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Stop Treating Prospects as Leads: Higher Education’s “People Problem”

When you work in higher education recruitment, you have two primary goals: help prospective students find the best path toward a brighter future, and help your institution see higher enrollment numbers each year. These two goals come from vastly different places (one is driven by emotions, the other numbers), and reconciling the two can feel like an impossible task.

But here’s some good news: it’s easier than you think to reach prospects AND boost enrollment. How do you do it?


It’s true, engaging with prospective students on an emotional level and treating them like human beings is the fastest way to generate leads that result in enrollment. Here’s what you need to know.

The Higher Ed Automation Paradox

Today’s higher ed recruiters have access to more technology than ever before. There are CRM system and marketing automation tools that allow you to reach thousands of students with a few clicks of a mouse. This is great for colleges and universities; it allows them to cast a wider net and reach more prospects, which in turn increases their overall enrollment…

Or so one would think.

In reality, college attendance has been declining for nearly a decade, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Despite wide-reaching marketing campaigns and nearly round-the-clock recruiting, students simply aren’t signing up to go to school.

Texting College Students

Why? Easy: they don’t feel valued by these institutions.

When higher education began automating recruitment, they transformed their prospective students from quality prospects to business leads, just another number on a spreadsheet. Students can tell when recruiters view them as leads (i.e., a way for them to get more tuition money) – and they HATE that.

What Prospective Students Want

When prospective students look at higher education, they are looking at a way to improve their lives and build a successful future. They want to feel like the school they attend cares about their experiences – that admin will answer questions, offer guidance, and listen to concerns from the student body.

The only way to make sure your prospective students feel this way IS TO ENGAGE WITH THEM. Recruiters need to know more about their prospects than their application number. They need to nurture the recruit-recruiter relationship, listen to the applicant’s questions, give thoughtful and knowledgeable answers, and generally prove that their institution will offer the best student experience.

21 templates for student engagement

Treat Your Prospective Students Like People

I know what you’re thinking. The kind of emotion-based recruiting I’ve described above can be hard to do at the massive scale required by most institutions today. In fact, it’s nearly impossible!

Not true.

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to give up on automated systems. A CRM that stores a prospect’s information (persona) can give you all the info you need to build a trusting relationship with your prospects using personalized content. Just a few clicks of the mouse, a little research to understand your prospect, and you’re ready to give them the tools and advice they need to succeed!

Treat Prospects like PeopleThis recruiting method usually yields greater enrollment numbers than businesslike lead-generation. And what’s more, prospective students who feel like an institution truly listened to them are more likely to recommend the school to their friends and family! Just like that, you’ve brought more interested recruits to your university – and all you had to do was treat them with kindness and respect.

Ultimately, the recruiters who are most successful are the ones who put the prospects’ needs (to feel confident in their decision to enroll) ahead of their own (to boost enrollment numbers). This student-first approach is one of the best ways achieve both ends AND make the recruiting process more pleasant.