What it Takes to Make the Class

A look at the time, money, and outreach it took to bring 532 freshmen to one university

In the popular imagination, admissions is about selection. But for many colleges, it’s really about recruitment. Most of the work involves encouraging potential students to apply, and admitted ones to enroll. To illustrate how that works, the University of Evansville, a private institution in Indiana, shared the numbers of potential students it connected with at each stage of the admissions process that brought in its 2014 freshman class.

Step 1

Identifying a Broad Pool

Step 1

Suspects

Identifying a Broad Pool

$270,000 estimated cost per year †

T. Scott Henne, dean of admissionU. of Evansville

Evansville starts by reaching out to 150,000 potential students. It gets most of their names from the big testing companies, ACT and the College Board, explains T. Scott Henne, dean of admission. Other "suspects," as potential students are called at this early stage, come from interactions the admission staff members have with students, like when they visit high schools.

Evansville sends information to its suspects via email and direct mail. To become a prospect, a suspect usually has to respond to one of those messages. The university has only so much money, Mr. Henne says, so “if the student doesn’t respond back, we may not keep sending.” There are some exceptions, though — students who would be legacies or who attend feeder schools may continue to hear from Evansville even if they don't respond to any of its messages.

Step 2

Narrowing the Field

Step 2

Prospects

Narrowing the Field

$355,000 estimated cost per year †

Mallory Schultz, senior admission counselorU. of Evansville

The university strives for a personal approach with prospective students. “We try to establish a relationship with the students as early as possible and get to know them,” says Mallory Schultz, a senior admission counselor and the university's regional representative in Chicago. For instance, if a student in Ms. Schultz's region sends in his ACT scores, she might respond with a handwritten note.

Once prospects send an application, Evansville counts them as applicants. But the university also asks for high-school transcripts, test scores, and an essay to help the staff get to know applicants on a more personal level.

Step 3

Taking the Leap

Step 3

Applicants

Taking the Leap

$175,000 estimated cost per year †

Kenton Hargis, associate director of admissionU. of Evansville

Lots of applications come in during September and October. Admission counselors are on the road during those months, so in addition to visiting high schools and attending college fairs they are reading applications remotely. Students start hearing about acceptances in October. Admitted students get a welcome letter from the president, says Kenton Hargis, associate director of admission, and about a week later they are notified about any merit scholarships. The counselor for an admitted student's territory will also make a congratulatory call. Each counselor makes approximately 400 such calls.

First Point of Contact

* Most of Evansville’s applicants came through its traditional suspect/prospect pathway. But 6 percent were “stealth applicants,” whose first contact with the university was their application.

Usually, the admission counselor reading an application makes the final decision on whether someone is admitted or denied. In borderline cases, the applicant must interview by phone or in person with the admission counselor and the dean before a decision is made. The purpose of the admissions process is “to ensure a student will be successful and can graduate on time,” Mr. Hargis says.

Step 4

Opening the Door

Step 4

Admits

Opening the Door

$125,000 estimated cost per year †

Samantha Mackey, exercise-science majorCourtney Westlake Photography

Samantha Mackey applied to four small and medium-size colleges in the middle of the country where she could prepare for a career as a physical therapist, including Evansville. She got into all of them.

Evansville offered Ms. Mackey direct entry into its physical-therapy doctoral program, as long as she keeps her grades up, and a good scholarship she could use for six years. The university also gave her a lot of personal attention, which she appreciated. She remembers thinking, "These guys really care about me." Ms. Mackey decided on Evansville.

Step 5

Making the Commitment

Step 5

Depositors

Making the Commitment

$60,000 estimated cost per year †

Catie Taylor, associate director of admissionU. of Evansville

The university requires a $300 deposit. Some admissions deposits come in as early as December, though most arrive later. That means the spring is full of events designed to help admitted students decide on Evansville. Individual visits are tailored to a student's academic and other interests. And admissions counselors stay in touch, though “we always call with a purpose," says Catie Taylor, associate director of admission, not just to chat.

The admissions staff begins fighting summer melt — in which students who have paid deposits never enroll — even before May 1, and the staff stays in touch with incoming students throughout the summer. The admissions office doesn't run the university's orientation program, but counselors often field admitted students' questions about it. “You never stop until they’re an enrolled student," Ms. Taylor says.

Step 6

Welcoming the Freshman Class

Step 6

Enrollees

Welcoming the Freshman Class

$985,000 total estimated cost per year †

Snapshot of the New Freshman Class

As you can see, more incoming students were added to the class after the May 1 response date. In fact, the pickup was even larger than it looks—14 students who had made deposits melted, and 112 others joined the class. Seventy-eight of those additional students were international.

Andy Romisch, chemistry majorKane Catt

By the time Andy Romisch arrived at Evansville for freshman welcome week, he'd already been to the campus four times. Through programs like a scholarship day and the university's "Road Trip" visit program — which buses in admitted students along several different routes — he had met incoming freshmen, some of whom are now his close friends, as well as older students and professors. The result? "I came in and already had a footing," he says. That's the sort of outcome the admissions staff is hoping for. After all, a student who's plugged in is more likely to come back for the sophomore year.

Step 1

Suspects

Step 2

Prospects

Step 3

Applicants

Step 4

Admits

Step 5

Depositors

Step 6

Enrollees

A Conclusion … and a Beginning

Bringing in those 532 freshmen was no small feat. It took months of work, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and lots of personalized attention. And long before it was over, the admissions staff was hard at work recruiting the next class.