Are you happy with the performance of your student recruitment funnel?

Student recruitment is a sales process


According to an Investopedia article on the internet, the definition of sales is: “A transaction between two or more parties in which the buyer receives goods (either tangible or intangible), services, and/or assets in exchange for money or in some cases, other assets paid to a seller.” So, by definition, student recruitment is a sales transaction because:

  • Two or more parties (the education institution, students and in some cases, the sponsors of the students) enter a transaction; in which
  • The student (the buyer) receives an education from the education institution (the seller); and
  • In exchange for the education, the buyer (or their sponsor) pays the seller money in the form of tuition fees.


Since student recruitment is a sales transaction, it is often helpful to refer to the models and concepts from the large body of knowledge and wisdom that can be found in scientifically valid studies in the field of sales. One such model that is useful when applied to student recruitment is the concept of the ‘sales funnel’.


The sales funnel


A sales funnel is a visual representation of the customer journey through the sales process from first contact and interaction with your organisation through to when purchase is completed and beyond.

The typical sales funnel is divided into multiple steps, which differ depending on the particular context and industry it is being applied to. One of the generic ways of dividing a sales funnel possesses the six broad phases indicated in the diagram below:



One of the advantages of using the sales funnel model is that it can give you insights into your potential customer’s thought processes, challenges and decisions at each step of the sales process. Therefore, the sales funnel provides you with a framework that will enable you to proactively design a sales process that will:

  • nurture and support your prospective buyers through the buying process;
  • efficiently, effectively and conveniently meet the different needs of your prospective buyers at each stage of the buying process; and
  • ensure that your prospective customers have a positive experience of interacting and transacting with your organisation.

Without an intentional focus on optimising outcomes for your organisation and for your customers at each stage of the sales funnel, it is almost impossible to efficiently grow your sales and revenue in a sustainable manner over time. It is for this reason that we need to seriously consider the sales funnel and its implications in our student recruitment endeavours.


The student recruitment funnel


One way of adapting the sales funnel to the student recruitment context could result in a student recruitment funnel that looks like the one in the diagram below:



As can be seen from the above student recruitment funnel, there are 10 stages in the funnel. Each of the 10 stages are described in the table below:


Student Recruitment Funnel Stage Brief Description Comments Questions to consider
Pre-Awareness These are future students in the market who are completely unaware that your institution exists or of the courses that you have to offer These future students could benefit from studying at your institution, but you are simply not on their radar (yet).


Unless they become aware of your existence, you have 0% chance of recruiting these students.

  • What are you doing to attract the attention of prospective future students who are not aware of you?
  • How can you increase the number of the future students (who would be a good fit for your institution) but are not aware of what you have to offer?
Awareness These are future students in the market who know of your existence and understand that you are an education institution who offer courses etc. While these future students might be aware of your existence, they may not be interested in coming to study with you. They may instead be interested in some of your competitors.


There is a small probability that these students could consider studying at your institution.

  • Are you raising awareness of your institution and courses in a way that piques the interest of your target audience?
  • How are your messages at the top of the funnel triggering curiosity and inspiring prospects to engage further with your brand?
Interest These future students are those who are aware of your existence and have demonstrated interest in what you have to offer.


Their interest could be manifested either as research conducted on your website; attending an event that you organised; or interacting with your institution by submitting an enquiry etc.

This group of future students are curious about what you have to offer. They want to know and learn a little bit about your institution to see if it is something they should consider.


The level of customer service, quality of information and convenience that you provide at this stage can greatly enhance the probability of these future students giving your institution some serious consideration.

  • Are your messages at the top end of the funnel resonating with the wants and needs of your target audience?
  • Can your target audience access the information they need to consider in a convenient manner?
Consideration In this stage, the future students are giving careful thought to determine whether or not they want to invest their time and effort in submitting an application. This is an investigative stage where the future student will be contemplating whether or not they can be bothered with taking the next step.


The following factors all impact on their decision of whether or not to submit an application: accessibility of information; whether or not the messages resonate with them or not; the channels that your information is provided etc.

  • Are your instructions about how to apply easy to understand?
  • Is your application process simple and relatively effortless?
Intent In this stage, the future student will demonstrate the outcome of his/her consideration by starting the (course) application process If the applicant completes and submits an application, this means that you are on their shortlist. A typical shortlist tends to be 3 or 4 institutions, but in some cases could be as many as 7 or 8.


