style are consistent with your printed materials, email campaigns, and social media initiatives.

+ Commit to adequate frequency. An occasional ad doesn’t give you the exposure you need to accomplish the purpose of your advertising. Facebook Marketing Science has conducted experimental research to help answer questions about frequency. While there’s no “magic” number, it’s important to study all the factors and make a calculated plan.  

+ Don’t skimp on creative design or copywriting. Just as today’s teens judge your school by your website, they’re rating the quality of your ads, too. Keep the message simple and compelling with the intention of getting students to your website.

+ Carefully choose your media. Ads on Google lead in student popularity, followed by various social media. Do you know where your prospective students are spending their time online? Meet them there.

+ Keep them clicking. Once you’ve gotten their attention with your ads, draw them into greater interaction through a first-rate experience with your website and opportunities to engage through social media.

Connecting with students where they live puts you on your way to the real goal; building relationships that invite them to be part of your story.



Facebook IQ. “Effective Frequency: Reaching Full Campaign Potential.” July 21, 2016.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz & OmniUpdate. (2018). 2018 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Available at

Communicating with Prospective Students via Social Media

Connecting with prospective college students today requires the strategic and successful use of social media. There are a couple of things you can’t lose sight of, though, when using these platforms to reach today’s students. To be effective, your plan has to fit the way they actually use social media. To sum it up, the experiences should be 1) interactive and 2) personalized.

Best Practices for Recruiting Gen Z Students

We know that Gen Z students are headed to college in dramatic numbers. And we know that traditional recruiting has to take on new dynamics. So what are the best ways to connect in their hyper-connected world? New in-depth reports from Ruffalo Noel Levitz offer a wealth of data. We’ve summarized some of the high points for you, along with our own insights.

Gen Z: What’s College About, Anyway?

The 70-million-and-growing Generation Z. They’ve been dubbed “world-changers,” and now they’re transforming the landscape of the college experience.

They’re tech natives. There’s no such thing as “normal.” They want to do something meaningful. And they’re mindful of the value of a dollar. So what does this mean for your university? Is your campus the kind of place they want to be?

Recruiting Parents

As parents of teenagers and college students ourselves, we’re thinking about college with fresh perspective these days. How involved are we when it’s time to start researching, visiting, and decision-making?

Will we subtly press our preferences on our children? Probably. Will we make information-gathering phone calls and website visits? Sure. Will we visit campuses? With pom-poms waving!

Fine-Tuning Your Campus Photography

Photos hold an incomparable power to tell your story. To show what your students value. To capture one-of-a-kind moments on your campus. To communicate what makes your school something special.

There’s no secret trick, no silver bullet, for a masterful photo shoot. Rather, it’s a fine art that requires careful planning and execution—along with a healthy dose of flexibility.

What's Up with College Yield Rates?

Yield rates—the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll—are important indicators to college enrollment officers as they help schools predict new student enrollment each year. After a long and steady decline in yield rates, the average seems to be stabilizing. But let’s take a look inside the numbers—and what we can do about them.

Soaring Financial Aid & Competition for Students Increasing Pressure in Higher Ed

As college recruiters scramble to keep up enrollment numbers, financial aid has become the chief competitive tool. In fact, an annual study last year by the National Association of College and University Business Officers found the average institutional discount rate for first-time, full-time freshmen in private schools reached 48.6 percent.

Is Your School Engaging Today’s Growing Minority Population?

For Gen Z students, ethic and cultural diversity is a natural part of everyday life. Minority student groups now make up more than 40% of the total college population in four-year schools. How diverse is your campus?

According to NCES reports, all categories of ethnic minorities are on the rise, while the percentage of white students is falling.

From fall 1976 to fall 2014, the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 4 percent to 17 percent, the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 7 percent, the percentage of Black students rose from 10 percent to 14 percent, and the percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students rose from 0.7 percent to 0.8 percent. During the same period, the percentage of White students fell from 84 percent to 58 percent. Nonresident aliens, for whom race/ethnicity is not reported, made up 5 percent of college students in 2014.

For many schools, achieving diversity is a complex issue that will involve significant strategic planning and systemic changes, but we’ve identified a few points to get you thinking about the possibilities.


Some universities near large minority populations are reaching out to local high school students through special funding. The Johns Hopkins University, for example, recognizes high-achieving Baltimore City public school graduates (a school system with 92% minority students), with scholarship assistance up to 100% for eligible students. In the University of California system, the president herself, Janet Napolitano, recruits minority students in high schools. She breaks down misconceptions about affordability by highlighting the system’s generous system of financial aid.

Dr. Brian C. Mitchell, director of Edvance Foundation, adds further perspective: “In the end, the problem may be less about specialized recruitment counselors and money than about how to fix a broken pipeline and provide a better safety net.” He suggests that four-year institutions start by partnering with community colleges,  where enrollment rates are high for minority students—creating a pathway for student transition.  (See more here about recruiting community college students.)

