Building Your Best Enrollment Marketing Funnel

8 min read

Benjamin Boivin

Whether or not you have an “A” rating or made this year’s “Top 10” list, your admissions office needs to use best practices when analyzing your enrollment marketing funnel.

We live in a review-heavy culture. Between college ranking sites like U.S. News & World Report, college rating sites like and thousands of comments sections across social media channels, it feels like critics have a stronger voice than ever. How do future college students (and their caretakers) know what to trust?

Whether or not you have an “A” rating or made this year’s “Top 10” list, your admissions office needs to use best practices when analyzing your enrollment marketing funnel. From the first high school guidance counselor visit in the fall to the final Target bag is loaded out of dad’s truck during Move-In Day, it is essential to plan out each communication and interaction to a mobile-experienced group of incoming college students.

Did you know? It is estimated that the average high school senior now sees between 6,000 to 10,000 ads every day. In-app banners, streaming ads, social media ads, paid search ads, email ads, in-game ads, digital banners are constantly whizzing by the smartphone. These don’t include physical ads like print collateral and billboards or media ads like radio spots or cable TV commercials.




- How Student Motivations Should Alter Your College Marketing Strategies

- Four Simple Yet Effective Higher Ed Marketing Strategies for 2021

- Evaluating Your Higher Ed Marketing Mix



Let’s start from the top of the funnel (TOFU).  

No matter the industry, marketing professionals understand the top of the funnel is where the user journey begins. This is where you blast out content to gain contact information from your leads, or in this case, future college students. The top of the enrollment funnel is associated with lead generation, prospective student outreach, name list purchasing, and student search.

While it may seem simple to list your institution’s value propositions, many institutions suffer from an identity crisis, unable to convey their brand essence into digestible content for the general public to consume. Creating a brand guide for your institution can help solve the identity issue and get the entire community on the same page regarding high-level messaging, vision, values, and the overall essence of who you are. Not only is advertisement competition at an all-time high, but our attention span continues to decrease, so the messaging must be fast and effective. Practice the 90-second pitch of your institution and communicate the value proposition in your communication plan.

On the recruiter side of the admissions funnel the top is where general information sessions, high school visits, college fairs, Open House, and campus tours occur. Utilizing current student success stories will also help future students connect to the community from the very beginning.

Once you see prospects ask for more information, you move into MOFU or the middle of the funnel. This group includes inquires, applicants, and accepted students. Now that you have obtained home addresses, email contacts, and phone numbers you can take the interested student to the next level. They have raised their hand. They know what your institution has to offer. Now they want to know what’s in it for them.

Now is the time to offer academic major or department-specific events, accepted student days, classroom visits, or spend-a-night-on-campus options. Connect them to academic advisors or give them a tour of buildings they will spend most of their time. Start building email tracks directed to parents and students and segment the messaging depending on data you receive from the student.

By the middle of the funnel, interested students should have a relationship with their personal admissions contact. Personalization is key at this stage as most students get accepted to a handful of institutions by the time they hit your accepted student stage. Phone calls, counselor emails, personalized print campaigns, and engaging accepted student packets are encouraged, but keep in mind personalized communication is time-consuming. Consider asking current students, alumni, and professors to help with outreach.

Now for the final stage, the bottom of the funnel (BOFU).

This stage is commonly known as the deposit student stage, yield stage, or “let’s do everything we can to decrease summer melt.”

Whether a student is first-generation or the sixth-generation legacy, the next steps are vital to keeping first-year college students in the know. Send them information about Open House, Move-In Day, class registration, academic support, or First-Year Orientation and make it fun and engaging.

As newly enrolled students transform from accepted high school senior to excited first-year college student, Admissions passes the proverbial torch to other on-campuses departments like Residence Life, Financial Aid, Registrar, Student Success, and Academic Affairs. Bring other departments into the conversation so students (and their families) feel confident about their contact list before the first day of classes.

There is another tool that can be used to gather relevant information from current college students and future ones. By utilizing surveys to engage your population, you can learn qualitative information fast and better yet, for free. But which kind of surveys work best at each stage?


With thousands of colleges and universities, how do you break through the clutter via email? By focusing on the concerns of incoming students. We know Generation Z is concerned about affordability, scholarship potential, and financial aid (which they incorporate with debt and loans). To begin the conversation, we create calls to action and links to the institutional Net Price Calculator.

