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July 17th, 2018

And This Year’s Award Goes to…

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services 

 

Award shows highlight the amazing work of people in any given industry or profession.

Tomorrow, ESPN will broadcast their annual ESPY awards (short for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly). Once a year the Worldwide Leader in Sports assembles some of the greatest athletes on the planet all under one roof and then celebrates and relives the best moments of the past calendar year.

In honor of the ESPYs, in 2015 I came up with the TCS Awards for College Admissions. There is one small difference. I’m not actually handing out trophies to specific people today. Instead, I’m going to provide you with some very important reminders and strategies that will help you as you begin to recruit this next class of students.

Are you ready to get started with the show?

Here’s a look at this year’s categories and award winners:

Courage Award: This award goes to the Vice President of Enrollment or Director of Admissions who has the courage to employ a different strategy than their competitors, without worrying about what other industry leaders will think. When you have data or other focus group research available that suggests this generation of students wants something different (ex. more personalization in the communications you send and the campus visits you organize) or doesn’t see value in something anymore (ex. physical viewbooks), it’s time to make a change or at the very least have an internal discussion.

Best Use of Social Media Award: This award goes to the college or university that uses social media as a way to create connections between their current students, faculty, etc., and prospective students. The school uses multiple platforms but remains native to each (i.e. doesn’t post the exact same thing on different platforms). And instead of trying to come up with content that they think is interesting, they encourage their current students to document their daily journey through their eyes. That kind of storytelling is real and raw, and it creates emotions that increase the chances of action being taken.

Best Breakthrough Counselor: This award goes to the Admissions Counselor who understands the importance of talking about subjects like fear, paying for college (aka: financial aid), and timeline early in the process with prospective students and parents. The winner knows that when you can alleviate fear and are transparent from the beginning, you build trust.

Best Record-Breaking Performance: This award goes to the Admissions Counselor who’s able to get 8 or 9 out of every 10 students they call to answer the phone and engage with them. That performance is the result of setting up calls, communicating the purpose of each call ahead of time, and allowing each student to ask questions versus dominating the entire conversation with a bunch of facts and figures.

Best Communication Strategy Award: This award goes to the college or university that understands the value behind having one consistent voice as the lead communicator during the college search process. The winning school also understands that tone, word choices, and length are extremely important in emails, letters, phone calls, and text messages. And instead of always having a call to action that pushes a student to visit, apply, or deposit, they work in targeted questions that ask students and parents for specific feedback on a particular subject.

Best Director/Vice President of Enrollment: This award goes to the leader/manager who creates and maintains a motivated and confident admissions team. They understand that just like the students they’re recruiting, each of their staff members needs to be managed differently and has different wants, motivations, and fears. As a leader, they’re consistent with their message, they encourage input and new ideas, and they understand the importance of both ownership and recognition.

Best Campus Visit Moment: This award goes to school whose tour guides and admissions counselors consistently connect ahead of a student’s visit to discuss talking points and “connectors” that will personalize the experience. Speaking of tour guides, does your school treat them as part of your admissions team, and do they understand the important role they play in the student recruitment process? When they give tours are they just reciting a script and discussing the history of various building on your campus, or do they understand the importance of storytelling and how to effectively do that throughout a campus tour?

Best Upset Award: This award goes to the Admissions Counselor who isn’t afraid to go up against a big name competitor. They create a winning strategy centered on consistent, personalized communication from the counselor to both the student and his or her parents. Within those communications is constant reinforcement about why choosing the smaller name school is going to be the smarter choice for them.

Best Championship Performance: This award goes to the Admissions Counselor, new or veteran, who ends up exceeding their deposit goal. They understand you cannot expect your admitted students to deposit if they (and their parents) don’t trust you. It’s important to start establishing a real recruiting relationship early in the process. If you do, you’ll have an easier time proving to prospective students (and their parents) that you’re concerned about them, and that you want to help solve their problems versus just selling your school.

Best Comeback Award: This award goes to the Admissions Counselor who doesn’t avoid talking about objections and instead confronts negatives that they consistently hear about their school head on. They anticipate the common objections, get clarification, and then become a problem solver for their prospects.

Best Team Award: This award goes to the small college or university whose admissions, athletic, marketing, financial aid, and faculty leadership collaborate together and work towards a common goal. Doing so creates a unified campus community that shows prospective students and parents the kind of support they can expect to receive, as well as the kind of close-knit, welcoming community your campus offers.

