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A Snowstorm and Preparing to Avoid Crisis With Your ProspectsMonday, January 26th, 2015

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

Last month some friends of ours made the move from Indiana to New Hampshire.

Yesterday I checked in with them to see if they were ready for the impending snowstorm that authorities are saying could topple power lines, disrupt all transportation, and essentially cripple a large chunk of the Northeast. My friend David sent me the following text message labeled blizzard prep. “Tractor – running, plow operational, check. Gas for tractor, check. Gas for generator, check. Oil for furnace, check. Flashlights, candles, lanterns, check. Warm clothes – duh I’m a skier! CHECK! Shovels, check. 4WD vehicle, check.”

Much like New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is coordinating with dozens of local, state and federal agencies, in addition to having city agencies and DOT workers already on the go, David appears to have taken all necessary precautions and is confident that he will be prepared to handle whatever this storm throws at them.

As a college admissions recruiter or leader, a situation like this one provides an important reminder. Every so often you must ensure that each member of your admissions team is prepared to handle crisis as it relates to your prospects.

At this point you might be expecting a list of common crises during the recruitment cycle and how to handle them. Sorry, that’s not the goal of this article. Unlike my friend David and Mayor de Blasio who have no control over Mother Nature, your admissions team can take steps that will help avoid potential obstacles which slow down the recruitment process.

Here are some suggestions that I’d recommend:

  • Build rapport and the trust of your prospect. If I asked you to print off your prospect list and check off the names of those you’ve truly made a connection with, how many would that be? Can you and your prospect, as well as you and your prospect’s parents, spend time talking about something other than your college and the admissions process? Once you’ve formed those personal relationships, then you can start to build trust.  Not the other way around.  Would you trust you if you were listening to you? Without doing both of these things you will not secure commitments from the talented recruits you’re searching for.
  • Communicate consistently and in a variety of ways. You cannot expect to avoid obstacles without a consistent track of messaging every 6 to 9 days. Remember that those messages should be sequential and contain short, fact-based pieces of information with the goal of creating anticipation. Our research firmly indicates that when a prospect sees ongoing, regular contact from you, not only do they engage with the messaging on a more regular basis, but they also feel valued. Your recruiting campaign needs to consist of a regular flow of mail, email, phone contact, personal contact and social media.  Today’s prospective student reacts to a good combination of all of these facets of recruiting.  If you focus on only one or two communication methods, you’re leaving the door open for a competitor that will make the most of each communication resource they possess.
  • Believe the story you’re telling. This past fall I spent two days conducting one of our admissions workshops with a school that didn’t realize the importance of having a great story and using passion when relaying it to their recruits. If you always tell a compelling story you will help create those “feelings” for your prospects. A story told without passion can come across as less credible. If you don’t believe the stories you’re telling, how will they? Remember that prospects rely on those “feelings” and emotions to help them make their decision.
  • Ask good questions. This is one of the most talked-about aspects of recruiting with both our admissions and athletic clients. Almost all want to know how to get a masters degree in effective questioning, and for good reason. Are you asking good probing questions that reveal those hidden clues? Do you know what facts your recruits really care about? If you aren’t asking effective questions, you’re probably struggling at recruiting high potential students.
  • Get them to reveal any objections. We’ve talked about effectively handling objections before. How are you doing lately in this department? Are you able to get your prospects to clearly clarify an objection and how he or she came to feel that way? Or do you try and sidestep those discussions with the hope that your prospect will just forget about them? I’m here to remind you that the latter will not work. If there are unanswered questions in the minds of your prospects or their parents, you need to help them reach a solution quickly, or risk losing them to another school.
  • Tell them what to do next. We see it time and time again. The school that connects all the dots from start to finish in a clear manner runs into significantly less obstacles with their recruits. If you want them to call you, tell them that. If you want them to visit campus, tell them that. If it’s important they complete their financial aid paperwork by a certain date, tell them why and confirm that they’re aware of the aforementioned deadline. DO NOT ASSUME ANYTHING…EVER. Be crystal clear about the every single “next step.”
  • Affirm their commitment. When your prospect is admitted, what do you do to congratulate them on their decision? Do you ensure that they sign up for one of your admitted student days? Do you still recruit them and sell the positives of your school? Or, do you breathe a sigh of relief and move on to the next prospect? You need to reaffirm their decision and make them feel good about it. Make them know that they made the right decision, and never let buyer’s remorse settle in.

