Online Lead Generation: It’s Not Just for For-Profits Anymore

By Elizabeth Kraus - Tue, May 25-->


Guest Postrecruitment

Back in the glory days of higher education, all colleges had to do to recruit students was to build some ornate stone towers and a reputation for academic excellence and students would flock their doors. But unfortunately, that is no longer the case. There are now roughly 6000 post-secondary institutions in the U.S. and last year, students applied to an average of SEVEN colleges. Students are starting to understand that they have options and are doing more research before they make their college choice. 82% of students start their college search online and what do they find?

Online college lead generation vendors. That’s what they find.

Just try it. Since I’m from Michigan, I’ll use “michigan colleges” as an example. The entire first page of Google results is made up of listings from college lead gen vendors.

It’s no longer a question of whether your prospective students are using these services, but rather – can you afford not to?

If you are one of the lucky colleges to be ranked in the top 50 of the U.S. News and World Report, you are probably still immune to this, but for the other 5550 colleges, if you aren’t using these services, there is a good chance your competitors are. Can you afford to let your competition contact your prospective students before you do?

Well, the good news is, you have options. Here is a breakdown of the different types of online lead generation vendors out there:

Host and Post:

Over 90% of the lead generation vendors are still operating on the “Host and Post” model that was largely developed to service the for-profit clients. Here is an example of one of these. These sites “host” a list of advertisements for colleges that are working with them and try to encourage students to request information from these colleges.


1)    High volume of student leads.

2)    You only pay for student leads who request information from your school specifically.


1)    No control over which schools you are listed next to.

2)    Not a great experience for the student as these sites only list the colleges who have paid to be there.

3)    If your college is not well-known, students will be unlikely to proactively request information from you.

Many traditional not-for-profit colleges have been hesitant to use these in the past because you can’t control which colleges you will be listed next to, so you risk being associated with schools that you would not consider your peers.

This is why some other players have come on board with solutions that allow colleges to better protect their brand and connect with more qualified students. The two main types of lead generation sites in this arena are:

College Social Networking Sites:

Zinch is more or less the dominant player in this area. Students come to these sites and fill out a profile with their interests, academic record and college preferences. Colleges then login and decide which students they want to reach out to.


1)    It’s a format in which students are used to because it’s kind of like facebook. Students get to feel like celebrities and because they control how much information they share, it’s not as intrusive.

2)    Colleges can see more information about the student to further qualify them before reaching out.


1)    Students are not required to fill out the entire profile, so the amount of information provided varies.

2)    Any college working with the service can contact the student prospects, so again, you risk being associated with schools that you would not consider your peers.

3)    For colleges with a limited budget and staff, finding time to sift through the student profiles and follow up in a timely manner could be a challenge.

College Matching Sites:

These lead generation sites use an intelligent matching system to pre-determine whether the student is a good fit for your college. myUsearch is one of these, as are Collegeboard and Peterson’s. These sites have pretty lengthy questionnaires to determine which colleges the students are well suited for. After completing the questionnaire, the student is given a list of recommended schools and an opportunity to request information from their matching colleges.


1)    Because these sites send students through their questionnaires, the students will better fit your profile and will be more likely to enroll.

2)    The intelligent matching also ensures that you will be listed among like-minded peer institutions.

3)    Your college will be seen as an honest recommendation instead of an advertisement.


1)    Because these are pre-filtered, volume tends to be lower.

2)    Higher cost-per-lead.

However, if you are an admissions department with a limited budget and staff, then low volume, but high quality might not be a bad thing.

Of course, since our company is an intelligent matching service, I think these are the best, but I firmly believe you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. None of these solutions are going to be your silver bullet. You have to find the right mix of each. For more tips on how to navigate the sea of online lead generation options, check out our next upcoming webinar: Comparing the Cost of Online Recruitment Options on June 22, at 3pm EST.

This post was written by:

Elizabeth Kraus

Author Elizabeth Kraus, is a marketing and branding expert and the co-founder of, the Honest College Matchmaker, an online matchmaking service that delivers qualified and invested student inquiries to help colleges protect their brand, control marketing costs and connect to students who are actually interested in their institution.

3 Responses to “Online Lead Generation: It’s Not Just for For-Profits Anymore”

  1. Says:

    Interesting article. This article focuses only on online lead generation of domestic students.

    There are a huge market for International students (China, India, South Korea, ..) who apply for admission to U.S. Universities.

    I have been blogging about Graduate School Admission for students in India and made several attempts to find Universities who might be interested in lead generation for International market. Few universities work with agents, but social media is underutilized.

    My blog gets over 250,000 visitors with 1 Million page views per month with just target audience of students from India and Grad School, but yet to find any leads (universities) to work with.

    There are few college/student match services coming out, but it tends towards agent/commission model.

  2. Says:

    Do you know if any universities are having success generating leads using Twitter, Blogging, LinkedIn or Facebook? We are using some of the tools you have mentioned here and have actually stopped using Zinch because our Admin Reps just weren’t into it. It took a lot of time. Anyways, I have a blog were I write about developing our social media strategy. I just wrote about our issue with lead gen using social media: (I’m not doing this to get traffic to my blog, I genuinely want to know if any schools have had success using Twitter, etc for lead gen.) I am a woman on a mission to figure out how to make this work for us.

  3. Says:

    Retargeting previous website visitors to come back and continue their research or sign up for more information could be an interesting solution.