Thanks for being a part of the 4th Annual TCS Admissions Awards! Enjoy the rest of your day. I’ll see you back here next July with more awards for college admission professionals.

P.S. Remember back in May when I gave away a training workshop to the admissions staff of one newsletter reader? Well, this past Thursday and Friday I led that training for Pamela Holsinger-Fuchs (pictured with me) and her team at Saint Martin’s University. It was a lot of fun, and we got a lot accomplished!

July 16th, 2018

Do Facilities Really Matter in College Recruiting?

No, not really.

I’ve actually been making that argument for years, in the workshops that we conduct on campuses, and with the clients we work with on a daily basis.

But, understandably, not everyone buys in to that idea. I’m one guy. And, yes, I’ve got research and focus group studies we’ve done, and lots of anecdotal stories to make my point, but coaches will commonly counter with their own anecdotal stories of that one time a prospect talked about how much they loved their college’s facilities (or how much other prospects thought somebody else’s facilities were better as the reason they chose a competitor).

The result? Colleges spend big on athletic facilities. Even smaller schools have spent the past two decades ramping up their investment in mini-D1 stadiums, weight rooms, and other athletic-centered areas.

But now, in addition to my anecdotal stories and focus group studies, we have a broader study conducted recently that draws the same conclusion: Spending more on athletic facilities doesn’t result in better recruits coming to your campus.

I don’t really need to elaborate or drive home the point further, because it stands on it’s own. Facts are facts. That being said, I do want to offer some deeper explanation for coaches to consider as it relates to facilities, recruiting, and how you should view it all in the context of improving your program:

  • I’m not suggesting that facilities aren’t important. Of course they are. Safety, functionality, increased revenue opportunities for a college athletic department…all of those are true for schools that open newer, modern athletic facilities on a college campus. Plus, your fans and boosters may consider it important, as well as the student body who wants to take pride in their school. Athletics are often consider the ‘front porch’ to a college, and what that front porch looks like for the people in the campus’ family is a source of pride.
  • But it’s mostly important for the people in the campus’ family. Your recruit doesn’t usually use it as a decision making factor in choosing their favorite school, according to our research (as well as the study I’ve just mentioned). Keep your ‘family’ happy is vital, but don’t trick yourself into thinking your kids care about it when they are making their final decision.
  • It’s an emotional validation for you, Coach. This is where you spend your days. Your office might be a part of your facility. Your friends who are coaches at other campuses – the one’s who just got their new facility – are the one’s you’re really trying to keep up with. You deserve better, you want the newest stuff, and you don’t want to have to bring another recruit or booster into that old, smelly, outdated locker room. Why? Because you’re the representative of the program, and it doesn’t feel good to represent something old or smelly. Emotionally, you want the new, shiny building.
  • Facilities can be a reason they say no. It won’t usually be a reason they say yes, but a subpar facility is sometimes the reason they say no. In other words, if everything is equal – same cost, same degree quality, same type of conference, same…everything, but your competitor’s facility is newer, your prospect might choose your competitor by using the facilities as a tie-breaker.
  • That’s why it’s important to tell a better story. Give them a reason to overlook an older facility. If you don’t tell them how to think about something, like your older facility, don’t be surprised when they make-up their own story. And, don’t be surprised if it’s not a flattering one for you or your program.
  • I vote yes. New facilities for every single athletic department in the country! Just to be clear, as a former coach who’s called that old, smelly, outdated office and locker room home, I get it. This is your livelihood, and it’s important to you. You’ve seen the mountaintop at other schools, and you want your athletic department to pony-up and match your competitor’s arsenal. And I want you to have it. If I had the big cardboard check to give you for that multi-million dollar jewel of a gym you’ve been dreaming about, I would. And if you get it someday, I’ll be the first one to give you a high five…followed by a stern warning not to deceive yourself into thinking that it’s going to significantly affect your recruiting results in the years to come.

One final cautionary tale. While certainly not comprehensive, we’ve been tracking the coaching careers of those fortunate few who get new facilities. Do you know what their average tenure at those programs after they get their new facility? Two and a half years. Most are let go. Why? If I had to make an educated guess, behind the scenes, they probably thought recruiting was going to be easy now that they had their new facility. And, it didn’t turn out that way. Which resulted in the meeting not many coaches want to have with their athletic director, who tells them that the donors who funded your new, shiny stadium/locker room/weight room aren’t happy that you aren’t winning more. It happens all the time at the Division I and Division II levels, and it surprise you how often it happens at the Division III and NAIA level.

