Three Ways Advanced Analytics Help You Recruit and Retain Transfer Students

Some of you have depended upon recruiting transfer students to achieve your institution’s undergraduate enrollment (UG) goals. You have a well-developed strategy with commensurate resources to manage the enrollment processes from the first contact to graduation.

However, for many institutions, I daresay most institutions, recruiting transfer students has been secondary to first-year admissions; therefore, analysis, planning, and managing transfer enrollment is not well-developed. The primary reason was that those institutions could meet their UG enrollment goals through the initial enrollment, retention, and persistence of the first-year class.

Even before COVID, it became increasingly clear to many institutions that they could no longer achieve their UG enrollment goals, particularly goals related to net tuition revenue, by solely focusing on first-year students.

Institutions have and will increasingly find that developing, implementing, and managing a transfer enrollment strategy from the first contact to graduation must become a higher priority.

Why do you need data and advanced analytics to recruit and retain transfer students?

Over the past year or so, industry experts have encouraged higher education leaders to leverage advanced analytics to survive. With the complexity and competition of the market, achieving tactical and strategic enrollment goals presents a prime opportunity to leverage the insights of predictive analytics and the effective solutions offered by prescriptive analytics.

Given the immaturity of transfer enrollment strategy at many institutions and the capability of advanced analytics for higher ed, I believe that transfer student enrollment can lead to quick enrollment wins.

Three Ways to Use Advanced Analytics to Recruit and Retain Transfer Students

In this blog, I present three ways to pick up those wins by identifying which students are most likely to enroll, leveraging financial aid to recruit transfer students, and building paths for student success. I’ll dig into each one below.

For the nimble enrollment leader and institution, the wins are achievable for the Fall 2021 transfer class!

1. Identify the Transfer Students Most Likely to Enroll

From my conversations with enrollment leaders, it appears your budgets are either level or taking significant cuts. However, I haven’t heard anyone say that their Fall 2021 goals are: bring in fewer students, increase the discount rate, lessen diversity, and don’t worry about affordability!

At this point in your careers, most of you have become adept at doing more with less, but this time you realize the challenges aren’t short term. From my own experience, the ability to optimize admissions recruitment and marketing resources is one of the superpowers of advanced analytics.

Tactics to improve your transfer admissions approach

  • Use advanced analytics for targeted and efficient marketing

Every year, there are students your institution admitted who decided to enroll elsewhere. The changes to NACAC guidelines now allow you to recruit those students. One tactic is to send mass emails to all those students, but that’s not efficient nor effective given the expectations of today’s students nor your resources. Rather, what if you knew which of these students had the highest likelihood of enrolling as a first-year student before they enrolled elsewhere?

Instead of sending out thousands of emails or texts that read like cold calls, advanced analytics provide the capability to segment and target your transfer communications at the right students—the ones you have the best chance of converting. By focusing on the right students, your communications strategy can be more high touch and impactful.

For example, send a targeted email at a student with a high probability of enrolling, and using other data, you may have to focus the content. Follow up the email or text with a call from a current student, and then send a communication from your transfer counselor to ask the student what specific questions or challenges they have. The personal outreach and the rhythm of the communication will maximize the ROI of your communications strategy, and you will already be working on transfer student success.

  • Use advanced analytics to personalize your recruiting approaches for your best transfer prospects

When it comes to recruiting transfer students, we all recognize the importance of a prospective student’s visit to campus. Transfer students have specific questions about credit transfer, specific programs, progress to degree, financial aid, and housing that need to be answered during a campus visit. That should lead institutions to have visitation programs specifically for transfer students and ensure most of the visit slots are taken by the students who are most likely to enroll.

Imagine being able to target the students who present the highest probability of enrolling with a special event just for them, the “VIP Transfer Visit Day!”

You can with data and analytics because you will know a lot about those students before they arrive on campus. This enables your team to have the right resources available, making the student’s decision to transfer to your institution as easy as possible.

2. Show them the Money

Many institutions have never developed a financial aid leveraging strategy for transfer students, or if they did, it wasn’t backed up by the same level of analytics or management that was the basis for the first-year fin aid leveraging model.

As institutions, we figured that we didn’t face the same competition for admitted transfer students that we did for that student as a first-year student. They were just applying to my school or maybe one more, not the 8-10 or more schools they were applying to for freshmen admissions.

In most cases, the admitted transfer student was offered less aid than they had been offered just a year or two prior, and in some cases, the student was offered no aid as a transfer, although they had received an aid offer when admitted as a first-year. Given the competition for UG enrollment that is already vicious in many parts of the country and will only get worse, it is wise to leverage aid to recruit transfer students.

  • Understand price sensitivity at the individual student level

Simple financial aid leveraging models use the family’s ability to pay and some academic metric or formula and puts the student in large “buckets” based on those two data points. In 2021 and beyond, that’s not enough to maximize your financial aid resources to achieve your UG enrollment goals.

We know so much more about each applicant and admitted student. You probably have several years of data about a prospective transfer student, presuming you started recruiting them as a high school sophomore or junior. Depending on your student information system and if you have been using a CRM, you should have behavioral data such as if the student has visited, how they responded to marketing, or if the student called or emailed your office. These data provide much better fidelity of price sensitivity than simply an academic metric and ability to pay.

With advanced analytics, we can use a significant amount of data we have to reveal the price sensitivity of individual students. These insights can be used to develop an initial financial aid offer and/or consider a financial aid appeal from the admitted transfer student. The goal is to provide the student with the amount of aid needed to compel them to enroll while not providing too much, i.e., maximizing the net tuition revenue after aid for each student. Further, for students with financial need, advanced analytics can provide insights into the amount of aid the student needs to support initial enrollment, as well as their retention and persistence to graduation.

3. Build Paths for Transfer Students to Succeed at Your Institution

Although transfer students feel they are “old timers” in terms of attending college and they don’t need any assistance, the reality is that they will be confronted by a host of challenges, some of which are specific to transfer students. Yet, for most institutions, student success efforts and resources have been oriented toward the retention and persistence of first-year students.

If you have examined it, you may have discovered that the retention and persistence of transfer students are less than that of first-year students. So, given the budget environment, how can you effectively AND efficiently support the retention and persistence of your transfer population? The key is to know what each student, or cohort of students, needs, when they need it, and then build a framework to manage timely intervention(s) to ensure the students’ success. In some way, this is like “just in time” logistics management.

Advanced analytics can provide those insights. So, instead of replicating academic and/or student life success programs that have worked at other institutions or simply expanding your first-year student success programs, your data, with advanced analytics, can identify the factors and the timing that have the most impact on your transfer students’ retention and persistence.


I am confident the tactics I have outlined above can deliver success in the short and long term. However, for a comprehensive strategy, you and your university colleagues will have to examine the credit evaluation process, assess and/or develop new articulation agreements, address housing, parking, and transportation for transfer students, offer or expand capacity in high demand programs, etc.

This is the year to update your transfer student enrollment strategies

For many institutions, the undergraduate enrollment picture is grim, which means the net tuition revenue picture is equally grim.

We can look back to the last decade or farther and continue to try tactics and strategies that worked back then, which was a much different time in strategic enrollment management. Or we can recognize the enrollment environment has changed dramatically, be guided by predictive and prescriptive analytics, and manage our actions and resources effectively and efficiently.

Leveraging advanced analytics for transfer admissions, financial aid, and student success provides the perfect opportunities to move fast to achieve and exceed your institution’s UG enrollment goals.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultative meeting with the author to discuss your transfer student approach and how we can help.