No Rock Unturned: 7 Search Strategies for Your Graduate Programs

With more institutions leaning on graduate offerings to offset looming declines in undergraduate enrollment, it’s never been more important to have a strategic, forward-focused search strategy to support new graduate programs as well as existing programs.

During a recent Capture Cast webinar, I discussed seven components of an effective graduate search strategy with guest, Ayo Strange, director of educational solutions at the testing and assessment organization, ETS.   

How to Build a Strong Grad Enrollment Funnel

#1 Connect with your recent graduates. 

These are the prospective graduate students who are closest to your institution. You already have a relationship with them. You have access, and it should be easier to share information about your graduate programs with them.

#2 Recruit prospects from current Sophomores/Juniors/Seniors on your campus. 

Like your recent graduates, these students also are low hanging fruit when it comes to search strategy. You have an existing relationship with your undergrad students; they are around and in close contact. Connect with them on how they can continue their studies at their future alma mater

#3 Increase and diversify your outreach to international students. 

It’s time to think differently about how you reach your international student population. One tool that came into its own during the pandemic are virtual events, which allow you to reach students around the world affordably who you might not be able to meet in person. Also, utilize the GRE Search Service to identify international students in new areas. While China and India continue to be the largest populations of international students — making up more than 50% of international students — fertile pockets of graduate prospects for your institution may be in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and different areas of Africa.

#4 Retarget former inquiry and applicants who did not enroll. 

Reengage those students who were formerly in your graduate funnel but did not come to your institution. Life happens! Many of these students may not have enrolled because something happened in their personal life that required a change of plans. They may still be interested. Circle back to those students; it often takes multiple communications to get them interested enough to apply.

#5 Create partnerships with other 2-year and 4-year institutions.

Where do you want to draw your grad students from? Are there pockets across the country or around the world? Or right in your backyard? These are the places to start relationships with institutions that can feed your programs. Make formal partnerships and articulation agreements with them. It’s a necessary way to broaden your graduate funnel.

#6 Develop and design a comprehensive search strategy. 

Your recruitment strategy is going to start in-house. What are your goals for growing your graduate programs? What programs do you want to focus on? Are there specific geographies you want to draw from? Are there prospective students in specific undergraduate programs, or working in certain professions, you want to focus on? Partnering with an organization like ETS — utilizing its GRE Search Service or Grad School Match tool — can help hone your strategy, build your funnel and grow your enrollment.

#7 Partner with local businesses and employers. 

Just like creating partnerships with institutions, you must build relationships with employers in your area (or nationally and internationally). Find out what those industries need and create certificate programs that bring in their employees. Also, identify the existing programs that can broaden their learning and give them professional development. This generates exposure for your new and existing programs. 

It’s never been more crucial for graduate schools to leave no rock unturned and construct a diverse and engaging search strategy that drives activity at the top of the funnel. 

“You have to start thinking a little bit differently,” Strange says. “And, in addition to bringing students into your funnel, you need a strong, multi-channel communication strategy with the ability to track your results … so you know what’s working for you and what you need to tweak a little bit.”  

By Chris Harris, Senior Enrollment Strategist, Capture Higher Ed