by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
My first introduction to life on the road occurred as a 22 year-old Recruiting Analyst working for a basketball scouting service.
Over a four-month span known as the “AAU season,” I traveled from state to state attending events where I would spend between 12 and 14 hours a day in high school gymnasiums. My goal was to evaluate as many of the nation’s top high school boys recruits as I could, and compete with other media entities for information from these teenagers on their college recruitment. I moved from hotel to hotel, ate way too much fast food, drank way too much Red Bull, and a couple of times even slept in my rental car.
By this point you may be asking, “What does this have to do with admissions?” It’s Fall, and that means we’re currently in the midst of “travel season” for college recruiters. My question is, “Are your admission counselors learning how to become road warriors or reliving the same day (Groundhog Day) over, and over again like Bill Murray’s character did in the movie?”
I’ve heard many of you describe the “travel season” in admissions as Groundhog Day. You wake up, drive to several high schools to meet with prospective students, or sit in a chair and man a booth better known as a folding table at a local college fair. The day essentially consists of trying to show recruits, counselors and parents the unique educational experience your school offers while also evaluating the high school and its students to see if they’re a good fit. You then return to your hotel and get ready to do it all over again the next day. I’m curious, though. At the end of the day, do you or your staff sit back and spend a few minutes evaluating how the day went and whether or not you worked towards accomplishing the goals of your institution’s recruitment strategy?
In 2013, studies showed that the average four-year private institution spent nearly $2,500 to recruit each new student. As you all know, a large portion of that cost is dedicated to travel. That means it’s vital for recruiters to make the best use of their time.
It starts with when and where travel should occur. This should be decided based on your aforementioned recruitment strategy in conjunction with data that has been collected including which students scheduled a campus tour and who applied to and ultimately enrolled at your school. This will ensure recruiters’ time on the road is well spent.
Once travel begins, it’s time execute the game plan. Along with hard work and positive thinking, here are 7 additional tips that I believe will help the representatives of your college work smarter, more confidently, and not look at tomorrow as Groundhog Day.
- Know your school, not just admissions. How much do your admissions’ counselors really know about their school? It’s important to be current on new developments or recent policy changes not just in admissions, but other offices throughout campus. Cultivating relationships with other departments, in addition to attending sporting and art events, will also allow counselors to use more specific personalized examples when discussing something with a recruit. Ask yourself which sounds better. “Our business major is very popular,” or “A lot of freshmen really enjoy the first-year Business Ethics class that Dr. Leif teaches as part of the Business major.” Finally, if your counselor doesn’t know the answer to a question, just say so. The last thing you want them to do is stretch the truth, only to have that student make a campus visit and see something different.
- Get prospects to visualize. Last week I wrote an article on why personalization is the secret to increasing enrollment. High school visits and college fairs provide many opportunities for your staff to paint a picture that will lead prospects to visualize themselves as part of your campus community. Start with unique traditions. Indiana University has Little 500. Occidental College has the Birthday dunk. Every school has something. Your staff can also provide stories about dorm life or popular activities off campus.
- Be the early bird. Getting on the calendar early at high schools can be beneficial. Students won’t be into the “meat” of their academic course-load yet, which means they’ll be more attentive and less stressed out. Plus, as a counselor you will be fresher.
- Speak to the guidance counselor ahead of time. Doing legwork prior to your visit is time consuming. We’re all busy I get that. However, working with the school counselor(s) to communicate your upcoming visit and interest to prospective students needs to be a common occurrence. The school counselor is also a great resource in terms of gathering more behind-the-scenes information about recruits, their social activities and course selections. That knowledge will be helpful later on when admissions counselors are reading the prospects’ application.
- Take notes. As a College and Career Advisor I was always amazed at the lack of note taking on the part of college counselors when I sat in on school visits. Yes your staff member is there to make a presentation and answer questions about your school, and yes students will ask dumb questions that lead to frustration and the desire to speed up the visit. Still, the opportunity to have 5, 10 or even 20+ prospective students all in a room at once is a goldmine. Throughout the visit those students will convey information both verbally and with body language that needs to jotted down. Posing a couple of questions during a school visit is also a great way to get feedback on students’ values and beliefs.
- Coordinate with your colleagues. Across campus coaches from your colleges’ athletic department are also driving and flying to conduct school visits at this time of the year. Check with them to see if you have similar stops and more importantly if a coach is traveling to a region which admissions doesn’t currently cover. Coordinate and ask if your colleague could deliver information packets to a few key high schools.
- Don’t forget to follow-up. While getting out and meeting new students is important, it’s just as imperative to solidify your connection with students you meet who demonstrate interest or may have already applied for admission. Counselors need to block time in their schedule for emails, phone calls, and hand-written notes. Maintaining communication is a key piece of securing that commitment you’re looking for.
With budgets tight and competition for new students increasing, I believe implementing some or all of these ideas will translate to your staff being extremely productive anytime they travel to visit with recruits.
One final thought. With plenty of travel comes fatigue. Taking care of your body is paramount not only for good health, but also productivity. Find time to take breaks. This also goes for your brain. Long days with a jam-packed schedule often result in mental exhaustion. While relaxing, remind yourself of your goals and if you feel adjustments need to be made to your presentations, don’t be afraid to do so.
Need more specific ideas for your admissions department? We’d love to conduct an On-Campus Workshop at your school. We conduct specific focus group research on campus, present a dynamic interactive discussion of effective recruiting strategies, and answer specific questions from your staff on how to address the challenges you’re currently facing. Click here for more information, or email Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services, at email@example.com