Is $38 Worth an Additional Applicant? Using Direct Mail and Predictive Modeling to Drive Applications

Depending on who you ask, direct mail is either an effective tool to drive applications … or a total waste of money. So, which is it?  

A recent study of 12 Capture Higher Ed clients tried to figure out the most cost-effective way to use direct mail. The answer: sending a postcard to the top 30 percent of predicted students (deciles 8, 9 and 10) — as predicted by APPLY, Capture’s application model — is a cost-effective solution to driving more applications or visits.  

Below is a comparison of application rates for search students who received a postcard driving them toward applying vs. those who didn’t receive a postcard. For students in the top three deciles, receiving a postcard increased their application rate by more than a percentage point. It had no effect on students in lower deciles. 

Direct Mail

When controlling for decile prediction and school, postcards had a significant effect on application. For about every 84 students who received a postcard, an additional student applied. At 45 cents per postcard, that’s $38 on average for an additional applicant.  

Trifolds were less effective and more expensive. It took about 104 trifold pieces to get an additional applicant. At 85 cents per trifold, that’s about $88 per additional applicant.  

Postcards were also effective at driving toward campus visits at an almost identical effect size. For about every 84 students who received a visit-focused postcard, an additional student visited campus. Here is the difference in campus visit rates for those who received a postcard vs. those who didn’t receive a postcard.  

Direct Mail

In this case, the positive effect expanded to the top four deciles, which all saw a boost of more than 1 percent in their visit rate. There was no effect on the bottom 60 percent of students. 

This would conclude that institutions should send postcards to the top 40 percent of prospective students if pushing toward a campus visit and limit it to the top 30 percent if pushing toward application. 

The takeaway: Direct mail, when targeted through the use of predictive analytics, is effective at driving prospective students to apply at your university and visit your campus. Postcards are a cost effective way to deliver important messages than a trifold. 

By John Foster, Data Scientist, Capture Higher Ed