If you consistently do each of these seven things, the likelihood of the recruiting process flowing smoothly will greatly increase.

Have questions about any of this? Email Jeremy directly at jeremy@dantudor.com

The Four Things Your Prospects Want When it Comes to Financial AidMonday, January 19th, 2015

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

This past week I had a lengthy discussion with an admissions counselor. She reached out to me for advice after a common theme started to develop with her new admits. The excitement of receiving that acceptance letter had begun to wear off. It was now being replaced by the stress of affording to pay for college.

The first thing I did was reassure this counselor that she wasn’t alone. As we all know, similar situations like this are occurring in many other admissions offices. Accepted prospects are once again being reminded that getting in to college is only half the battle. A new whirlwind of paperwork and electronic filing awaits them.

Colleges and universities are preparing for, or in many cases, are now in the thick of financial aid season. Prospects and parents alike are gathering the information needed to complete the financial aid forms, some of which are due in the coming weeks. Too often however we hear about recruits quickly becoming overwhelmed by the lingo of financial aid. That feeling of frustration can be enhanced further if they call the admissions office, only to speak with someone who is unprepared to provide guidance, and instead passes them off to a financial aid counselor who currently has a full plate and is unavailable.

As we discuss during our on-campus workshops, throughout the entire recruitment process your admissions team must always be laying out those all-important “next steps.” Through listening and effective questioning, counselors should also have uncovered and answered any objections. Having said that, here are four more things your prospects want from you when it comes to financial aid.

  • They want an explanation of the aid package as early as possible. Prospects value schools that give financial aid estimates, even if they can’t spell out all of the package details yet. At a number of institutions the total package may not be known until March or possibly later. Walking a recruit through a projection early on, with specifics such as scholarship awards if possible, is a tangible way to show him or her that you care.
  • They want to know your school’s value. There’s no question that a strong financial aid package will increase the chances that admits submit deposits. Research tells us though that this alone is not enough value to consistently secure commitments. Counselors must sell all of the qualities of the college above and beyond the financial assistance. This includes concrete data on your recent graduates.  Knowing your school’s strengths and presenting the value proposition in the best way to connect with each individual recruit will pay dividends.
  • They want transparency. If you read this newsletter each week then you understand just how important transparency is in the eyes of your prospects. If you haven’t heard that before, I strongly encourage you to write it on a post-it note and stick it somewhere visible as a daily reminder. Here’s how it applies to the financial aid process. As I mentioned earlier, clearly stating what needs to happen next in the process is a must. Make sure your prospects know when the filing deadlines are, what forms are required, what verification means, and how loans and payment plans work. Explain that to maximize their chances of getting aid via the FAFSA, submit that form as soon as possible. If they tell you their parents make too much money so they don’t need to complete it, make sure they understand that there are many different factors that go into financial aid.  Ask them if they received even a few hundred dollars why they wouldn’t want that additional assistance. In the end if you can’t explain the details clearly, what are your prospects going to think?
  • They want you to solve their problem.  That’s right…they want you to help them figure out how to pay for college. They want you to help them find any outside scholarships and figure out what additional options they have for financing tuition and other expenses. They also want you to tell them about any financial aid seminars or workshops that your college or another local high school is hosting. Believe me when I tell you that the counselor who solves their problems will likely be the one whose school receives those deposits. Let’s be honest though, it’s unlikely that you will solve all of their problems, but if you can demonstrate that you’re trying to do so you’ll win brownie points with your prospects.

If you remember each of these four important points when you’re communicating about financial aid with your prospects, you will see greater yields.