New facilities are great. But view them in the proper context of your complete recruiting picture.

The truth is, most of the time, your new facility is going to maybe get you back to even with the other school. And then, the other tie-breakers come into play. So, the important question you’d want to ask yourself isn’t “how big should the logo be at midfield on our new turf?”, but instead, “how do we tell a complete story, in a more compelling way, than our competitors?”

July 10th, 2018

4 Common Parent Frustrations

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services 

 

This past spring I spoke at four NACAC affiliate conferences. During each of those, I made it a point to connect with a lot of high school counselors. I got their thoughts on a number of topics including the value of high school visits by colleges. That’s not the focus of my article today, but if you really want to know what they told me, all you have to do is reach out and ask.

Instead, I want to talk with you about frustrations. Many of those same high school counselors expressed to me that they’re hearing from more and more parents who are frustrated with the college search process as a whole…namely miscommunication or a lack of communication from many college and university admissions offices.

You and I both know that parents play a major role in their child’s college choice. Our recent survey research with students found that over 92% of them said their parent(s) played a significant role in their final decision. And of the 26 training workshops I’ve led over the past twelve months, 19 of those admissions staffs listed better communication with parents as one of their action points.

Let’s talk about what needs to change. Here are four common parent frustrations that I would suggest you have a discussion about in your office:

  1. They want to be a valued partner from the beginning. If you’re waiting until you send out your financial aid package to create real dialogue with parents, that’s a problem. Parents recognize pretty quickly when a college isn’t involving them and instead is trying to use their child to communicate important information. They wonder why schools are taking this approach, and believe it or not, a lot of prospective students wonder the same thing. Here’s my suggestion to you. At the end of one of those early phone calls with the student, ask to briefly speak with one or both of their parents. Or, if you’re having a hard time getting the student on the phone, make a call specifically to the parents. When they get on the phone, introduce yourself, and instead of going into a long spiel about your school, I want you to make it clear that you understand they will play an important role in their child’s decision and that you value their input. Set the tone from the beginning that you want this to be a partnership.
  2. They expect to be consistently kept in the loop. Once you make contact with parents, it’s vitally important to know that they expect you to communicate with them as much as you do with their son or daughter. My suggestion is to create a separate set of messaging for parents if you don’t have one already. And if you do, I would tell you to make sure it contains one personalized email or letter each month that is designed to elicit feedback from parents about a specific topic or point of view…while also keeping them in the loop about any conversation that has recently occurred their child. Let me add one more thing to this. A lot of parents think there’s a lack of overall guidance for them during this process, namely after the campus visit, after their child gets admitted, and after your financial aid award letter has been delivered. Many parents feel there are gaps in communication at crucial stages when they’re searching for guidance and a clear next step.
  3. They want to talk with you about cost and financial aid long before they receive the award letter. Understanding financial aid timelines and terminology, as well as the FAFSA and other paperwork, continues to be arguably the most frustrating part of the college search process for both parents and students. A lot of miscommunication occurs, namely when financial aid staff and admissions staff members don’t communicate to each other about the various conversations that they’ve had with a family. I want you to make it your goal to not only have a conversation about paying for college (in general, not specifically about your school) long before your college releases financial aid awards, but to also explain the basics of how to interpret different award letters. For example, I continue to hear stories about students and parents not understanding that while College A may offer a bigger scholarship amount on their award letter, College B is actually cheaper in the end. Prepare them ahead of time a little bit for what they’re going to be looking at so that it’s not as big a shock and/or as confusing.
  4. They want to understand just how serious your school is about their child. Email and mail from colleges comes in fast and furious, and as we’ve talked about numerous times before, much of it looks and sounds the same. As a result, parents are looking for proof that you’re not just showing “fake interest” in their son or daughter. Three easy ways for you to give them that are – consistent, personalized messaging for both the student and parent that reinforces building a relationship with both; asking questions that get them to reveal what’s important to them as they help their son or daughter make their final decision; and timely feedback when they reach out to you with questions and/or you tell them you’re going to get back to them with more information on something.

This is definitely not a complete list, but rather four of the biggest frustrations that parents continue to express about the college search process.

Again, parents are looking for a school that respects their opinion and input and sees them as a valued partner in the college decision-making process of their son or daughter.

If you want to learn more about the monthly parent messaging we create for clients, go ahead and reply back to my email and we’ll start a conversation.

Have a great rest of the week!

P.S. If you use Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn and you’re interested in even more content from me (as well as pictures from my travels) scroll back up to the top of this article and click on those icons under my name.

