Virtual recruiting for grad programs

November 14, 2009
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The news isn’t likely to make printers very happy. Or the U.S. Postal Service, for that matter. But the information just may make it easier and less costly for recruiters to reach potential graduate students.

A 2007 survey of more than 1,000 prospective graduate students revealed that about two-thirds preferred to receive information about a graduate program electronically rather than from mailed printed materials. The survey was conducted by James Tower, an Internet marketing company based in North Mankato, Minn., that specializes in higher education.

Nearly 63 percent of respondents said they’d rather read about a graduate offering on a Web site than from a mailed brochure. The same number reported they preferred e-mail messages about a school’s graduate program over mailed ones.

Still, 93 percent said they did want to receive a letter or brochure in the mail before they applied to a program. Compare that to the 6 percent who reported they wanted a mailing after they applied. (See related chart.)

The report concluded that the findings didn’t necessarily mean schools should abandon printed materials about their graduate programs. It did underline, though, that it was “imperative” for colleges and universities to have the information online and available to send out electronically.

Most of the potential graduate students surveyed were at least 21 years old, with almost 47 percent between the ages of 22 and 28. Two-thirds were considering a master’s degree, while 27 percent were looking at a doctorate program. The rest were shopping for professional degrees, such as law.

Ninety-three percent owned a cell phone and 85 percent had phones with text messaging capabilities. While almost three quarters said they would accept a phone call from a college representative, 52 percent said they would not consider taking a text message from one.

The report pointed out that recruiters need to remember they are dealing with individuals with college experience, unlike undergraduates who are applying to a program for the first time. They also have a different set of expectations and goals, so the information they value the most may not be the same as requests from undergrads.

The survey also asked the respondents to rank the importance of what they needed to know. Learning the details of a graduate program was at the top of their list.

After that, and in order, was: information on assistantships and scholarships; financial aid information; assistantship opportunities; tuition and fees; length of time to complete a program; connections with employers and career services; and details on faculty members.

The survey, called Advanced Degrees of E-Recruitment, offered four strategies that school officials should integrate into their communications to recruit prospective graduate students.

First, because these students turn to the Web first, graduate offerings should be easily accessible online. If they aren’t, schools should devote the resources to make these programs virtually available.

Second, detailed information on cost, financial aid and assistantships should be provided on a Web page. For bonus points, schools should include an online calculator so prospective students can do the math.

Third, grad schools should offer opportunities to e-mail faculty members and virtual tours of the campus. If professors blog, links should be included.

Fourth, schools should incorporate instant messaging as a means of communicating with potential graduate students.

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