Gravity is a great thing. Sir Isaac Newton discovered what keeps us grounded. Later, Albert Einstein revealed gravity’s power and his descriptions continue to be used in modern physics. For all the life-necessary aspects of gravity, and the exciting physics explorations it provides, it is not a recommended strategy for your enrollment management. However, all too often, it appears to be the primary strategy of many higher education admissions offices.

Gravity becomes the physics of enrollment management when a focus is placed on the acquisition of large response rates during Student Search and quick-complete application campaigns that generate soft inquiries or soft applicants. These numbers can make folks feel good, but the warm fuzzies are often short lived. These soft inquiries and applicants really clog up the ultimate effectiveness of an admissions office. But it’ll work, right? Because gravity takes over, right?

Many admissions offices I visit are dealing with strapped budgets because of the faith they have placed in the gravity system. Using the gravity model means spending big on Student Search with large name purchases, sending compelling and engaging messaging, receiving hefty response rates and expecting it all to work out because gravity will take care of the rest. Many admissions operations do not have a plan and gravity is left to take over to move people through their traditional enrollment funnel model.

The modern admissions office needs to jump in and pull the right people through this “funnel” and work more efficiently on the things that matter most in getting their class enrolled. In our studies and field observations the greatest indicator of enrollment success is seen in the schools that know how to deftly and personally handle the communications between inquiry and enrollment, including stellar campus visit experiences. This moves prospective students from the Student Search/ inquiry pool quickly into the hands of a well-tuned ecosystem that is campus-based and people-focused.

Students engage with schools that engage with them in authentic ways. And this can’t be done, and also be genuine, if a counselor has to engage 5,000 people. Effective Student Search campaigns, more than anything, tell savvy admissions officers where they will get the best ROI. Students enroll at schools they are genuinely invited to visit. Students attend schools where everything just looks and feels right during those visits.

The relationship spark between student and school is not unlike the one that made me turn my head 26 years ago, guiding me to my future wife. I can’t explain it, but I just knew she was the one. Compare this to the admissions process (and don’t worry, I asked my wife if I could do this…she’s learned to put up with me). If my wife had been immersed in an inquiry pool of 26,000 (or higher at some schools), I might never have caught her eye and realized she was the one. If counselors are having to manage enormous inquiry pools they just can’t manage personal communication, focused efforts for visits, or sustain engagement to enrollment and showing up on campus.

Schools need to get engaged with the students who are truly interested. Counselors need to encourage visits with the students who are truly deciding. Admissions leaders need to have the fortitude to continue the engagement beyond the visit and through the application and enrollment process.

These are the areas where focused time and money should be spent. By this time too many schools are out of funds because they’ve been too busy only filling the funnel.

Relying on gravity won’t get you there. Relying on gravity will only bring you down.


If I’ve piqued your interest, you may also be interested in a blog composed last July, “Why Response Rates Don’t Matter.”

You can also email me and get on my calendar for my upcoming travel schedule. For the next two months I’ll be on the road visiting institutions to show admissions teams the most critical parts of their school’s enrollment management flow and what they can do today to be successful.

If you’re interested in these ideas find Mike, Karyn Adams, and Susan Klopman at a pre-SACAC Ideastorm Summit on April 5th in Myrtle Beach, S.C. To register click here.