Getting Inside the Mind of an Applicant

That complicates life for enrollment leaders, whose ability to meet numerous institutional goals — academic profile, tuition revenue — depends on forecasts of how many students will show up. The less colleges know about applicants, the hazier their crystal balls become. Who’s serious? Who applied only as a worst-case backup option? Such questions echo across a competitive marketplace as many administrators watch the steady decline of their yield, the percentage of accepted students who enroll.

“I would argue that the more time and energy spent on students who’ve shown us they love us, the better it is for everyone.”

But colleges are hardly letting go of the wheel. Instead, they’re using an array of high-tech strategies to keep control of the ship. They’re gathering more data than ever before, not just on who students are, but what they do, especially online. That includes tracking the behavior of prospective applicants as they click through a college’s website. Just as Zappos knows which sneakers to show a specific shopper, some colleges now know which major to tell a would-be applicant more about at the very moment he wants to know.

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