Centre College Recruitment Deck: A Case Study

It’s exciting—that first piece of college mail. Beginning as nothing more than a trickle, the steady stream of brochures, postcards, books, and pamphlets quickly swells into a deluge. By the end of senior year, it’s easy to overlook important messages from schools that matter.

So, how do colleges make a meaningful impact at this crucial moment in the recruitment cycle? How do they break through the noise when it’s time for students to decide which offer they’ll accept?

That was the problem Centre College asked Shatterbox to solve.

A U.S. News Top-50 national liberal arts college, Centre is made up of approximately 1,400 students from 45 states and 11 foreign countries. It’s lauded for its personalized approach to education and its world-class study abroad programs.

The Office of Admission, having notified students of their acceptance, needed to secure a record number of deposits to meet their recruitment goals. Simply waiting for a “yes” left too much to chance. They needed a compelling, one-of-kind impact piece to push through the mailbox clutter and make the case for Centre.

Shatterbox started with research, scouring college admission message boards as well as online publications and reports. What were their competitors doing? And more importantly, how did prospective students (and their parents) perceive their efforts?

The trend was clear: admission letters were frequently accompanied or followed by college branded shirts, hats, lanyards, water bottles, etc. Colleges wanted to connect with students by putting their name in students’ hands. Shatterbox realized Centre wouldn’t win playing this game, but the college could try a different strategy. Instead of trying to project Centre’s identity onto the lives of admitted students, Shatterbox suggested the opposite approach.

What if we could get students to project themselves into the Centre culture? What if instead of asking students to say yes to Centre, we made it hard to say no?

Leaning on Centre’s reputation as a highly personal institution, Shatterbox began work on a project tailored to the unique interests of 1500+ individual admitted students. The result was a customized box of 30 cards utilizing 34 variable data points that directly connected students’ imaginations with the Centre experience.

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Shatterbox collaborated with students and staff to identify the most exciting, distinct, and compelling aspects of Centre College, and distilled them into an innovative print experience. The objective was to avoid language or statistics commonly found in college brochures, and instead offer an authentic and unconventional look at Centre, a peek behind the curtain at the next four years.

“The tone of the cards was essential to striking the right chord with students,” says Adam Brown, Art Director at Shatterbox. “Too formal, and it’s just another piece of college junk mail. Too casual, and you run the risk of hurting the academic brand.”

The cards were designed primarily as a visual experience, exploring ways to communicate ideas without relying on boilerplate text. Instead of touting Centre’s study abroad program, students would find a card with a pre-populated luggage tag. Instead of describing the college’s three-week CentreTerm, students would receive a card showcasing outside-the-box course offerings.

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“We typically get little-to-no feedback on our mailed publications, but when this one hit mailboxes, we heard back from our admitted students in a big way — and at crucial time in the college decision-making timeline,” says Annie Murphy, Associate Director of Admission. “I think the deck really helped solidify for admitted students that our college is an innovative, good humored, and highly personalized place. It was a distinct, interesting, and tactile piece; we even heard of students who took theirs to school to show their friends — I seriously doubt that’s ever happened with a regular college brochure.”

The result was a banner year for the Centre College Office of Admission. New records were set in commitments to date, test average, geographic diversity, number of students of color, number of international students, and number of first generation students.

Results such as these are the product of sustained efforts and represent the caliber of professionals at Centre College. But the success of Centre’s partnership with Shatterbox can’t be denied. When two parties—each excited to take a risk—come together in the pursuit of good design, great results often follow.

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