INDIANAPOLIS — The old model that colleges used to recruit, through mass mailings to promising students and selective visits to key high schools, is giving way to sophisticated matchmaking tools of technology.
On Thursday morning, the National Association for College Admission Counseling opened an exhibit hall here at its 70th convention that points the way to the future of recruiting. Vendors offered admission officers and high school counselors a number of tools to help them fill college classes or provide information to help students navigate a bewildering market.
Sure, they were looking to make a splash for their companies. But they were also notable for their youth and enthusiasm for the technological revolution at hand.
Chegg, based in Santa Clara, Calif., owns the Web site Zinch.com, which promises to help “overwhelmed” students “stay on track” in their college search. Gil Rogers, director of marketing and outreach, said Chegg can provide colleges with tens of thousands of names of students who are potentially interested in them and fit their profile.
“We help them save time, save money, recruit smarter,” Rogers said. The 31-year-old salesman also had another key tool at his display: orange boxes for conventioneers to pack and ship their swag.
Niche, based in Pittsburgh, owns a site that used to be called College Prowler. “We survey students at all the colleges,” said Mark Tressler, 28, vice president for business development. “They tell us what it’s like — housing, academics, the meal plans. Basically we’re a Yelp for major life decisions. Customer reviews of colleges.”
Hobsons, based in Cincinnati, owns the college search tool Naviance and the information/gossip clearinghouse College Confidential. Daniel Obregon, 36, vice president for product management and marketing, said Naviance reaches nearly 6 millions students worldwide. He said colleges can buy exposure to targeted groups of prospects through Naviance, enabling schools “to more effectively seek out these students.”
PrepTalk, based in San Clemente, Calif., helps recruiters connect with students through webcasting, in one-on-one sessions or 1-to-1,000. Katie McDonald, 38, the chief operating officer, said some students will stay with the webcasts for 45 minutes at a time. “Which for a 17- or 18-year-old is not bad,” she said. McDonald’s swag? She was giving away bottle openers with laminated business cards attached. At 4:30 p.m., she said, the company planned to have a keg of Budweiser at its booth.
There were numerous other companies, such as Uversity, based in San Francisco, which offers schools an app to connect with admitted students who have not yet made a final decision, and BlueFuego, based in Indianapolis, which helps schools market through interactive Web pages.
Some of these companies, which essentially offer middleman services, might be players for years to come in college admissions. Some might not. But collectively, they show that there is huge change afoot in how students and colleges find each other. It’s no longer just about the power of big brand names and recruiting visits to favored high schools. Technology is driving the upheaval.
“A lot of people are afraid it’s going to take the personalization out of admissions,” said Brad Ward, 30, chief executive of BlueFuego. “I think it’s helping schools be smarter and more strategic.”