by Karlyn Hunt, staff writer
Warren Wilson’s recent admission report, released Sept. 21, emphasized a dramatic change in the way students are looking at colleges, and conversely how colleges aren’t looking at students.
Inquiries–the way students initially make contact with a college or institution–are down 6.7 percent from last year. This is the lowest number recorded in over a decade.
According to Vice President of Advancement, Admission, and Marketing Richard Blomgren, the decrease is due to a recent phenomenon known as the “stealth applicant.” The term refers to a prospective student who doesn’t contact the college or use the resources admissions counselors have provided in previous years.
The stealth applicant doesn’t contact the school by mail or phone and they don’t attend college fairs. Rather, these students gather all their information about the college through online resources. They are therefore unknown to the Office of Admission until an application is received. This trend is posing challenges to admission staff in colleges across the board.
“From an admission standpoint it’s nerve-racking,” says Blomgren, “because we don’t know how many invisible applicants are out there.”
The phenomenon of stealth applicant was born out of what’s known in marketing as the “online lead generation.”
Popularity in websites aiming to match student profiles with colleges catering to their interests, such as the college searches set up by CollegeBoard and collegeprowler.com, is growing exponentially.
College Prowler grades schools on everything from the quality of academics and athletics to nightlife and student attractiveness. It also provides a purchasable “2012: Off the Record Guidebook” for each college and university, containing such details as school specific slang (i.e. ‘Glad’ and ‘ODL’).
With such a wealth of information available on the Internet, prospective students are finding it less and less necessary to contact or visit the school prior to submitting an application.
“It’s akin to buying clothes online,” says Blomgren, “If you go to a store you get a chance to try on what you’re looking at and know what that cut and that fabric feels like. You can feel if it’s a good fit for you.”
Blomgren worries that, despite the extensive descriptions of schools available on the web, prospective students cannot get all the information necessary to select a college online and miss opportunities which students in correspondence with schools take for granted. Students expressing inquiry before applying can receive information tailored to their specific interests, visit the school and develop a connection with admissions counselors.
“You can’t replace the experience of having a relationship with a counselor or coming to an open house,” says Dean of Students Deb Myers.
Myers comments that even though some aspects of the admission process cannot be transmitted on the Internet, the school is making adaptations to best cater to the rapidly growing online lead generation.
The administration is working toward improving and expanding the school’s website, advertising the school online with the most fitting description possible. The hope is that students will come to Warren Wilson finding exactly what they expected.
While enhancing the school’s webpage proves to be an inevitable adaptation, both Blomgren and Myers hope prospective students will not overlook the importance of nurturing a one-on-one relationship with admissions counselors.
“We really pride ourselves on being personal,” says Myers, “but it’s hard to get that feel from a website.”
Blomgren praises the admissions counselors for accurately illustrating life in the Warren Wilson community and identifying students who will help the community thrive.
He wrote in the 2011 Annual Admission Report, “While the how and who we recruit might morph from era to era, the need to build relationships with our applicants continues to be our priority and strength. They work tirelessly to both recruit and admit students who will benefit from a Warren Wilson education.”