How to Get Your School on More ‘College Wish Lists’

5 min read

Julia Sachs

Keystone Higher Ed Blog (3)What is the key to maintaining a good application rate at any school? Getting the formula right may seem tricky at times, but more often than not it involves mastery of simple concepts that can easily be forgotten when juggling so many tasks and initiatives. 

In today's world, universities must refocus and examine the needs and wants of their potential students. In particular, how may have today's potential students changed from earlier intakes of students, and what should be considered to attract and engage current and future intakes. Who is today's potential student, and what do they require from higher education?

Stay current and evaluate the needs of your student audience

A 2019 article in the Harvard Business Review talked about the disparity that students are experiencing in terms of the skills they receive in school and the skills required by employers in the workforce. These differences point out a flaw in the college experience— universities are able to provide exemplary educational experiences but fail to prepare their students for the day-to-day requirements of a professional career. Many students graduate feeling under-prepared for their professional lives, and employers are finding that students are not given training in the many skills that are needed to excel in the workforce. 

That being said, college isn't just about education or preparing for the real world. To get into students' university 'wish lists', colleges need to offer a well-rounded experience with a bustling and diverse social scene, a good education, and the right tools for students who need to prepare for their adult lives after graduation. The best way to assure that your school is offering the resources that your future students need is to talk to them and to communicate with the people that work around your students to determine what additional resources you could possibly offer. Here are a few suggestions to help your school land on more student wish lists.

Offer a well-rounded and diverse social experience.

International students play an important role in a university ecosystem by providing a diverse social experience for everyone they interact with. Therefore, it is important that international students feel welcomed and supported. Offering a robust international program with language and cultural resources can help your international students feel more comfortable in a new environment and also help them get introduced to new cultures and traditions. 

Not just international students, it is important to assure that all of your students feel welcomed and cared for. Breaking the ice can be an important activity at the start of the school year and universities should consider encouraging students to get together with new clubs based on their shared interests or identities. Offering these kinds of social events and organizations will send a clear message to prospective students that they are welcome at your school, and this will increasing their chance of adding your institution to their college wish lists. 

See students for more than just their GPAs.

With a focus on talent rather than grades, more and more educational institutions are learning that grade point average and test scores might not be the best or most accurate way to determine whether students will thrive at a university. Although many schools that have dropped testing requirements as part of the admissions process did so because of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts are finding that “blind-testing” is not a good way to predict whether a student will succeed in their university studies—especially for degree programs that don’t cover certain subjects in those tests. 

Colleges that accept students with lower GPAs are still highly competitive, have top-of-the-line academic programs, and understand that a student’s GPA doesn’t always tell the whole story. Consider different ways that prospective students can apply to your programs - be it an audition, a project, an essay, or a piece of art they’ve created that they’re particularly proud of. Students that feel that their full potential is not expressed in their GPA may be interested in showing their talents in other ways, especially if they’re considering a school for an artistic or specialty program. 

This could also help universities create a student body that is passionate about what they study and that may, in turn, lead to a higher graduation rate (another important figure that prospective students look at when choosing colleges they want to apply to).

Expand your curriculum.

Is your school in a unique location? Are there opportunities to ski, hike, camp, raft, fish, climb, swim, cycle or run nearby? Is it in a unique city or a country that has a rich historical or cultural background? All of these things can make your school stand out from the rest. Prospective students are always looking to learn something new—whether it be camping or ancient world history—they are eager to find schools that can accommodate their diverse interests.

College is about more than just setting students up for a future in the workforce. It is about providing interesting classes, offering opportunities to learn about new topics every day, honing unique skills, and diversifying social and cultural environments. When you have something unique to offer, it helps attracts students who like adventure and who are not afraid to try something new. 

Provide good support.

Even before the pandemic hit, mental health was something that college students often admitted that they were struggling with. Students who are away from home for the first time when they begin college are required to care for themselves in ways that they never had to before. That, combined with keeping up with studies and navigating a new social life often means that students can get overwhelmed easily. Investing in thorough mental health services and expertise on campus can help guide students and make them feel more confident about applying to your school. 

Great support for students means providing students with career advice, general social support, and comprehensive mental health support. When students feel that they have someone to turn to for advice—whether it’s for their personal lives or their professional lives—they’ll be more likely to succeed in their studies. Offering these services to prospective students will make them feel secure and trust your institution because some students may feel overwhelmed by the idea of going to university in the first place.

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