Why Every Admissions Office Should Do a Non-Matriculant Study

Grant DeRoo

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It’s yield season! For many in higher education, this is the time when you shift focus from generating and reading applications to convincing admitted students to enroll. It’s a time filled with events, direct outreach to admitted students, and the all-important enrollment deposit reports.

Yield is a complicated animal; the factors that influence a student to choose College A over College B are as varied as the students themselves. It is essential, therefore, for admissions professionals to know why admitted students chose to go somewhere else. In our experience, surveying these students with a non-matriculant study is one of the most – if not THE most – valuable research projects a college can do every year or two.


Listen to the podcast on the importance of non-matriculant studies 


Non-Matriculant Studies and Declining Yield Trends

Nationally, yield rates – the percentage of admitted students who enroll – have declined in the past 15 to 20 years (see chart). This is the natural result of students applying to more schools. But while it may be expected, it is nonetheless concerning. Yield trends have complicated colleges’ enrollment management efforts and placed additional pressure on Admissions teams to hit their targets.

A non-matriculant study reveals critical information about the factors that influence a student’s decision, how your institution compares with others (or, at least, how it is perceived in comparison), and how you can improve your recruitment process and yield marketing in the future. The benefits of a non-matriculant survey include identifying:

  1. Where these students go and why:
    1. You may already be using National Student Clearinghouse data to see where your admitted students go. If so, it’s a good starting point. But that data doesn’t show you why students chose that institution over yours. Without that, you’re left speculating.
    2. This information is beneficial in determining what you can change (financial aid awards, overnight visit opportunities, etc.) and what you can’t (proximity to a student’s home, religious affiliation, etc.).
  2. Reasons why students applied. What is it about you that compelled them to apply?
  3. Perceptions of your school’s application process, such as ease, timing, etc.
  4. Perceptions of your campus visit experience, such as quality, information learned, interaction with current students, etc.
  5. Perceptions of your institution vis-à-vis the school they chose to attend:
    1. Note that this is critical for determining the real drivers of college choice. For instance, you may have been a student’s top choice, but another school offered a price point that the student just couldn’t turn down.
  6. Information resources that were most helpful for the student in making his/her enrollment decision.
  7. People who were most influential for the student in making his/her decision (e.g., parents, counselors, coaches, faculty at the college, admissions staff, etc.).

Knowing this information is mission-critical for an organization that wants to improve. Our non-matriculant study clients routinely tell us that this is one of the most informative things they do throughout the admissions cycle.

3 Considerations for Launching a Non-Matriculant Survey

If you are interested in conducting a non-matriculant survey, keep three important things in mind:

  1. Timing is everything: May to June is the ideal time for this research. After that, the clock is ticking. Students’ memories fade and they won’t be able to recall precise details about your school. Also, the further you get into the summer the greater the likelihood that your contact information is out-of-date. Students will start to use their recently-issued college emails and may no longer check the email address they used when they applied to your school.
  2. Be mindful of bias: Students are more open to sharing their true feelings with a third party than a representative of the university. Also, when a college sends a survey invitation, it biases those who respond because the students know who sent the survey. Consider using an outside agency to ask the questions and interpret the results. Outside organizations help minimize bias and are less likely to sugarcoat results than someone within the institution.
  3. Surveys should be “mobile first”: Two-thirds of survey takers complete surveys on a mobile device. This percentage is even higher among younger audiences. Make sure that survey questions are mobile friendly and that the survey platform works well on mobile devices.

We regularly conduct non-matriculant surveys for a variety of schools throughout the country. If you’d like to discuss non-matriculant surveys or another research need, contact us today.

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