Stealth Applicants - What You Should Know

Stealth applicants have always been a challenge for institutions. However, the pandemic amplified those challenges as institutions had to adapt processes, like going test-optional, and college fair and campus visit opportunities were limited due to pandemic-related restrictions and safety concerns. Although pandemic-related restrictions are being lifted, allowing more open on- and off-campus events, many institutions are not changing their test-optional policies.  

According to a January 2022 Inside Higher Ed article, “nearly 80 percent of four-year colleges will not require the SAT or ACT for admissions this year (2022-23).” Many of these institutions have made permanent decisions not to change their testing policy. 

With fewer students taking standardized tests and participating in fewer college fairs and events, institutions have seen sharp declines in college search campaigns and shrinking top of the enrollment funnel leading institutions to explore new avenues for engaging prospects. 

So, how are institutions tackling this problem? 

There’s no easy path to working with stealth applicants, however, institutions that are willing to be creative and proactive in meeting these candidates where they are with the right content at the right time are the institutions that are experiencing success.   Four ways admission and enrollment offices are stimulating stealth applicant engagement are: 

  • Updating university websites making sure content is current, easy to find, consistent  
  • Delivering high-quality content via university social media platforms  
  • Improving marketing activity tracking 
  • Increasing engagement at the point of application  

Here’s a more in-depth look at each tactic: 

Update university websites making sure content is current, easy to find, consistent 

As a former Director of Marketing and Communication at a private 4-year university, we knew that over 50% of our traditional new student applications were stealth so, we had to ensure that our website was designed in a way that was easy to navigate and informative — giving students the rich content and information that they needed when they needed it. Knowing applicants are conducting their own research, it is paramount that institutions spend time designing and updating their websites to communicate campus culture as well as the quality and variety of colleges and programs available. 

Deliver high-quality content via university social media platforms 

As Gen-Z reaches college age, it is imperative that universities have a robust social media strategy to reach digital natives and that high-quality imagery and video are available on all university social platforms. In a 2021 research survey conducted by Niche, 25,000 prospective students were surveyed, and “73% reported that they viewed colleges on at least one social network.”  62% of the impressions were earned from Instagram and 40% from YouTube. The survey goes on to show that students were looking for information pertaining to deadlines and events, campus life, and academics. 

Improve marketing activity tracking  

Depending on the marketing technology available to institutions, source tracking activity on digital platforms (websites, social media, paid digital advertising, email) may be challenging. However, investing in technology to better understand traffic-driving marketing sources will help make your applicants seem less stealthy. Improved source tracking will create greater insights into the pathways of how prospects are making the decision to apply.  

Increase engagement at the point of application 

With fewer prospects at the top of the funnel, institutions need to do more with less. While many institutions use a common application to drive application volume to bulk up the enrollment funnel, it is challenging to know the true interest of candidates, particularly if many of these applications are “stealth.” Many institutions deal with a “soft” applicant funnel and admissions teams must work harder to identify the candidates who are truly invested in attending the institution. Universities are overcoming this problem by retaining an institutional application that is integrated with a CRM or SIS (Student Information System). 

However, even though universities are reducing friction by offering alternative options to apply, many admissions counselors must wait until an application is submitted to start engaging with a prospective candidate. This delay can potentially be problematic for students and admissions officers alike as students can become frustrated with a delay and counselors are unaware of challenges an applicant may have encountered while applying. The result can lead to students never submitting an application and bouncing to another institution. 

Understanding this critical point in the journey of a stealth applicant, Rose State College has been leveraging Mutara’s candidate application solution (link to product), which allows applicants and recruiters the opportunity to communicate via text, email, and/or phone. By increasing engagement, RSC was able to improve the applicant experience and boost their new student yield by 33% (link to blog) during the pandemic where most community colleges have seen a significant drop in enrollment. 

To learn more about how to reach and engage with your stealth applicants, schedule a time to discuss with our team. 

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