July 9th, 2018

Front Porch Thinking for College Coaches

by Mike Davenport, Coaching Sports Today

Years ago, the president of my college came to speak at an Athletic Department staff meeting.

A very sharp fellow and well spoken, he was wise about the ways of athletics in the college realm. (He had been one of the main administrators in the University of Maryland system during the Len Bias tragedy.)

He sprung an analogy on us that’s stuck with me to this day, and has prompted me to think differently about the job of a coach.

He referred to college sport teams as the “Front Porch” of an institution. And he suggested we think in those terms.

Your team as a front porch

He meant that the front porch sets the tone for the visitor for what they will find inside:

  • Messy porch—messy house
  • Welcoming front porch—welcoming house
  • Tidy, clean front porch—probably the same inside

Front-porch thinking helped me visualize how others outside an institution saw my school and what I did as a coach. Like who? Who might see, or use, your team as a front porch to a school? Well how about:

  • Recruits
  • Donors
  • Dignitaries
  • Community members
  • Journalists
  • Board members
  • Alums

How is your front porch viewed?

Here’s a simple exercise: What does your front porch look like to others?

Fire up your favorite search engine and look up your team. What results return? Dig down in your search, and read not only the content of the results, but also the context. If the results mentions your team in an article about high crime rates, well, maybe, just maybe, your porch is a tad dirty.

You might be surprised how people see your front porch, and what it tells them about what is inside.

July 9th, 2018

Is a 40-Hour Work Week Even Possible for College Coaches?

by Mandy Green, Busy Coach

I listened to a great podcast while on the elliptical this last week.  It was Tony Robbins interviewing Tim Ferris about the greatest takeaways he got from writing his latest book Tools of Titans

One of the very first key lessons Ferris discusses is that to get better results, he learned that he needed to ask better questions.  For example, “Why can’t I accomplish my 10-year goals in the next 6 months?”

I love that question.  Why not, right?  But for you to accomplish your 10-year goals in the next 6 months, you would need to significantly change the way you think, behave, take action, and collaborate with others for it to become a reality.  What a challenge!  I love it.

It got me thinking back to the point in my career when I started to ask better questions.  About 7 years ago I was struggling with my own productivity and really close to burning out.  I was a new 1st time mommy and had just accepted my first D 1 head coaching job of a bottom 20 team in the country and had no full-time staff for my first 3 years.  I was wearing a lot of hats, working a ton of hours, and trying to do things the way I was comfortable with and had always done them.  As you can imagine, I was mentally and physically exhausted after a while.

Having a child to get home to was what ultimately forced me to ask better questions if I was going to continue to stay in the profession.  The question that I started asking was, “Is it possible to only work 40 hours a week as a coach, get the results I was after, and still be sane?” 

At first, with the circumstances of my situation being what they were, that question seemed impossible.  But for the sake of my pride, my career, my health, and my sanity, I knew I had to find a better way.

After asking the question, these were a few of the possible solutions I came up with. 

  1. Eliminate things on my to-do list that weren’t giving me a good return on the time and energy I was putting into it.
  2. I needed to figure out how I could create big chunks of uninterrupted work time.
  3. I needed a better system of keeping track of who, when, and how I was communicating with recruits.
  4. I needed to figure out how my energy levels waivered during the day and find a better way to keep my energy up.
  5. I needed a better system for making sure I was working on my top priorities, staying on track, and working with urgency. 

By the time I was done brainstorming, I had a full page of questions and I believed if I could find the answers, it would help me get better results and my work hours down to 40 hours.

I can’t truly pinpoint one source that I got this idea from, because I had been reading a lot of different business books at the time.     

Book after book, what stood out is that tracking is one of businesses best practices. Really great businesses track all of their important metrics (leads, closes, sales numbers, etc.) so they know where their time and resources are best spent. 

What completely sold me on tracking as I was trying to get my question answered was the saying that 1 hour of testing could save you 10.  10 hours saved would get me 10 more hours with my kids or 10 more hours building my program in other ways.  It will be well worth it.

I am going to use these numbers to figure out where I am getting the best ROI in time and resources.  Tournaments, letters, or other tasks that we are not getting a good result from, will either be tossed out or a better way will have to be found.   

If you want to see how I am using measuring and tracking with every aspect of my program, take a look at this free report about how I use tracking that I created called Track Your Way to Success.

If you have other ways that you have been testing or tracking, I’d love to hear it.  Email me at mandy@busy.coach.