Looking for help delivering clearer messages to your recruits? Jeremy Tiers and the staff at Tudor Collegiate Strategies work with college admissions departments around the country on a personalized basis.  To discuss your situation and how the program would work with you, email Jeremy directly at jeremy@dantudor.com

What the Drive-Thru Reminds Us About Customer ServiceMonday, January 12th, 2015

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

At some point in the past twelve months I’m sure each of you has experienced poor customer service. You know, the kind that frustrates you to no end and you proceed to tell your family, friends and neighbors all about it. Mine occurred a couple of weeks at the drive-thru window of a national fast food chain.

After placing my family’s order our first stop was the pay window.  The teenage employee slid open the glass, continued to finish typing on her cell phone and then asked me for the incorrect total. Next we proceeded to the food window. Mistake number one was giving my daughter outdated milk, which thankfully my wife caught because well that’s just something that parents look for. Next we had my milkshake, which they mistakenly let me order but couldn’t produce because the shake machine was down. When the employee went to fill my wife’s Diet Coke that machine stopped mid pour. She and a couple of colleagues spent several minutes staring at the machine as if it was magically going to repair itself. Finally a manager arrived to see what the problem was. After giving each of use alternate drink choices and replacing what we showed was cold food, we finally exited the parking lot. The entire chaotic experience lasted approximately 15 minutes.

Customer service is a critical component to any successful business, including college admissions. Without satisfied customers your enrollment doesn’t grow. There is however an even bigger problem to keep in mind. If a member of your team comes across as unpleasant, can’t be bothered, or heaven forbid down right rude, in this day and age many complaints are aired through one of the oh-so-public social media platforms.

All of this leads me to ask the following questions. Have you taken a step back and evaluated your office’s customer service recently? Is your admissions team consistently meeting the needs of all of your prospective students and their parents? The cost of attending college continues to rise.  Providing average customer service is no longer sufficient. There are too many other options out there for your customers. Both you and your team need to make time to deliver an exceptional customer experience from start to finish. Just like the disgruntled customer takes to social media to vent, the satisfied one will rave about his or her one-of-a-kind experience, and recommend your school to friends, neighbors and work colleagues for years to come.

Let me share you with ten opportunities where you and your team can stand out and deliver exceptional customer service.

  1. Listen more than you talk, especially with younger prospects. We know you mean well when you try and cram every single fact and positive statistic about your school into that first or second conversation with a prospective student. The problem is, it’s not helping. Instead, when you listen, your recruits and their parents will share all kinds of information about their wants and needs. You can then take those bricks and use them to build a strong relationship. Listening and giving your undivided attention are both chiefly important to your customer.
  1. Engage your prospect to gain their interest.  Remember the teacher that read things word for word from the textbook? Boring, right. If you’re sending long, wordy mailings or always asking yes/no type questions when you talk in person, are you really gaining their interest? It’s hard enough for today’s teenager to focus on something for more than a few seconds. How are you engaging them and creating that anticipation?
  1. Become the “go-to-person.” As we’ve discussed previously, a large part of your job is to be a problem solver. You must provide the prospect and his or her family with the information they want and need to make an informed decision. Arby’s says, “We have the meats!” Guess what, you and your team hold the pieces to your recruit’s decision puzzle. Make sure you’re anticipating their needs and answering all of their questions. For example, right now many families are trying to navigate through the maze known as Financial Aid. Do they understand how to complete the FAFSA? Do they understand that many schools prioritize who gets funding based on deadlines? The more you do for them, the more they’ll look at your school as the logical choice.
  1. Provide your customers with a clear, concise message.  Keep your recruits informed, and do so with simple messages that are easily and quickly understood.
  1. Always tell them what’s next.  If you can, narrow it down to one thing.  Make it straightforward instead of complicated and time-intensive. You prospects and their parents both want and need to know how the next part of the process works. By doing this you will increase their comfort levels and minimize what can otherwise easily become a stressful time in their lives.
  1. Make appointments. For some strange reason too many counselors continue to pick random times to contact their recruits, and then wonder why they rarely connect. Setting up a date and time to speak with your prospects and parents takes the guesswork out of phone calls. It also helps block out your competition from contacting your prospect. Be sure and have a system in place for tracking these calls, because the worst thing you can do is either forget to call, or mix up one recruit’s information with another. It sounds easy enough, but are you consistently doing it?
  1. Don’t just deliver, but over-deliver. How you ask? Start by being sincere when you communicate with them. Then deliver more than what they’re expecting, specifically during the campus visit. Focus more on why things matter to them during the tour, and provide additional opportunities for personal interaction with your students and other members of your campus community who will be impactful. If you exceed their expectations in those areas, you’ll win almost every time.
  1. Deadlines.  Talk about deadlines far in advance. Reiterate when they need to submit specific paperwork, and why sending in their deposits in a timely manner once they’ve been accepted is vital. Deadlines will keep them focused on the task at hand.
  1. Be where your customers are. More of your prospects are using social media. As a result they expect to be able to engage with you online. Responding to questions quickly and providing behind the scenes content via the various social media platforms is imperative. The more knowledgeable you become about how social media works, the better.
  1. When a prospect chooses another school. Sometimes no matter how great your customer service is, your prospect will choose to go elsewhere. The reasons rarely make sense, but that’s the reality. When this happens send them a personal note wishing them well. Tell them you’re even excited for them. That kind of service will pay dividends when others around them inquire down the road about your institution, and the overall experience that they received from you.