Now, your probability of getting the future student is in double digits. However, there is still a high probability that you will not get the student.

  • How quick are your admission turn-around times?
  • Does your admissions process communicate that you value your applicants and that they are important to you?
  • Are your offer letters easy to understand?
Evaluation In this stage, the future students and their parents or sponsors examine all offers on the table, including those of your competitors, as they inch toward a final buying decision Your value proposition and the benefits of studying at your institution need to be very clear and explicit.

There is a high probability that you will lose the student to a competitor who is able to more effectively communicate their value proposition.

  • Are your communications to offer-holders making it clear to them what your value-propositions are?
  • Are you communicating the benefits they will gain if they choose to study with your institution?
Purchase This group represents the students that will accept your offer and commit to studying at your institution Now the probability of successfully recruiting these students is 90%+.


There is still a small possibility that something may get in the way of them commencing their studies with you.

  • What are you doing to build anticipation and excitement within your commencing student cohort?
  • How well are you proactively preparing your commencing students for a positive transition into your institution?
Loyalty This group represents those commencing students who have enrolled in their commencing teaching period and have had a positive transition and experience.


They start to develop an allegiance and affiliation with, and a sense of belonging to, your institution.

It is necessary for your students to be loyal to you before they can become advocates
  • What are you doing to support the sense of belonging within your commencing student cohort?
  • How are you actively building a strong and vibrant community that will inspire loyalty?
Advocacy This is the group of your students who will actively and publicly support and recommend your institution to their family, friends and social networks The more of these advocates you have, and the more effective you are at utilising their potential, the better the outcomes you will get in your student recruitment funnels for future intakes
  • How well do you leverage off your current students as advocates for better future student recruitment outcomes?
  • How well do you leverage off your alumni as advocates for better future student recruitment outcomes?
Re-Purchase Prospect Your students who are advocates are your hottest prospects for them to undertake further study with you There is overwhelming evidence that it is much more cost-effective to sell to existing customers than it is to recruit new ones. ·        Are you considering your current students as potential future students?

·        Are you considering your alumni as a source of potential future students?


This student recruitment funnel is a useful framework that can be used to design and develop strategies and content that can be used for student recruitment purposes.


Why the student recruitment funnel is a useful model

The student recruitment funnel is important because selling to modern students who have a significant range of options and choices at their finger-tips, is not as simple as sending them to your website and expecting that they will purchase from you.

A key benefit of the student recruitment funnel is that it gives you the opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive in your student recruitment approach. If you currently operate in a reactive manner, you will know what the impact and costs of operating that way are, to your customers, your staff, your colleagues, your education institution, and to yourself. On the other hand, the benefits that you can expect by being proactive include:

1.     You will be better prepared to deal with situations as and when they occur – If you are honest with yourself, you will recognise that between 80-90% of what happens in the student recruitment process is repetitive. If you have given careful thought to how you will service the future students at all stages of the funnel, you will preempt and avoid a significant amount of chaos tomorrow. By preparing to service the entire funnel, you will uncover potential problems or risks and minimise your exposure to it.

2.     Save your colleagues, your staff and yourself  time and money – By investing in the work and effort now, you will save thousands of hours of time spent in your institution each year. Remember, time is money, so, if you save time, you are invariably saving money as well.

3.     Identify gaps and recognise opportunities for improvement – As you work through the communication plan for each stage of the funnel, you will inevitably identify opportunities for better conversion outcomes.

4.     Become better at projecting recruitment results – The student recruitment funnel will help you develop some key performance indicators that you can track, measure and report on. The key performance indicators at the top of the funnel are lead indicators that can be a fairly reliable and accurate basis to make future projections about outcomes at the bottom end of the funnel. With such a capability, you will have time to do something about any likely drops in performance before it is too late.

5.     Allows for flexibility in focusing on high value tasks– Being proactive gives you more options because you have considered the majority of things before they happen. This will allow you the time and space to focus on high value tasks when they matter the most.

6.     Self-improvement and awareness – As you are contemplating the various segments in the funnel and how best to service their needs at each stage, you will recognise things about yourself and your institution that you’ve become unknowingly accustomed to. This renewed awareness will give you access to making changes that will have a positive impact on your institution and yourself.

7.     See the big picture and understand long-term goals – By proactively catering to the needs of your future students in the funnel, you will notice an automatic shift in your mindset as the bigger-picture and long-term goals become clearer.

