Which Is Scarier? The Exorcist or a Lack of Applications?

What is the scariest movie ever made? It’s a favorite question this time of year … and a favorite subject of online lists counting down the most frightening horror classics of all time. What movie usually lands at the top of these lists? With some exceptions, it’s still the nearly 50-year-old, horror masterpiece, The Exorcist (1973). 

Why is that movie so enduringly effective and horrifying? Earlier this year, this Collider article offered some astute reasons why. Using those reasons, I examine some of the demons of modern recruitment and how you can, well, exorcize them. Because let’s face it, enrollment offices find a lack of applications just as scary as The Exorcist.  

The Exorcist has a simple premise that changed the game forever. 

The pandemic forced us to bring some of our most fundamental, old-school recruitment practices completely online and into the digital world, much faster than we wanted to. As institutions return to many of these traditional practices, there’s no mistaking that the necessity for rich online availability and digital nurturing are here to stay for college recruitment and marketing. Your future students expect it. 

The Exorcist had an ensemble of largely unknown actors.  

You have unknown actors visiting your website and exploring their educational options at your institutions. Their parents and influencers are haunting your digital assets, too. They’re ready for their close ups. Measure their engagement, give them timely, relevant information, and get them to raise their hand. 

The Exorcist has graphic imagery.   Applications

We’ve never seen anything like this. Projected to begin in 2025 (and likely continuing for decades), a “demographic cliff” for higher education is coming to the United States in the form of a dramatic drop in the traditional, college-aged population. This combined with a shaky economy and slipping demand for a college education are making things look … pretty gory.   

The Exorcist has convincing old-school special effects.  

There’s still nothing more important than a robust, easy-to-navigate, simple-to-use .edu site. For most of your prospective students, it’s their initial portal into your institution and the place to put your message forward. Travel, print and, yes, making phone calls are still essential pieces to achieving your enrollment goals. 

The Exorcist has frightening subliminal imagery.  

Strong images depicting your campus and community in its authentic light are crucial if you want your digital strategies to resonate. While these images may only show a small part of your campus community, they have a lasting imprint on the minds of your prospective students. Keep your social and digital strategies fresh with new imagery that reflects your campus character, charm and achievements. 

Set pieces in The Exorcist are not used gratuitously. 

Don’t carpet bomb your prospects with your messaging. Be focused and personalized. Give them timely and relevant information — based on their engagement with your website and digital assets — that nudges them to the next step in their enrollment process.  If you were able to join the recent presentation hosted by The Chronicle, “Recruitment Amid Enrollment Uncertainty” the panel provided some awesome observations about personalization and Gen Z expectations. 

The Exorcist has a distinct, deliberate use of emotion.   

Your digital strategies should invoke a certain level of emotion in your prospective students. Some students need a nudge, others need a shove, and still others need to feel the love. Give them what they need and meet them where they are. Students and parents use several different methods to interact with you. Make sure the feelings your stir up are consistent based upon the students’ needs and behavior. 

Christopher Harris Ed.D., Senior Enrollment Strategist, Capture Higher Ed