There's more than one way to catch a Jayhawk.
At least that's the motto of Kansas University's recruiters. They say the proverbial postcards and pamphlets that flutter in as high school students near graduation may become extinct in years to come.
But while snail mail is still around, it is considered just one of many ways to reach prospective students.
One of the newest methods is through the Internet
"Online recruiting is something that is gradually evolving, and we're ahead of the game," said Alan Cerveny, director of admissions and scholarships. "Today's students are starting on computers early and it's very important that offices like ours are sensitive to the best ways to communicate with them."
The best way may be online. Forty percent of students who apply to KU now do so online, and 20 percent of high schoolers who participate in a campus visit sign up online.
In the past two years, the admissions office has added myriad services to its Web site. Prospective students can fill out applications, join list serves, chat with current students, e-mail questions to the admissions office and check whether previous college courses will transfer.
And this is only the beginning. The admissions office would like to collect information on parents, too, because they are a key part of the recruiting equation.
In addition, they hope to create instant messaging accounts for faculty members and give the screen names to prospective students. That way prospective students can IM faculty members before they even apply or enroll. Recruiters would also like to enable students to pick up virtual brochures and check the status of their applications on the Web.
"We'd like to offer a virtual admissions office," Cerveny said. "The bottom line is we are trying to support students online as well as we do in person."
This is a huge benefit to out-of-state students, he added. By establishing an online relationship with prospective Jayhawks, KU officials hope to entice them to visit the campus.
"We're confident that if they visit, the school's merits will win them over," Cerveny said.
KU's admissions office is aware of the competition.
It recently completed an evaluation of other school's admissions Web sites and services.
"A lot of them looked glitzy but were hard to navigate," Cerveny said.
"And others were the opposite; they looked terrible but were very functional," added David Burge, director of Web programming for the admissions office. "The key is to make it attractive and easy to use."
One way to do both is to incorporate videos. Admissions officials plan to add footage of interviews with deans this year on its Web site.
"As computers become more and more powerful, Web sites in the not-so-distant future will become like TV networks," Cerveny said. "Students can be informed in an entertaining way."
That's why Cerveny and Burge view themselves as the "TV producers" of the admissions office. Like network executives, their job is to keep prospective students coming back for more.
"The old feeling is (a Web site) is a static document you update once a year," Cerveny said.
"We realize if you want an effective Web presence, you need something that keeps people coming back day after day. We want repeat customers other than one-time viewers."
KU's biggest challenge in online recruiting is simply keeping up with the technology.
"Every great leap made by young people using the Internet will be coupled with a great leap in our use because they are our client base," Burge said.
So far, the university has not increased funding for online recruiting efforts. Admissions officials said the biggest chunk of their budget goes toward printing and postage costs.
As KU makes the move to online recruiting, however, the office could actually save money.
"Kansas is still a direct-mail operation," Cerveny said. "But my hope is there will be a day when resources move to the online budget, and we will start seeing some savings."