Changing the Way We Think About Search

Colleges and universities ritually invest millions of dollars in an outdated, over-utilized, under-performing strategy to generate inquiries. Most institutions are simply afraid to stop doing it.

College “search”—the process of mailing promotional letters or flyers to students with qualifying characteristics—began in the early 70s as a means to open opportunities to schools that students may not yet have been introduced. In those days about thirty colleges and universities across the country participated in the College Board’s search program. In a sense, “search” was a means to target selected students as potential matches for an institution. To that end, it was less “search” and more “introduction” to students that met an academic profile.

Today, with more than 1700 colleges and universities participating, coordinated programs of online and print communications introduce students to hundreds of colleges and universities. Personalized letters, brochures and PURLs abound each fall and winter when test scores and survey data becomes available.

In our interviews with high school students around the country, we’ve heard their stories of the incredible amount of mail they receive. Many throw these mailings away if the school is unfamiliar, thus negating the benefit of being introduced to a new opportunity.

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Rick Bailey

Rick is the Principal and founding partner at RHB.