If you want a team of proven recruiting experts to help you improve your customer service, click here for more information.

Determining Where Things Stand With Your RecruitsMonday, January 5th, 2015

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

Remember the easy button? You know, that big red button that Staples used to feature in their television commercials. All you had to do was press it and your frustrating situation became simpler. Imagine if your admissions office had one that you could press right now and instantly figure out where your school stands in the minds of your prospects.

Okay back to reality. We all know there’s no easy button for college admissions. Trying to decode the mind of a teenager is a formidable challenge. Unfortunately that’s the reality for admissions teams across America. You’ve been working hard trying to convince your senior prospects that your school is the “right fit.” Phone calls, hand-written letters, emails and maybe even a visit to their high school. You’ve done it all. Let me ask you then, “Is it a done deal?” I’m guessing that many of you just paused for a second before answering. Don’t worry you’re not alone.

One of the biggest parts of a recruiter’s job is to ask questions of prospective students and their parents. The better the questions, the greater the chance you have of connecting with that prospect. There’s a problem though, even for many veteran counselors. You hold yourself back from asking the right questions at the right time because you’re worried about being too pushy. I’m going to encourage you to change that mindset. It’s been proven time and time again as we’ve worked with colleges around the country, that asking great questions will result in prospects opening up and revealing their wishes and fears to you. You will then be able to connect their desires with what your school can offer.

Let’s discuss a few ideas that might be suitable for your admissions team to employ during the latter stages of the recruitment process. Doing these will help reveal what your prospects are thinking.

  1. If you think they might be concealing an objection, it’s time to do more probing. Try asking questions like, “Do you and your parents agree on which college you should attend?” Or, “Sometimes prospects that I talk to have a question about (objection). Is that something that’s on your mind?” If you’ve been transparent and honest up to this point you’ve likely gained their trust. Getting them to reveal that critical objection allows you to address it and continue to move the process forward.
  1. Test out their willingness to engage with you by doing what we refer to as “trial close” offers. For example, are they willing to tell you that when admitted they plan to immediately send in a housing deposit? Getting an affirmative answer is a good sign that more than likely they will eventually act on that statement. Make sure you conduct small “tests” such as this first before you ask for the big commitment.
  1. Utilize mom and dad. I cannot overemphasize just how big a role your prospects’ parents will play in their child’s decision-making process. Our research continues to confirm it. If you still haven’t accepted that fact than your competition already has a leg up on you. For those of you who have cultivated that relationship through separate messaging and communications, next time you have a scheduled call with mom or dad probe them for additional information. Parents will generally tell you more when their child isn’t around.
  1. Make your commitment to them clear. It’s both simple and obvious, yet many counselors neglect to do it. Your prospect has probably applied to six or seven different colleges and needs ways to differentiate between them. Reminding him or her through consistent messaging will reiterate how much of a priority they remain to you and your institution. This is something they want, need and will thank you for. Inconsistency on the other hand, particularly with your letters and emails, is likely to cause a recruit to question your school’s interest, as well as slow down their communication with you at a critical juncture in the process.