July 3rd, 2018

They’re Looking At You As One Or the Other

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services 

 

Welcome to July!!

My travel schedule is about to get insanely busy from now through the NACAC National Conference in September. Lots of staff training workshops as well as new client messaging work and a couple of other speaking engagements.

Prior to leading any training workshop, we always conduct a recruiting survey with that college’s incoming or current freshman class (depends on the time of the year). The questions we ask get to the heart of what students liked and didn’t like about the way colleges communicated with them during their college search process. It’s a lot of great context for us and for the schools we work with.

One of the survey questions asks students to give the admissions counselors at their school advice on what they need to understand about the way this generation of students wants to be recruited.

“We​ ​want​ ​to​ ​feel​ ​that​ ​you​ ​genuinely​ ​care​ ​about​ ​us​ ​as​ ​an​ ​individual.​ ​Not​ ​that​ ​we​ ​are​ ​just​ ​another person​ ​paying​ ​tuition.” That student quote appeared in a recent survey, and comments like it continue to show up multiple times in just about every survey we do.

Like it or not, prospective students (and their parents) see you as either a salesperson (bad) or as a resource (good).

A big key to increasing yield is to consistently be a resource rather than a salesperson. This generation of students wants to feel that you’re genuinely trying to help them navigate what has become a scary and confusing process.

“Just​ ​be​ ​friendly.​ ​<Admissions Counselor name>​ ​was​ ​so​ ​gracious,​ ​kind,​ ​and​ ​caring​ ​throughout​ ​the​ ​process​ ​and​ ​really gave​ ​the​ ​university​ ​a​ ​friendly​ ​face​ ​that​ ​I​ ​could​ ​associate​ ​myself​ ​with.” That student quote was an answer to the same question in the same recent survey, and it’s proof of the positive impact that being a resource can have in the mind of a student.

A lot of admissions counselors believe they have to “sell” their school early in the process and try to move name buys and inquiries as fast as possible towards applying, visiting, and ultimately making a decision. Each of those is important, but as I’ve told you before, we’ve found there’s a more effective approach that you can take. It’s one that will still allow you to do each of those things, and at the same time, do each in a way that consistently makes students feel like you’re actually making the process all about them.

If you constantly inundate students with information and bullet points about every single aspect of your school, and you never give them a chance to get a word in or ask questions, they’re going to view you as a salesperson. Conversely, if you ask them questions about their wants, needs, fears, and timeline, and you communicate consistently with their parents, and you help them solve their on-going problems, they’re going to see you as a resource. Plus, in the process of taking that approach, what you’ll find is you still have all kinds of opportunities to discuss key things that make your school unique and a good fit for that student.

There are a lot of other benefits that come from being a resource. For starters, it’s much easier to connect with a student/family and build trust. When you develop a reputation as someone who is trustworthy, you’ll quickly become the “go-to” counselor for help and advice. And, as I just touched on, when you’re a resource, students will tell you what you need to tell them to sell them. Here’s what I mean. Accurate and timely information is important. One of the biggest mistakes I continue to see admissions counselors make is they give information before they get information…they talk too much. The end result is A) Overloading the other person with too much information; and/or B) Giving the wrong information based on the student’s wants and needs. Asking the right kinds of questions at the right time will lead to students telling you what they want to know about next and what they feel needs to happen first before they take the next step in the process.

So, does that mean if you’re a salesperson you won’t be able to connect with and gain a student’s trust? No, but I promise you it will be a lot harder, and a lot more time consuming.

Here are a few additional things you can do to become a resource for your prospects:

  • Respond quickly to emails, texts, and phone calls
  • Deliver information in an easy to understand, conversational, and engaging format
  • Stay current on trends and pop culture
  • Continually polish your problem solving skills
  • Consistently network and exchange ideas with other admissions professionals
  • Cross train/collaborate with other departments on your campus (specifically financial aid and athletics)
  • Admit when you don’t know something and ask for help

Over the July 4th holiday break I encourage you to look back at some of your recruiting emails and letters from this past cycle. Do they come across as friendly and helpful or salesy? It’s one or the other.

And as you talk more about fall travel in your office or changes that you’re going to make next recruiting cycle, specifically in the way that you communicate with students, let me know how I can help. I’d love to start a conversation about helping you grow.

Stay cool, enjoy the 4th, and I’ll leave you with a couple of pictures from the neighborhood fireworks show that myself and a few others put together last weekend for our community. This is such a fun time of the year!

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