School of Graduate Studies

Summary of Best Recruitment Practices

To find the best students, you cannot wait for applicants to come to you. Be proactive in your graduate student recruitment. Information in this section is designed to help graduate program coordinators formulate an effective recruiting strategy. The content is divided into four parts: identify prospects, make initial contact, maintain interest, and evaluate strategy. Recommendations were synthesized from best practice documents produced by several research universities, including Arizona State University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wyoming.

Identify Prospects

  • Current undergraduates
    Identify high achieving undergraduate students from your (or a related) college and encourage them to apply to your graduate program. Please note that current USU honors students are not charged the application fee for graduate admission. Consider attending the Student Showcase and other academic events to identify students you would want to pursue. 
  • Network
    Determine where students that are the best "fit' to your program may come from, and develop "pipelines" with colleagues at those institutions for new student referrals. Immediately call or send a personalized email to suggested candidates. Encourage faculty to think of every faculty/student trip as a recruiting opportunity. Visit student posters at conferences and talk with student presenters about your program. Follow up promptly with all student inquiries; make sure they understand how much you value graduate student participation in your scholarly work. 
  • Strategic selection
    Utilize regional and national databases to contact top or underrepresented students. The National McNair Senior Directory and GRE student scores databases are examples of tools you can use to strategically gather names to reach your target market (see Finding the Best Students for details).

Make Initial Contact

  • Maintain your website.
    Websites should load quickly, showcase diversity within your program, be up-to-date and be easy to navigate. On your website, you should include articles and pictures of faculty and students, information on faculty interests/recent publications and updates on graduate students' accomplishments (publications, awards, etc.). Provide reasons for selecting your program and link to the graduate school website. Incorporate an electronic prospect request form for students seeking additional information. 
  • Send targeted mailings.
    Send mass emails and materials to students you are interested in. Make sure your branding is consistent across your publications and website. Provide information that will help students in their decision-making process and then refer them to the website. Balance mass marketing campaigns with targeted efforts.
  • Contact via telephone.
    Host an evening or weekend faculty telethon to call prospective students. This will allow students to ask questions or voice concerns. Make the event fun so faculty will be willing to participate each year.

Maintain Interest

  • Respond quickly to inquiries.
    Follow up on prospective student inquiries within 24 hours. Whether it is a personalized email or a phone call, studies have shown applicants choose the first institution to respond positively and personally to their inquiry/application.
  • Invite potential students for a recruitment visit.
    Sponsor a campus visit for top candidates. Bring the students at the same time so they can begin building relationships with one another. Offer a mix of social and academic activities. Allow students to sit in on a class, observe the research being done, and tour campus. Introduce students to the faculty in the graduate department and consider enlisting the help of current students to talk about their experience in the program. After the visit, call or send a personal email to candidates thanking them for visiting and expressing hope they will choose Utah State. Encourage all interested applicants to visit campus if they can.
  • Don't wait for application deadline to begin reviewing applications.
    Consider implementing a rolling admissions policy. Inform prospective students that applications will be accepted up to a certain date, but early submissions are encouraged and will be reviewed immediately. Try to make your decisions before your competition, because studies have shown students, especially international applicants, will choose to attend the first school they are accepted to.
  • Clearly express offer.
    Ensure accepted students know what they are being offered. Clearly state in their letter if they will receive additional funding and the details associated with that funding. If there are additional classes or steps students need to take, make sure they are aware of them.

Evaluate Strategy

  • Retain data.
    Maintain yield ratios, accurate attrition, and time-to-degree data. Know how your applicants vary year to year. Use this information to assess your recruiting effectiveness and to look for areas where you can improve.
  • Identify competitors.
    Identify your competitors, comparators, and leaders in the field. Look at how they recruit and see if there are ways your could improve your process. Set realistic goals for improvement each year.
  • Survey students.
    Survey current students to find out what aspects of your recruiting strategy were effective and which were not. Ask what mediums students preferred to learn about your program through and what mediums they found to be ineffective. Survey students who declined acceptance to the college to discover why. Learn your strengths and weaknesses. Use this information to target your messaging in a way that showcases your competitive advantage.
  • Collect data on student outcomes.
    Know where your alumni are located and working, collect testimonials from both past and present students and keep record of the different national awards or contests students have won. All of this information can be used to entice prospective students to apply to your program.
  • Assess results/ask questions.
    What is the "right size" cohort for your program? Do you have funding, faculty, and room for the number of students you currently have? What is the best indicator of success in your program (GRE, GPA, research experience, etc.)? Consider asking students to provide a statement of purpose on their application to get a better idea of strengths that are not evident through GPA or test scores.