Understanding the Shift in Candidates’ Mindsets

by | Apr 19, 2022

A question we’re often asked by clients is, “What should our program look for in an applicant?”  In response, we suggest flipping that question on its head, instead asking, “What will an applicant look for in our program?” 

The massive disruptions brought about by the pandemic have brought increased competition to nearly every aspect of the market, including recruiting talented applicants to graduate programs. With a plethora of jobs available – and student loan debt topping $1.75 trillion in federal and private student loans as of April 2022 – populations that might have previously been prime recruits for graduate school are thinking twice.  The route from undergrad to graduate is also more fraught than ever, with a half a million fewer undergraduate students enrolled in college, according to data from National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Now more than ever, data-driven decision making is essential for graduate program administrators. It’s not fully possible to understand why admitted students chose not to attend a given program.  However, it is absolutely possible to understand the factors that motivated those students who did choose to enroll.  It’s in response to this need that MF Digital now offers primary research and data analysis services designed to deliver actionable insights that can translate into more effective digital marketing efforts.

Knowing that no two programs are the same, we’ve built out a modular approach to this work, offering a menu of options to choose from, including:

  • Online surveys. A cost-effective way to gather quantitative data quickly and across a large number of respondents.
  • Focus groups. Collect detailed qualitative information from a small group or multiple groups of select constituents.
  • One-on-one interviews. A semi-structured interview approach that’s proven to generate meaningful insights into participant motivations and actions.
  • Detailed data analysis. A thorough reporting of results that includes data visualizations and easy-to-digest summaries of the information that will mean the most to leadership teams and key decision makers.

By tapping into our own team of social scientists and academics, we can create a customized, cost-effective program that will provide staff with valuable data while demonstrating to students that you value their contributions to the program. 

And as we continue to emerge from the pandemic, there are promising trends emerging.  In November of 2021, the Council of Graduate Schools identified a 7.3% increase in the applications to graduate schools, a nearly threefold year-over-year increase than the previous 10-year average.

Further, there’s a growing body of evidence to support the significance of tuition assistance as part of a job candidate’s overall benefits package, which could bode particularly well for graduate programs that offer part-time and/or online coursework.  Great uncertainty remains for many who are considering graduate school, but for the ever-increasing number of individuals who are (re)assessing where they’re at and where they want to be, great opportunity exists as well.  It’s all about finding the right person for the right program.  When you’re ready to ask the questions, we’re ready to help you find the answers.



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