Graduate School Recruitment: Similarities & Differences in Comparison to Undergraduate Admissions

Graduate School Recruitment: Similarities & Differences in Comparison to Undergraduate Admissions
(July 27, 2016)

When discussing undergraduate versus graduate admissions, the two seem like very different tasks. One is targeted at teenagers, about to leave home for the first time while the other looks at many generations who are trying to take their education or career one step further. And while it may seem that a completely different strategy is required for each group, the two are more similar than one may think. In the industry, there is little about the field of graduate admissions and how video, our specialty, could be useful for them. Because of this, we decided to start a conversation about graduate admissions and how it compares to its undergraduate counterpart. This paper will discuss the differences and similarities between the two, and from this, how to best approach recruitment for graduate programs.

Differences and Similarities: How They Compare


  1. FOCUS: For prospective undergraduate students, a variety of factors are considered in picking a school. Students may or may not know what they want to study, and will consider what options a school provides in their choice, as well as the “experience” the school provides, i.e. size, campus, extracurricular activities, housing, etc. With graduate students, the focus is much more singular. Prospective students know what they want to study, and tailor their choice to that. They are concerned with how a program ranks in comparison to other schools, the professors they would be learning from and working with and the professors’ focus of study, whether they would be working in a teaching assistant position, and how successful students of the program are after completion.
  2. IMPORTANCE OF CAREER OPPORTUNITIES: Due to the more focused nature of the graduate student, as well as the large investment that graduate school requires, prospective students want to make sure the program will provide them with career opportunities. According to a study by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, the median earnings of those with a graduate level degree in the 15 fields studied, are on average 38.3% higher than those who only possess a bachelor’s in the same field. While undergraduate students typically have a higher degree of uncertainty regarding their long term plans and goals, graduate students want to make sure their studies will propel them forward, whether it be in earnings or promotional potential or expertise. They want to make sure the institution they choose produces successful graduates, particularly as relates to their program of study.
  3. DEMOGRAPHIC VARIETY: While the number of nontraditional students in undergraduate settings is has grown, and is expected to be around 38% by 2018 (according to the National Center for Education Statistics), the main component of undergraduate students is still largely recent high school graduates. For graduate school applicants, there is much more variety. Some students are coming straight from their undergraduate studies, while others are mid-career professionals trying to gain a leg up in their career or change their career path.
  4. LESS CONCERN FOR STUDENT LIFE: As previously mentioned, unlike their undergraduate counterparts, graduate students are generally less interested in the school’s aspects of student life, e.g. extracurricular opportunities, dining halls, athletics, Greek life, student housing. While undergrads see these things as a part of the experience as a whole, these facets are more tangential to graduate students. While they may be taken into consideration, they will fall below the concerns of study and career success. These students have already had their undergraduate experience; they don’t need another.


  1. SENSE OF PLACE: Like their undergraduate counterparts, graduate students still need to an adequate sense of place for a campus before visiting it in order to make sure it’s a good match. While the campus may not play as influential of a role in the graduate decision, potential students still must be able to see themselves there. Showcasing the surrounding city, public transportation, things to do, and on- and off-campus housing options are all incredible useful to both groups.
  2. GROWING INTERNATIONAL COMPONENT: The number of international students enrolled in American colleges has grown 73% over the past decade. Even more so than for undergraduate schools, graduate schools have a significant, growing component of international students. These students will often have unique needs to be met and considered. Furthermore, these students may not be able to visit before applying/enrolling, and will therefore rely heavily on the website, virtual experiences, and video content for information.
  3. THE SCHOOL MUST ALIGN WITH WHAT THEY WANT: While this may seem incredibly obvious, it is worth noting that both undergraduate and graduate students want a school fits in with what they want. While the desired traits may differ between the two levels, each has certain expectations they will need met in order to attend an institution.
  4. IMPORTANCE OF WEBSITE AND ONLINE PRESENCE: In this day and age, having a strong website is crucial for recruitment purposes at both the graduate and undergraduate level. 77% of students think a college website makes a difference in their perception of the institution. It is important to tailor an institution’s site to the information prospects are looking for, and to engage them to take the next step, whether it be visiting, applying, or enrolling.
  5. GETTING TO ENROLLMENT IS A PROCESS: For both undergraduate and graduate admissions, getting a student to enroll is a multi-step process. Institutions must make sure to assist prospects forward in the process through the various steps.
  6. COST CONCERNS: It’s no secret that undergraduate students typically factor cost into their decision, leaning towards schools that will give them “full rides” or at least significant scholarship packages. Unsurprisingly, these financial concerns are even more prevalent for graduate students, who may already have student debt from undergrad, or may be paying for school themselves for the first time.

How to Best Approach Graduate Recruitment

Given these differences and similarities, what is the best tactic to approach graduate recruitment? We have compiled a few tips to optimize graduation recruitment practices.

  1. Show results and success. Potential graduate students want to assure they are making a sound investment. Use statistics of job placement and individual testimonials to show how your program will help them achieve their goals.
  2. Make program details accessible. Graduate students will be spending a lot of time within a program, therefore it’s important for them to have a good, well-rounded impression of a program’s atmosphere and faculty.
  3. Address their financial concerns. According to Ruffalo Noel Levitz, one of the most effective practices in recruitment of Masters students was sending financial aid award notices at the time of acceptances. Another highly effective practice was granting fellowships/scholarships without work obligations, and awarding assistantships with a work obligation follows behind. Clearly, money is a concern for prospective graduate students. Make sure this financial aid information is accessible.
  4. Campus Culture may help you stand out. While campus life may not be the biggest priority for graduate students, they are still comparing several programs with similar offerings. Showcasing what there is to do in the surrounding city, or highlighting some of the off-campus housing options may differentiate your school from that of your competitors.

In the search for a graduate school, 72% of students write a short list before even making contact. 93% of students end up enrolling at a school from their short list. Given the highly focused nature of the graduate school search, it’s important as an institution to make sure prospective students have access to the information they need, and that it is presented in an engaging manner.

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