Stealth Students

Using technology to engage with those elusive, would-be applicants.

GUEST COLUMN | by Lauren Mead

credit-timetradeThe rise of “stealth students” – those elusive, unknown would-be applicants whose first contact with a school’s admissions department is when they submit an application — has forced new approaches on university admissions offices that want to remain competitive in the millennial age. What can admissions professionals do to engage with students who are destined to become stealth applicants? The answer starts with technology.

Since you can’t be sure exactly where and when the future stealth applicant will visit your website, you need to be ready to invite them to connect from wherever they are.

Indeed, smart colleges are already using online technology to invite stealth applicants to have a meaningful conversation with their school.

A college’s website is the most likely place an eventual stealth applicant will spend time gathering information, so the admissions team knows where to find them. The next crucial step is enticing these potential applicants to engage. Universities can achieve this desired engagement by inviting them. Again and again.

A stealth student can be anyone. Someone interested in science, history, math, politics and every other major on the curriculum. Their hobbies include everything a school offers, from intramural bowling to community service and from drama to cheerleading to every other activity the student activities department can dream up.

Connecting where they are

Since you can’t be sure exactly where and when the future stealth applicant will visit your website, you need to be ready to invite them to connect from wherever they are. That’s why colleges and universities are increasingly deploying online appointment scheduling solutions and prominently displaying buttons throughout their websites offering visitors to “Click here to schedule a meeting” or “Want to learn more, click here.”

These buttons work as well at 3:00 a.m. on a Saturday as they do at noon on Tuesday. They represent a low-pressure way to issue a friendly invitation for the stealth visitor to set up a call or an in-person appointment to get to know your school. And the fact they can schedule that appointment instantly from your website using any device from any location makes it far more likely you’ll get them to click when their interest is at its peak.

Another advantage of online appointment scheduling is its ability to enable admissions teams to gather sufficient information about the student. This ensures that the upcoming appointment is as valuable as possible to both the school and the applicant-to-be. For instance, if the visitor clicks to make an appointment from the home page of the school’s soccer team, and the questionnaire they fill out with their contact information also contains a question about their favorite sport, the admissions team can have someone from the varsity soccer team ready to meet the student at their upcoming appointment.

Or, even if the information the student provides is limited to their name, address, high school and email address, you could have a student who attended the same high school or is from the same town participate in a call or meeting to extol the virtues of matriculating at your college.

Making it easy to engage

If the conundrum of stealth applicants is disrupting an otherwise sound strategy of ranking and rating applicants for admission, then use technology to turn the odds in your favor. Make it easy for the student to engage in a conversation with you so you can develop a rapport that might yield the future student body president who prefers to do his or her research online rather than at a college fair.

The savvier admissions departments have already begun deploying the necessary technology and strategies — including adding links to their websites where prospective students can click to schedule a phone or in-person meeting — to engage with and capture the interest of stealth students. Those that are slow to move will be playing catch up as potential applicants engage with and select competing programs.

Lauren Mead is VP of TimeTrade Systems, unifying campuses with self-service appointment scheduling for office hours, admissions, testing centers, financial aid, and any time-scheduled activity for higher education.

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