Officials in college and university admissions departments are increasingly working to connect with an elusive new applicant demographic: the “stealth student.” The alliterative descriptor has caught on in higher ed circles, as has the recognition that capturing the attention of these unknown students—whose first contact with a school’s admissions department is when they submit an application—will be central to remaining competitive in the Millennial age.
The rise of the stealth student should come as no surprise in today’s “Uber of everything” world. Indeed, the mobile revolution has empowered prospective students to gather ample data about virtually any school to inform their decision about whether to apply for admission. For today’s current high school students—born into a world where just about everything is online—doing their own research about where to apply for college is second nature.
These students have mastered the process of critically reviewing a potential purchase before actually clicking ‘Buy’ on Amazon.com. They are utterly adept at assessing what the dozens (or hundreds) of other like-minded consumers with similar interests think about that same product. Simply put, high school students can glean immense amounts of useful information about a college or university via the internet.
The Stealth Student Challenge
So what, exactly, is the problem with stealth students?
We know that admissions counselors are tasked with attracting as many qualified applicants as possible to their respective schools, enabling selectivity among the strongest candidates, and facilitating a better fit for the college’s culture, academic focus and other factors. It would seem that students who do research online and then submit their application represent a pool of candidates the college’s recruiting team didn’t have to work—or spend money—to attract. That should appeal to admissions officers.
But this disconnect, or lack of engagement between the potential applicant and the school, presents a real challenge for both admissions departments and the students themselves. Take the example of a typical stealth student: s/he isn’t known to the admissions team because there has never been any direct contact between him or her and the university. This leaves no basis for determining how that potential applicant might stack up against a similar candidate who made multiple campus visits, attended recruiting events, or had some other type of interaction with the school before submitting their application.
(Next page: The first step in meeting the stealth student challenge)
The stealth student, in this case, will likely face a disadvantage compared to the engaged – or above-radar, as it were – applicant. The stealth student probably won’t fare as well compared to an otherwise-comparable applicant, which can shortchange the stealth student’s chances of winning acceptance to what may be their top choice school.
And it’s not just the stealth student that loses from this imbalance –the college’s admissions team is also placed at a disadvantage. A would-be applicant’s lack of personal contact with the school does not reflect the likelihood that that applicant might represent a superb addition to the next freshman class. Yet the admissions team might understandably be more inclined to accept applicants who have engaged enthusiastically with them, and do so at the expense of the stealth students.
So the admissions team loses out on an entire category: those applicants who independently obtained all the information they felt they needed to make an informed decision to apply. This arguably undercuts the admissions teams’ core charge of helping the college achieve its admission goals of attracting the best candidates.
The First Step
The savvier admissions departments have already identified this challenge—and the related opportunity—and are deploying the necessary technology and strategies; including adding links to their websites where prospective students can click to schedule a phone or in-person meeting to engage with, and capture, the interest of stealth students.
Those that are slow to move will be playing catch up as potential applicants engage with and select competing programs.