Care and Retention

As minority students arrive on campus, without proactive outreach in place, they may feel isolated and experience culture shock. Minority students at Northeastern University in Boston rely on the African-American cultural center on campus as a safe space to discuss racial issues. Mitchell suggests mentoring programs for black students, as well as changing staff and faculty recruiting policies.

Marketing Approaches

When prospective minority students look at your school, can they picture themselves there? Here are some tips that just touch the surface, but they’re critical if you want students to take a look below the surface and discover your school’s true heart for diversity.

  • On your website and in your recruiting materials, be sure to include photos that naturally capture the student diversity of your campus.
  • Identify affinity groups for under-represented students, and highlight organizations that welcome and celebrate ethnic diversity.
  • Feature testimonials of a wide-range of students.
  • Be intentional to include outstanding students of different ethnic groups as leaders for student recruitment events.

Growing diversity on campus reflects the multicultural world students will be entering after graduation. We encourage you to ask minority students on your campus, “How are we doing?”


National Center for Education Statistics. “Fast Facts.”

The Johns Hopkins University. “The Baltimore Scholars Program.”

Watanabe, Theresa. Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2016. “UC expands its recruiting efforts targeting black and Latino students.”

Mitchell, Brian C. The Huffington Post, April 27, 2015, “College Minority Recruiting.”

National Center for Education Statistics. “Digest of Education Statistics.” Table 306.20.

Krantz, Laura. Boston Globe. “Diverse campuses, but still few black students.”

Re-Imagine Recruiting to Reach More Non-Traditional Students

Students age 25 and older now make up about 40% of the total college population. And their numbers are on the rise—at even faster rates than traditional students. Reaching this growing market means an intentional look at your message and your methods.

Your Marketing Message

Let them know you get it. Busy with full-time jobs, families, and other grown-up responsibilities, the biggest question for adult learners is how they can possibly take on the demands of college. Show them you understand and that you care. Share testimonials of other students like them who have navigated the program with success.

Show them you mean it. It’s no secret that non-traditional college programs have to be structured in out-of-the-box ways. And the list of requirements for this audience is not simple. In fact, a recent Ruffalo Noel Levitz survey of adult learners identified 15 factors that are rated at 70% or higher as important for enrollment in a four-year institution. Because their decision-making is a complex mix of factors, this means your marketing message can’t simply focus on the top two or three.

  • 93%        Availability of program I wanted
  • 92%        Convenient time and place for classes
  • 88%        Flexible pacing for completing a program
  • 88%        Time required to complete program
  • 86%        Availability of financial assistance
  • 85%        Ability to transfer credits
  • 85%        Requirement for current or future job
  • 84%        Cost
  • 83%        Reputation of institution
  • 80%        Availability of online courses
  • 79%        High rate of job placement
  • 78%        Program accreditation by professional organization or trade group
  • 76%        Credit for learning gained from life and work
  • 74%        Distance from campus
  • 72%        Tuition reimbursement from employer

Exceed expectations. The RNL survey also measured “performance gaps” in adult learner satisfaction. While these students are largely satisfied with their non-traditional programs, there are identified areas for improvement. Topping the lists were variables such as: the opportunity to self-pace coursework, availability of course offerings within a program, and timely feedback from instructors. Can your institution shine in communicating these factors?

Your Marketing Methods

Keep it personal. When institutions ranked top methods for generating inquiries, face-to-face information sessions were rated as the number one most effective method by far for private and public four-year institutions. While referral programs and website forms were next for private schools, public institutions indicated more success with open house events and off-campus group meetings. Phone calls and personalized email messages were the most effective follow-up practices.

Customize the technology. An article by Craig Maslowsky, CEO and Founder of New Ed, explains that marketing resources for adult students “must be optimized to enhance the student’s experience, and designed in a way that they felt understood.” This includes particular attention to website design and content, search engine optimization, and CRM.

Is it time to re-imagine your marketing message and methods for reaching this critical audience? Let's talk about how we might collaborate with you and make an immediate impact.



National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics: 2014. Table 303.40.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2015). 2015 adult learner marketing and recruitment practices benchmark report. Coralville, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Retrieved from

Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2016). 2015-16 adult learners report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

The Evolllution (2017). Top Five Ways to Market Higher Education to Adult Students.

Higher Ed Marketing in the Gap Year

With enrollment in gap year programs up 23% since 2015, if your institution is overlooking this trend, then you may be missing a key contingent of prospective students. While the idea of a “year off” between high school and college is not new, what’s different is the breadth of students the idea is attracting. An investigative report with Katie Couric finds that the gap year is “not just for rich kids anymore.”