In its unique way, the NPC has been an initial conversation starter and used the same way banks ask for estimated annual income to make their best offer. 


You’ve heard it time and time again, “One of the best ways to learn about XYZ institution is to visit us on campus.” We want to create the ideal campus tour, but we need help from visiting prospective students and their families. By sending home brief information session or group tour surveys, it shows that your institution cares about their experience.

Send home surveys after annual yield events as well! Keep it fresh in their minds with immediacy. Like an email, they are much more likely to respond if the event took place within 24 hours of the request.


This will require a bit of work on the part of the admissions counselors responsible for evaluating applications. Create short-answer or multiple-choice questions to add to personalized pages once a student has been accepted. These questions can be based on the student’s extracurricular activates list and is a way to create a more personal touchpoint. Many students will be accepted to four or more institutions, and by creating questions based on the submitted application, it will tell the student you are paying attention to him or her as an individual. 


Send home a short and sweet survey about first-year orientation and financial aid. Make sure first-generation students understand their financial aid award and payment process by creating an additional PURL page.  

To prevent “summer melt,” ask questions that pertain to the first day of class. One effective strategy is not telling a student who to contact, but asking who they would like to contact them. Scan your campus for a few student ambassadors, student-athletes, professors, and department deans that would be willing to field and make calls to incoming students.

Community members outside the Admissions Office might make all the difference in the final decision to show up on the first day. We have heard numerous stories of students deciding to enroll at a university based on an interaction they had with a current student.

How can you make surveys more attractive?

Communication requires two parties. While it may be easy to come up with hundreds of questions to ask future students, it will not be as easy to get the answers you seek. Add the personal to personalized by creating survey completion incentives. Let’s face it; getting something in exchange for your time is always better than not.

Here are 9 incentives and best practices our clients use:


Specify the time it will take to complete a survey.

“Complete This Survey” will not be as effective as “Take Our Two-Minute Survey.”


Offer gift cards to the on-campus coffee shop.

Paid online surveys are all the buzz as a get rich quick side hustle. Can’t find it in the Admissions budget? Ask yourself how valuable these responses could be for your enrollment strategy and seek help from other departments on campus.


Grand Prize Winner.

“By submitting this survey, you’ll be entered to win a $100 Amazon gift card!”


Not every prize needs a dollar sign.

“By submitting this survey, you’ll be entered to win free books for your first semester.”


Waive the application fee.

“By visiting us on campus and filling out the survey, we’ll waive your application fee of $XX.”


Get them on campus for a game.

In the search and inquiry stage, send home a brief survey and offer tickets to a home game. This can incentivize prospects to not only complete a survey, but to come to campus for an event.


Keep them warm during the winter months.

We’ve had clients use the cold weather to their advantage by offering knit hats, gloves, or even sweatshirts upon survey completion. This will intrigue the accepted and enrolled students most.


Show them what others are saying.

Student testimonials act as incredible social proof. Find some of your favorite answers and display them in the same email or personalized student portal as the survey request. Prospects may be less hesitant to share their opinions if they see answers from peers.


Short and sweet.

Just like a never-ending list of tips and tricks, surveys shouldn’t go on forever. Ask your most important questions and don’t make them scroll too far to hit submit.


The most successful admissions professionals understand they are not just recruiters but also expert marketers. There is no silver bullet when it comes to enrolling college students but there are best practices and data-driven insights that can make you stand out from the competition. Align authenticity, personalization, automation, and a client relationship management (CRM) system to take some of the pressure off your admissions team and meet the students where they are (probably on their cellphones).

Related Tags
Just For You

Top Picks

Photo shows a group of young people all standing by a wall looking at their phones

The first 8 seconds – capturing the attention of Gen Z students

4 min read

Illustration shows three people around a mobile phone

Communicating with Generation Z: Everything You Need to Know

9 min read

illustration of a woman thinking while looking at a giant calendar page

2024 Higher Ed Conference Calendar

16 min read

Higher Ed Chats Podcast

Listen to the latest episodes of our Higher Ed Chats Podcast - new format for 2024. Hear from Higher Ed thought-leaders from around the world!

Webinar: Dos & Don'ts of Higher Ed Social Media

Social Media Webinar March 24 Banners (3)

Join our live webinar on 27th March to hear from a panel of Higher Ed Social Media experts. 


to get the latest news and updates

Leave a Comment