Direct Marketing in Student Recruitment: Rare Emphasis on Academics from Case Western Reserve

Case Western Reserve: a smart postcard series based on “Science & Math”

In the second post in this series, reviewing 13 West Coast colleges and universities reaching out to our student in the Buffalo-Rochester area of New York, we closed by noting the challenge that a school unknown to the person receiving a first contact has in attracting the attention of that person. In most cases, the cards and envelopes go directly into the trash.

The best way to get the attention of a potential student, especially if brand recognition is not strong: Use the academic area of interest selected when the student registered for the ACT or SAT to open the door. Very few schools do that.

Case Western Reserve UniversityToday we review rare examples from a university that breaks from the usual message approach to highlight an academic area. In our first post, we profiled the high school senior who has been receiving contacts from the 2016 schools in our review. His academic interest area was Genetics. And Case Western Reserve University caught his attention with a series of 3 postcards asking him to “think: science and math.”

Note first that the most prominent words are not the name of the university… that’s down at the bottom of the postcard. The name is not an obstacle to the “think: science & math” words that need to stand out here for maximum impact. The words will get first attention. The name can come later. That’s OK.

People who flip the card over (or who start on the reverse) will immediately see “think science & math at Case Western Reserve University.” Each card has a short message related to the sciences in general and the particular image on the card. The call to action: “Find out more. Go to”

Case Western Reserve UniversityA landing page quibble

I’d quibble just a bit with that landing page. Content about external museums affiliated with the College of Arts and Sciences is first on the page. It then moves along to where it had best start: the 4 major academic areas within the College. That grouping suggests that there are 4 different postcard series used to match a prospect’s academic interest. A small amount of easy-to-read text presents highlights in each area:

  • think: humanities
  • think: performing arts
  • think: science and math
  • think: social sciences

Time for another quibble: no links exist within these areas to create a pathway that a potential student might follow for more information about specific academic majors within the interest area.

At the end of the landing page there’s a link to “Request Information” that leads to a not-so-brief inquiry form that includes a permission to text request.

Case Western Reserve UniversityIn addition to the postcards: A letter arrived in May addressed to our student and his family. It noted his “impressive achievements” and included an “invitation to apply” for admission along with login information to verify email, street address, and parent information. No mention was made in the letter about the academic interest area, although that would not be difficult to include.

And recruiting messages from the West Coast schools?

None of the 13 West Coast schools sent anything that spoke directly to our student’s area of academic interest. Let’s note a sample of the messages and/or themes that attempted to spark initial interest:

  • The single word “Embark” in large type on the wrapper of a 64-page view book from Linfield College promising that “Your journey starts here.”
  • “Become it” on the cover of a 6-page brochure from Willamette University.
  • “Your Art can change the world” on the cover of a brochure from University of San Francisco.
  • “Opening Doors. Engaging Minds” introducing a brochure from Notre Dame de Namur University.
  • “One of Higher Education’s Best Kept Secrets” on the cover of a 20-page view book from University of Redlands.
  • “Pursue community” on the front of a postcard from Westmont College.
  • “Open Immediately. Urgent deadline notice enclosed…” on the envelope of an October letter from Azusa Pacific University

The value of an academic message…

Contrary to some folk, I’ve always believed that most college-bound students are quite rational about finding a proverbial “best fit” school. And many of them are quite serious about their intended area of study. The stronger the academic profile of a student, the more likely he or she is to be serious about something as important as their academic preference. Our student’s profile is quite strong.

A key direct marketing principle: Make a contact that you know will differ from most of the other contacts being received. That isn’t easy. But Case Western Reserve indeed set themselves apart by focusing on “science & math” as the first step to establish interest. In that simple but rare action, they increased the probability of an initial conversion from search pool prospect to an inquiry.

To bring things closer to New York: How did the Case Western message differ from the other 14 Ohio colleges and universities contacting our student? We’ll take a look at that, along with 6 schools in New Jersey, in the next post.

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