The Changing Landscape of College Search: Building a Proactive Response Plan

photo of college students

In March, the College Board announced a new tool for engaging with high school students called Connections, leaving many enrollment leaders wondering what this will mean in practice and how it will impact their recruitment, their marketing, and, ultimately, their enrollment in 2025 and beyond.

In this blog post, MARKETview experts cover five key observations that will help you develop a proactive, data-informed response plan for achieving your goals in the face of these significant changes to Search as we’ve known it.

1. Reduced inquiry volume from College Board, beginning as early as 2024, is likely – making it imperative to have a game plan for focusing on quality over quantity.

On November 6, the largest swath of PSAT test taker names will be available for colleges to begin building relationships, but the opportunity and means for engagement will be very different. Instead of ordering these prospective student names from College Board and communicating with them directly, colleges and universities will have to bank on students taking several additional steps, including:

  • Downloading the Big Future app to access their test score;
  • Deciding to explore within the app after viewing their test score; and
  • Submitting a school-specific form to express interest and opt-in to future communications.

We’ll be watching student engagement and inquiry trends closely within the MARKETview platform, knowing that lower volumes will necessitate a shift in marketing strategies, among other things. Institutions must be prepared to refine their messaging and targeting to stand out in a more competitive environment and make the most of their potentially smaller inquiry pools.

Interested in learning how MARKETview can help you reach your enrollment goals?

2. Students engaging through Connections may behave differently. Be prepared to consistently track and analyze this population.

MARKETview’s data experts recommend developing a new source code for students who engage through Connections so that you can analyze their behavior compared to the behavior of others in your pool. This will enable you to have a real-time view into impact and adjust accordingly.

The MARKETview team will be tracking and analyzing this critical element, and our community of enrollment leaders will be learning together at scale so each can deftly pivot from what’s not working and amplify what is at their respective institutions.

3. If/when inquiry volume is lower, you no longer will have the luxury of a large bullpen of prospects (or non- responders) to continue engaging.

One of the most immediate consequences of the College Board’s privacy restrictions is the inability to license and load PSAT and in-school SAT test taker names back into your CRM for marketing purposes.

Whether you work with an external vendor or manage your Search efforts in-house, you will no longer have the ability to market to these students unless you’re doing so within Connections.

This places greater responsibility on colleges to develop compelling outreach to the prospects they do have in order to generate more interest, while also developing campaigns in Connections that motivate students to opt-in to through an inquiry form. In the background, the Connections audience scale and performance remain big unknowns.

Given the volume uncertainty and engagement limitations, this may be the year to invest in accurate prospect scoring to more effectively and efficiently market to the names you do have access to and better focus your team’s time, energy, and resources.

4. Year-over-year performance metrics will likely be out of sync. Leverage market context to understand if your experience is the norm.

Colleges often rely on their own data trends to gauge the effectiveness of their recruitment efforts. With fewer names to market to and less control over the marketing channel, comparing year-over-year data becomes more complex.

To address this, colleges need to adopt a more holistic approach to measuring success. Instead of solely relying on year-over-year metrics, embrace real-time, industry or cohort-specific benchmarks to monitor your relative performance. MARKETview partners benefit from objective market context to assess the impact of their recruitment efforts, adapt strategies on the fly, and communicate with campus stakeholders.

5. If you can’t access the necessary student volumes from College Board, consider strategically expanding your list portfolio.

Alternative list sources (the non-test-based list sources) surged in 2021 and 2022 due to the Covid-inspired reduction in test takers and the nationwide shift to a test-optional reality.

Proportion of Pool Sourced from Alternative List Sources

Proportion of Inquiries25.5%24.0%21.2%

Given the relatively low application rates (6.7% compared to an average application rate for Search of 10.9%), the marginal pull-back from these sources in 2023 is not surprising. However, with uncertainty around the College Board changes, alternative sources are likely to surge again for future cycles.

MARKETview already is helping partner institutions understand the comparative performance and productivity from each of the alternative list sources by asking questions like “are they getting the best bang for their buck?” and “Which sources are most effective in providing sophomores and juniors who are likely to apply?”


The changing landscape of college search presents a multifaceted challenge. While new limitations on access to students may pose hurdles, they also offer opportunities to refocus their strategies and investments, build stronger relationships with students, and source alternative methods for identifying and engaging prospective students.

By adapting to these changes, colleges and universities can thrive and continue to attract the best-fit students who will contribute to the success and vibrancy of their institutions.