Gathering information via effective questioning will allow you to understand how your recruit’s feelings and emotions will play into their final decision. When handled with precision, these are the types of conversations that remind prospects you’re trying to understand them as a person. They also reveal any late game changes that you may need to incorporate into your recruiting game plan.  

Do you get the feeling that your recruiting should be doing better at this point in the year?  Our team of experts can help.  We work with large and small colleges around the country, and are helping them produce some of their best recruiting classes ever.  Our systematic, research-based approach works.  Want more information?  Email Jeremy Tiers directly at jeremy@dantudor.com and ask for a complete overview of our Admissions Recruiting Advantage program.

Why Being Different Works With Your RecruitsMonday, December 29th, 2014

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

Over the holiday break I ran into a former neighbor of mine that I hadn’t seen in almost a year. While catching up I found myself trying to figure out what was different about him.

People are programmed to notice what’s different.

We consistently stress to our clients the importance of taking a creative approach and standing out when it comes to recruiting. For some of you that may be a scary proposition. Sure, it’s far easier to use the same tried and true approach. Don’t be surprised though when it produces mixed results. More than ever, this generation of students wants and needs to see, hear and feel something different if you’re going to separate your school from the competition and successfully enroll them.

Once you’ve accepted the fact that it’s okay to be different, I encourage you to also keep in mind that not every prospective student is one in the same. That means a great recruiting idea that generates results with one student might not be effective for another. Your admissions team must always remember who a prospect is and why a particular message is important to them.

There are many instances when differentiating yourself or your school can be beneficial. Here are four aspects of the recruiting process where we’ve seen schools take a different approach and subsequently make a considerable impact with their prospects.

  1. Your letters, particularly the early ones. Too often counselors start by sending lengthy form letters that talk about the school’s name and reputation, while also listing a plethora of facts, figures and rankings. If you’re trying to create a reaction from the recruit, which you absolutely should be, this isn’t the way to do it. Want to be different? As you start to tell stories you need to find ways to connect with your prospect. Incorporating personal details about him or her, as well as their likes into your story-telling is an effective way to start creating those all important “feelings.”
  1. Your campus visits. We covered this topic in detail in a previous post, but let me give you a couple of new ideas. If possible with your high-level recruits, create the opportunity to spend 5 minutes visiting with your school’s President. That kind of personal attention is hard to match.  Or, how about providing solid information regarding recent graduate incomes from the specific major your recruit is considering. Many students struggle to understand the value of a particular degree, so here’s a chance for you to provide valuable information and stand out.
  1. Your phone conversations. At the end of every phone call with a prospective student you should be asking yourself a question – “Are they looking forward to the next time I call?” If you have any doubts, start by reading this. Now, let’s expand a little on how you can make your phone calls even more memorable. If you’re expecting a list of cool and exceptional ideas that have worked for our clients with this one, sorry but that’s not the goal. Rather, the key point I want you to take away is to be original. Once you have gathered personal details about your recruit, at the appropriate time during your conversation, try throwing out something unexpected. If you have a hard time coming up with something, think about some non-traditional ideas that will separate your conversation from the other counselor phone calls the recruit is receiving. Being innovative will take some extra time, but it will produce results.
  1. How you recruit others around the prospect. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself who’s recruiting your prospects for you when you’re not? It’s an important question. Our research shows that parents are the most important outside influence your recruit will utilize when it comes to making their decision. But you already know that. So, let me start by reminding you to cultivate your relationship with mom and dad, and don’t forget that separate messaging to them is a must. Now let’s discuss everybody else that matters in your recruit’s life. These may include their siblings, best friend, girlfriend/boyfriend, high school counselor and possibly another mentor at school or in the community. If you want to be different, it’s time you started connecting on various levels with each of these influencers, so they too understand why your school is the best option. It may not make sense, but the research shows that prospects will often go against their own gut and side with some of these highly influential outside decision makers.

