In theory, the enrollment funnel sounds so simple. First, prospective students who are interested in your school become inquiries. Then, you nurture those inquiries to become applicants, they get admitted, and they end up enrolling. But experienced higher education enrollment professionals know that reality is never quite that simple. Instead, you’ll have to contend with a significant number of applicants who never indicated that they were interested in your school to begin with. As a result, you know little about them, and marketing to stealth applicants can quickly become a challenge.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rise of college admissions stealth applicants. More remote students, coupled with fewer students taking SAT and ACT exams, have led to leaner tops of admissions funnels. But it’s not a new problem. One study found that one in three applications to four-year institutions is ‘stealth,’ with no prior recorded indication of interest.

The Problems With College Admissions Stealth Applicants

Why are stealth apps bad? It’s a natural question to ask, considering that they end up in the enrollment funnel regardless. But a closer examination shows three core reasons why college admissions stealth applicants can significantly harm your recruitment efforts:

  1. You’re going in blind. Because you know nothing about these applicants beyond the information they include on the form, you cannot follow up with specific information or promotional materials.
  2. Your top funnel shrinks. As a result, predicting conversion rates from inquiry to applicants and, ultimately, students becomes more difficult. Planning for the cycle becomes a challenge.
  3. Your students have incomplete info. For example, hearing from friends and family is a core information source for stealth applicants. That might mean they have outdated or wrong information about your institution as they apply.

These factors make marketing to stealth applicants a challenge for nearly every school today. But given the practice’s prevalence, it’s also become a vital undertaking to build a reliable recruitment effort.

4 Tips for Marketing to Stealth Applicants

Marketing to stealth applicants is a challenge, but it’s far from impossible. With the right strategy in place, you can capture their breadcrumbs better while at the same time ensuring that prospective students have all the information they need before they apply. These four tips can help to get you started.

If you’re an admissions marketer looking to boost application inquiries, discover the game-changing impact of interactive campus maps in our blog post, ‘Interactive Campus Maps: A Powerful Admissions Tool‘.

1. Embrace the Storytelling of Social Media

At this point, it’s not a shock to state that today’s prospective students have embraced social media more than any other generation before it. Nearly 40% of Gen Z spend more than four hours on social media every day, compared to just 18% of the general population.

That’s where they research you, and that’s where your marketing efforts should be strongest. In fact, the argument could be made that effective marketing to stealth apps is impossible without putting social media front and center.

A robust social media strategy that appeals to Gen Z needs to be authentic. It also needs to be visual, ideally in the form of videos. The rise of networks like TikTok, BeReal, and Instagram, along with the continued importance of YouTube for this audience, speaks for itself.

More than anything, students use social media to see what life on your campus is like. Day in the life videos have the potential for immense success. Likewise, current students showing off campus, their residence hall rooms, and the dining halls have the potential for huge success.

Recruit your students to create as many TikTok videos and Instagram Reels about your school as possible. They’ll know the content best, and, more importantly, they get your audience. A simple eye to keep things appropriate is enough, and as stealth applicants begin to engage with your content, they’ll start to leave a breadcrumb trail.

2. Polish Up Your Lead Magnets

The days of students simply clicking ‘learn more’ online because they are interested in your school are long gone. They’ll be able to get most of the information they’re looking for from your website and third-party sources. So, they need a compelling reason to give you their contact information.

That reason is your lead magnets. Especially at the top and middle of your funnel, a lead magnet proposes a basic transaction: prospective students give you their contact information and receive something of value in return.

You’re likely familiar with the concept. It’s how sign-ups for campus tours and open houses turn into inquiries in your funnel. But, in the age of stealth apps, they will also need other and more compelling digital-first opportunities. Examples of effective higher-ed lead magnets include:

  1. College preparation guides, like filling out your FAFSA
  2. College checklists, like a list of all the information you need to apply for a school
  3. A scholarship tool that helps potential students find funding opportunities
  4. Subscription to a student or faculty blog, particularly in the prospective student’s major of interest

Of course, these are just some of the countless examples. The more value you can provide to your audience behind a sign-up form, the more likely they’ll be to give you their contact information in return—and become inquiries in the process.

3. Simplify Your Sign-Up Forms

Speaking of sign-up forms: even the best lead magnets, and the most thought-out marketing to stealth applicants, won’t matter much if the barrier to generating an inquiry is too high. That barrier commonly consists of the form your prospective students (and their parents) use to give you their contact information.

The average inquiry form on a college website tends to follow a similar pattern. In addition to the student’s name and email address, it might ask for anything from the intended major to current high school, anticipated high school graduation, full mailing address, and more.

Each of these fields is likely on the form for a good reason. It’s what the admissions office needs to assign a counselor by territory, send mailing materials, and more. Unfortunately, it’s also a major reason why inquiries are on a downward trend.

Every field you add will decrease your inquiry conversion rate. Prospects will no longer find it worth their effort to give you their contact information and will do their own research instead. The less information you ask for, the better.

A shorter form may give you less information for your database. But when the alternative is not getting an inquiry at all, it’s a trade-off worth making. Ask only for the most important info, keeping your form around five to seven fields if possible. You can always get more info later as your inquiries begin to engage with you.

4. Showcase Your Academics

Prospective applicant listening to recorded media designed for marketing to stealth applicants

When developing content for your stealth applicants, it pays to consider the appeal and success potential of classroom lectures. Recording and publishing these lectures is an easy way to provide visual content of what studying at your institution is like, feeding the social media content machine and appealing to students who don’t want to provide their contact info just to hear from you.

Ask your videographer, IT director, or videography/film professor how to record audio and video in a high-enough resolution and quality. Record as many lectures as you can, from as many different academic departments as possible. The idea is to record so many lectures that you’ll cast a wide net while still staying within the boundaries of your school’s core competency.

Looking for inspiration? MIT does a great job recording and publishing its class lectures without a major resource or time investment. As long as the audio is good enough, you can guarantee yourself an audience that’s willing to listen (even if they’re doing work on the side).

In your video description, link out to a landing page for students to learn more about that department. Keep your form light: a name and email will likely suffice since you already know what department they’re interested in.

Then, publish the videos on multiple social media channels. Don’t limit yourself to a single channel. Instead, divide and conquer, leveraging networks like YouTube, TikTok, and BeReal. As long as they link back to your landing page, you’ve now created a clear path to generating inquiries instead of stealth apps.

How Interactive Digital Properties Can Improve Your Marketing to Stealth Applicants

Of course, the above tips are only the beginning. Effective marketing to stealth applicants can also go far beyond these tactics. Consider your virtual tour as an example.

A virtual tour is designed to be a free tool for prospective students. But what if you could add a form to it and then incentivize prospective students to complete it?

For example, consider sending out athletic swag, sticker sheets, or flags to students who show enough interest to complete the form. Be creative with the incentives you provide, and test multiple options to see which performs best. Remember: as long as the benefit outweighs the hassle of completing that form, your stealth applicants will gladly become inquiries instead.

Marketing to stealth apps is a complex undertaking, but interactive digital properties like your virtual tour—especially when paired with the right incentives—can go a long way toward minimizing the issue. Of course, you need the right software to accommodate those tactics, and that’s where Concept3D comes in. Contact us to learn more about our interactive map and virtual tour solutions today.