How to Bend Enrollment Deadlines Without Breaking Them

Posted: October 15, 2021

Brandi Stocker Director of Research & Analytics

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2 min. read

Many institutions are struggling to hit enrollments post-NACAC

You’ve probably asked yourself if deadlines are still important. Or, maybe you have considered going into desperation mode, and accepting any and all stragglers who walk through the door.

Overall, imposing a lenient deadline on prospective students won’t run the risk of missing your goals. It’s a great way to filter in the ambitious and the proactive, and help you recruit enough of the right students for your cohort. 

The Merit of Deadlines

Deadlines will always be a useful tool to drive prospective students to do what you want them to accomplish on your timeline, even if you end up having to extend or make exceptions. 

The reality is that 17-year-olds (and 37-year-olds, for that matter) will usually do something tomorrow rather than today, if they can. Deadlines often provide a necessary sense of urgency. 

Even if your deadlines end up being realistically flexible, they can also elevate the perception of your institution. Pushing deadlines back too much, or essentially doing away with them, can lead to a perception that there isn’t much demand for your institution. That, of course, can imply a perception of lower value or quality. 

The pandemic year was an exception. But now that many students and guidance counselors are back in their high schools, and others are back to something closer to normal, you can justify a return to usual rhythms. 

How Late is Fashionably Late?

There are some other considerations. For example, how late is too late for a student to not be prepared to be academically successful, just because they applied well past the deadline? 

If your core audience skews first-generation learners, lead time is a must. It is critical that they have the chance to get financial aid processed, attend important orientations, and other checklist items completed. For graduate students, their paths to enrollment may call for a different approach. 

The bottom line is to keep deadlines in fashion, but tailor them to the needs of your audiences rather than setting them in stone.

Deadline Extension Strategies to Try

Below are a few strategies you can use to bend your deadlines without breaking them in desperation:

  • Instead of announcing you’ve extended a deadline, we recommend statements more like ‘still accepting applications for X term,’ especially for prospects already in the funnel. 
  • Reach out to higher-priority prospects who didn’t apply to your initial outreach, and offer to accommodate their past-due application. This allows you to gauge interest, pre-screen each lead further, and build a stronger relationship. 

For a bit more of a direct approach to the deadline extension, try creating a new deadline to create some urgency in applying. In other words, ‘light the fire’ under them. This is slightly different from the “still accepting apps” rhetoric, which is a bit more relaxed, but still allows you to take advantage of the benefits of deadlines. For example:

  1. Set your deadline at the start of the cycle (e.g., March 15 for a Fall start).
  2. Extend that deadline with a new fixed deadline (e.g., April 15 or May 1).
  3. Then, move into the ‘still accepting” phase,’ as you can’t hope to get away with a new deadline every few weeks in the spring/summer.

I’ve seen success in combining multiple strategies during my tenure at higher ed institutions. The key is to pick the strategy that fits with where you are in meeting your enrollment goals. 

There will always be latecomers. Resist the urge to become a doormat, while finding creative ways to leave other doors open for those who want to enter and enroll. 

Dr. Brandi Stocker is an accomplished enrollment marketing expert who has helped a number of higher ed institutions revolutionize and automate their strategies for nurturing leads to enrollment and improving yield. If you have questions or want to start a conversation with Brandi about how we can help you use marketing to drive enrollment growth, please reach out to us. We are on a mission to help higher education institutions succeed.