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The Plight of the Second-Choice School

4 ways to go from the second choice blues to first choice nirvana!

When it comes to selecting a university, there’s a huge amount of information available about individual schools and their rankings. Add in the abundance of competitors regionally and nationally and the selection process is daunting for both prospects and universities alike.

Many universities that rank just below the top tier have very strong curricula, outstanding faculties and renowned alumni. They hold a high amount of appeal among student prospects that need quality options as they make their final selection.

So, what does it take to go from short list to being selected?  Well, it takes a coordinated effort on several fronts. Through our experience, there are 4 factors that can help turn the tide.

  1. Optimize your Brand: Make sure your brand is working as hard as possible. Review your current strategic plan to ensure that your institution’s marketing aligns with the tenants of the plan. Create a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) to understand if you are leveraging your biggest strengths and addressing your most formidable competitive threats. Leverage your optimized brand across your website and suite of communication recruiting materials in order to present your best competitive posture.
  1. Build Reputation: Spend time auditing your institution’s greatest assets — from hallowed traditions to accomplished alumni; and credentialed faculty to discoveries and breakthroughs. You are likely to be pleasantly surprised to find how many differentiating proof points have yet to be leveraged. Ensure that you communicate these functional benefits consistent with your optimized brand.
  1. Be More Competitive: Identify not only your current competitors, but also the top aspirational competitors. Analyze each of these groups in terms of their offerings and determine their key messaging points. Plot the competitors on an Opportunity Matrix to determine the “white space” you can best own that separates you from the clutter. Inventory your differentiated offerings / stories that uniquely deliver your story.
  1. Grow the US News Rankings: We know many of the questions are fairly fact based, such as enrollment and class sizes.  However, review the US News Rankings questionnaire to determine which answers your school can better optimize. It’s highly vital that your faculty understand the importance of spending appropriate time and applying considerable thought when answering the questions. It’s a good idea to increase the number of faculty that receives the annual questionnaire.  Our experience is that it may take time, but a sound strategy of increased faculty participation and rethinking some of the responses will help impact a change in the rankings.

The results of these efforts are a higher profile institution, stronger reputation, clearer advantage over current competitors and greater alignment with aspirational competitors — and having a larger yield of enrolled students among those you accept.

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