When recruits believe that their college choices all offer the same thing, they naturally must see the people selling them as different to make a choice. How different are you? It’s crucial to come up with ways throughout the recruitment cycle to differentiate both your institution and yourself, without becoming too weird of course. When you’re consistently different and take an alternative approach, it will get noticed, and you will generate positive outcomes.

After the holidays comes New Years, and with New Years comes resolutions!  If you are focused on developing a more research-based, strategic approach to the recruiting process, talk to Jeremy Tiers and the Tudor Collegiate Strategies team. To get an overview of how the process works, and what they do when they work with an admissions staff as clients, click here.  Or, contact Jeremy directly at jeremy@dantudor.com

Solutions for the Admissions Office Holiday Wish ListMonday, December 22nd, 2014

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

‘Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la, la la la la. Happy Holidays to each of you and your families.

My five year-old daughter Olivia has been counting down the days until Santa arrives. Not down the chimney though, because as she points out we have a gas fireplace. Instead, St. Nick will leave the presents on our front porch, so she says.

This is the first Christmas that Olivia wrote out a wish list and mailed it to the North Pole. After writing and re-writing her list, she settled on three big things. Here’s a hint – they’re all related to a recent Disney movie.

This year the competition among colleges and universities to attract those “best fit” students is at an all time high. That being said, in my conversations with admissions professionals across the country, there are a number of common issues for which your offices continue to seek answers.

Without further adieu, here are five of the most popular problems along with my recommendations for creating a winning solution to each:

  1. Figuring out the best recruiting practices. When I conduct one of our On-Campus Workshops this topic almost always enters the discussion. Phone calls, email, text, social messaging or direct mail. Which is the most effective method of communication with your prospective students? Our research shows that each form of communication has its place in the recruiting process. What you need to do is create a good mix and have a regular flow. This generation of prospects will react to a good combination of all these facets of recruiting. If you choose to utilize only one or two of these methods you’re leaving the door open for a competing school, that will employ all of their communication resources.
  1. The perception of your school at the beginning of the process. It’s a proven fact that today’s prospect doesn’t start the college search process without biases against most schools. If you refuse to accept that notion you’ll be fighting a major uphill battle. Ask yourself, “What biases do we typically hear against our institution?” Then be prepared to answer them. Your prospects mind is like a whiteboard. Whatever goes up there first is what they usually believe. In most cases it doesn’t matter if it’s fact or fiction. You need to tell your recruits early in the process why they’d be crazy not to consider your school. As you begin to tell your story remember that it must be compelling, because your goal is to create that “feeling,” the one that all recruits use to make their decision.
  1. Turning admits into deposits. When we talk to prospects about their final decision there’s usually a common thread. The institution they chose was able to connect all the dots throughout the recruitment process not only for the prospect, but also their parents. Listing all the great things about your school is only beneficial if you explain how those things will impact the recruit. Your messaging needs to be specific, and it needs to be tied together with facts. Taking this one step further, your prospect always needs to know what’s next, especially after they’ve been admitted. Trust me when I tell you they want to know, and they expect you to deliver that information. Be transparent. Don’t ever assume your prospect knows what to do next. Lastly let me challenge you to evaluate the content of your school’s acceptance packet. What separates yours from the five to ten others that the recruit will receive?
  1. Creating amazing campus visits every time. It bears repeating that our ongoing focus group research on campuses around the country rates the face-to-face communication you have with a prospect as a “very important” and “important” factor in determining which school they attend. Despite everything schools know about how critical the campus visit is to successful recruiting, some colleges still don’t take it seriously enough. In most cases schools need to shorten the length of the campus tour, and focus more on highlighting why certain things around campus are important to that specific recruit. More personalization and less same old, same old. That also means do not fill their day jam packed with meetings. Make sure your office leaves some time for self-exploration.
  1. Understanding the changing landscape of social media and how to use it. Social media has changed the recruiting landscape forever. Gone are the days when a college could survive online with just a Facebook page. When mom, dad, grandma and grandpa joined the website, your prospects carved out new online territory over at Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Snapchat and Flickr. That’s just the beginning. LinkedIn’s “University Finder” has quickly become a tool that students are using to gather information on colleges. Google Hangouts are also gaining popularity in admissions offices as a way to connect with out-of-state and international students. Start by creating a strategy. Figure out what your office wants to accomplish from social media and choose your networks wisely. Your content needs to be original and it needs to be updated on a regular basis. Our research shows that prospects really like pictures and videos. Make sure your counselors are spreading the word about your offices’ pages and profiles to recruits during school visits and college fairs. Regardless of which method of social media you use, remember that prospects want a personal, behind-the-scenes glimpse of your school and all it has to offer.

