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Turning Your Undergraduate Alumni Into Graduate Students

5 min read

Graduate student enrollment is following the same pattern as undergrad enrollment - a steady decline. Colleges and universities that utilize data and technology can drastically improve graduate student recruitment efforts, and it’s important to choose the correct audience. Reaching out to graduating undergrads and recent alumni is an obvious move.

Mongoose spoke with Lauren Kicak, the Associate Director of Graduate Admissions at Canisius Canisius College, and Mike Seaman, a Mongoose Client Success Lead who worked with Lauren at Canisius, to collect tips and best practices on how to successfully recruit undergraduate alumni into graduate students. Here are relevant recommendations from the conversation for institutions to follow to boost graduate recruitment.

Look at Your Data

Economic factors rule the world of graduate admissions. Many schools fill their ranks of grad students from the list of students fresh off the stage from graduation, but that can change when recent alumni can easily find gainful employment without the need for another degree.

“Check your data. See if your incoming graduate group is coming from your undergraduate population. If the job market is hot, there might be a delay in undergrads coming in to grad school. This particular population might be holding off as students need to pay their bills.” - Lauren Kicak

Students might be unsure of their future and need more guidance. The more you know about where recent alumni are in their journey, the easier it is to craft messaging that relates to them.


Make Undergraduates Aware of Grad Programs

If you wait until students have graduated, it might be too late to recruit them as graduate students. Include current students in your recruitment communications. Most current students will be so wrapped up in working for their diploma, they might not even be aware of graduate programs that are available at your institution. Bringing the idea of graduate school while they are still enrolled could also entice them to stay at your institution longer. 

“Sometimes undergrads need to be told what graduate programs that would be a great fit for their majors. A lot of times, they’re not aware of what’s available.” - Lauren Kicak

Even if now is not the right time for a student to consider a graduate degree, your messages will be top-of-mind if and when they do consider grad school. 

Seek Help from Other Departments

The familiarity with your institution that recent alumni have can be a positive or negative, depending upon their experience. If a student enjoyed their time at your school and found value, your college’s faculty can be a powerful ally in graduate recruitment.

“There’s a level of comfortability. They know the same people and, if you have faculty that teach at the undergrad and grad level, you have recruitment built right in because they can make recommendations for students to stay on for grad school.” - Lauren Kicak

If your department can form partnerships with other departments on campus who might have more contact (and more influence) with current students, you can build a more effective comm strategy. Understanding the needs and wants of undergraduates, as well as their opinions of your institution, can help your department plan what to say in recruitment texts and emails.

“If they’ve had a great time, it’s definitely going to be easier to have that conversation. If not, there’s still time for you to change that, too. There are things that you can position in front of them and capture them for the future.” - Mike Seaman, Mongoose Client Success Lead

Make sure the academic advisors at your institution know about the graduate programs available at your school, and provide them with context on why it’s important to keep current students in the loop on this information. Students reach out to people with whom they’re most familiar. They probably won’t think to reach out to the graduate admissions team.

Don’t Neglect Alumni 

Life changes. People decide every day to explore new and exciting opportunities, so it doesn’t make sense to ignore someone who graduated from your university ten or twenty years ago. 

It can be overwhelming for a department to be tasked with sorting through large alumni lists, then planning and executing a communication strategy, especially since time and resources are always in short supply in higher education. Focus on one, small group of alumni first and advocate for more resources when you find success.


“If you’re a large school, be creative and start small. Work with one particular faculty department, start that list, and see if you can get results from it. Then, try to expand and get buy-in from other departments.” - Lauren Kicak


Take the time to differentiate your messages based on your audience. Someone who graduated from your school ten years ago is not going to respond to the same messaging as someone who just received their diploma. 

“Crafting and tailoring specific messaging, and showing the journey of similar people who graduated years ago and what happened to them when they went back to school, is key.” - Mike Seaman

Respond Quickly to Questions

Continuing education is a difficult and stressful decision. When a recent alumni wants information on graduate programs, they’re going to be drawn to an institution that responds to those questions quickly. Now more than ever, current students and alumni want immediate answers. Application requirements are often a big barrier to students trying to further their education, and the more you can guide them through the process, the better results you’ll have.

Because students and alumni rarely respond to calls and often ignore emails, texting offers the best way to provide quick, back-and-forth answers to their questions.

Awareness of Alumni Incentives

Does your institution offer tuition assistance or scholarships for current students who are already obtaining undergrad degrees? It’s possible recent grads and current students aren’t aware of incentives available to them. 

“If you have incentives to get them to stay, and you can convey that to faculty, that can be something that can sway them to pursue graduate programs.” - Mike Seaman

The reality of student loan debt hits hard the day after graduation. Young alumni are extremely cost-sensitive, so any resources that can increase their return on investment will help.

Check out the full For Your Institution episode below to hear more ways in which you can recruit undergraduate alumni into graduate students, and save your spot to join us live at our next episode.

 

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