8.     Set clearer directions for your future – Hoping that things will turn out well is not a responsible approach to developing and implementing strategy. The student recruitment funnel provides you with a plan, and a path of how to get to your student recruitment objective(s).

9.     Peace of mind – You will be happy with where you are and where you are going because you have an idea of what is coming. It’s easier to sleep at night when you have a plan for the morning.

10.  Get better revenue outcomes for your institution – Ultimately, your institution needs to generate enough revenue from tuition fees in order for it to operate in a sustainable manner. The student recruitment funnel could be just the thing your institution needs right now in order to have more certainty about student recruitment outcomes.


These are just a few of the benefits of using the student recruitment funnel as a model to support you in being proactive instead of reactive.


In light of all the above, the question to ask right now is: “Are you happy with the performance of your student recruitment funnel”?


Are you happy with the results you are getting from your student recruitment funnel?


Whether you answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the above question  the opportunity before you now is: what can you do to take your performance to the next level?


In my experience, I have come across some examples of education institutions that have really good practice in some of the funnel stages. However, it is rare to find an institution who has really intentionally designed a solid student recruitment funnel for optimal results at every stage. Irrespective of how well an institution services their future students in the funnel, there is always an opportunity to do it better.


There is therefore an amazing opportunity for forward-thinking institutions and student recruiters to gain a competitive advantage over their competitors by latching onto the potential inherent within existing student recruitment funnels. This is where “The Art of Student Recruitment Sales Training Course” can assist and support student recruiters in taking their individual and institution performance to the next level.


The Art of Student Recruitment Sales Training Course

The Art of Student Recruitment Sales Training Course teaches participants to use a science-based-selling approach to ethical and sustainable student recruitment. The core objective of the course is to boost the performance of participants by equipping them with the knowledge and skills the improve their effectiveness in every part of the buying process.

The student recruitment funnel is initially addressed in the “Fundamentals of Student Recruitment” module, which is the first of 12 modules to be delivered in the 3-day intensive course. In the Fundamentals of Student Recruitment module, participants will learn, discuss and develop an understanding of:

·        What feelings and emotions you should seek to intentionally arouse in your target audience at each stage of the funnel.

·        How to determine how effective you are at triggering the feelings required to generate motivation in your target audience to take action and convert to the next stage.

·        How to ensure that the quality of the tangible and intangible aspects of your student recruitment enterprise consistently inspire trust in your prospects throughout the funnel.

·        How to maximise the probability that your target audience will perceive  your institution favourably.


After introducing the concept in the fundamentals of student recruitment module, the student recruitment funnel is addressed or referred to in almost all the other 11 modules covered in the course. It really is one of the ‘fundamental’ models upon which the rest of the course is designed on.


If you are interested in learning more about the student recruitment funnel and other science-based-selling approaches to ethical and sustainable student recruitment, register for one of the scheduled events that still has tickets available for sale.



Register for The Art of Student Recruitment Sales Training Course


Do you want to learn more about the Student Recruitment Funnel and other science-based selling techniques? Register now to attend any one of the following courses near you:




  • Melbourne: Tuesday 22 October – Thursday 24 October 2019
  • Adelaide: Wednesday 30 October – Friday 01 November 2019
  • Perth: Wednesday 27 November – Friday 29 November 2019
  • Sydney: Wednesday 29 January - Friday 31 January 2020


New Zealand

·        Auckland: Wednesday 13 November – Friday 15 November 2019

·        Wellington: Monday 18 November – Wednesday 20 November 2019



United Kingdom

·        London: Wednesday 04 December – Friday 06 December 2019

·       Birmingham: Tuesday 10 December – Thursday 12 December 2019

·        Manchester: Monday 16 December – Wednesday 18 December 2019


Seats are limited at each venue. So, hurry and confirm your attendance before it is too late!





Sign me into the Sydney Event 

29 – 31 January 2020


Sign me into the Melbourne Event

22 – 24 October 2019


Sign me into the Adelaide Event

30 October – 01 November 2019


Sign me into the Auckland Event 

13 – 15 November 2019


Sign me into the Wellington Event 

18 – 20 November 2019


Sign me into the Perth Event

27 – 29 November 2019


Sign me into the London Event 

04 – 06 December 2019


Sign me into the Southampton Event 

10 – 12 December 2019


Sign me into the Manchester Event 

16 – 18 December 2019

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