Questions about any of this?  Email Jeremy at jeremy@dantudor.com and get a personal reply.  Our team at Tudor Collegiate Strategies is here to help!

How to Effectively Talk About Paying for College With Your Prospects (and their parents)Monday, December 15th, 2014

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

During a recent phone call with a good friend he mentioned that his daughter, a high school junior, was starting to receive a lot of mail from colleges and universities. What he said next is something that I’m sure many of you in admissions have heard a thousand times. “Most of the schools she likes are really expensive and I have no idea how we can afford any of them.”

Knowing that their family had visited a couple of those schools earlier this fall, I asked him if any of the college counselors had touched on financial aid before, during or after the visit. “Not one of them.” In the words of Tom Hanks’ character in Apollo 13, “Houston, we have a problem!”

More than ever before today’s prospects, and their parents, are limiting the college search to schools they believe they can afford. By doing this, many students sacrifice their best “fit” for an apparent lower cost option. Several do so without researching affordability or talking to an admissions or financial aid counselor at the better “fit” institution.

Studies have shown that when students were asked where they obtain information on financial aid, both admissions offices and admissions counselors ranked near the bottom of the list. Instead, your college’s website and the student’s high school counselor are the top sources. This is a trend that needs to change.

Discussing the issue of paying for college is a challenge. I won’t dispute that. It’s a frequent topic during my one-on-one counselor meetings when we conduct one of our On-Campus Workshops. How then do you approach your prospects correctly?

We have some strategies that we’ve seen work over the past few years, and we think you can use them to help overcome the “money” objection as you talk with this next class of recruits.

  • Be prepared to start the conversation early on. The “money” objection is one of the most common negatives that many schools face. We tell clients the worst thing they can do with any objection, including this one, is avoid talking about it in the hope that it will magically disappear. It won’t. If your admissions team is not prepared to talk about money with your prospects, it’s going to be hard to secure their commitment. Being able to explain the process ahead of time will lead to a greater comfort level, and a lot less questions later on when you try to convert those admits to deposits. I would also strongly recommend you have that talk with the parents, not the parents and your prospect together.  It’s a sensitive topic, and we find that your prospect’s parents will be more open with you if their son or daughter is not there.
  • Ask the parents of your prospect how this crisis is effecting them. That type of question is one of the “15 Great Questions” that author, speaker and founder of Tudor Collegiate Strategies, Dan Tudor, and I, recommend to college coaches and admissions teams during our On-Campus Workshops.  You need to understand how this crisis is effecting them, and what obstacles it creates when it comes to considering your school.  By engaging the family in that conversation, you will help them connect the dots, which is something they value. Mom and dad will also become your allies.  Considering how important their feedback is in their child’s decision, you cannot afford not to reach out to them.
  • Guide them step-by-step, and always emphasize what that next step is. We’ve talked many times in previous articles about how important transparency is with this generation of recruits. The college selection process is both confusing and stressful. You and your staff need to be their guides from start to finish. Be sure and reiterate key dates and deadlines well in advance. If you want to avoid “sticker shock,” explain to them how the bottom-line total is calculated and why that’s the important number to remember. In addition to the FAFSA, be prepared to discuss each of the three main types of financial aid – loans, grants and scholarships, and programs such as work-study. As an honest guide who makes the details easy to understand, you will gain their trust.
  • How you communicate the value your school offers matters. Especially in your letters and emails.  If you have a family who is worried about finances, your basic recruiting letter is going to have an even harder time getting through to them and grabbing their attention.  Communicating clearly, systematically and with some originality is vital. When you discuss the value or ROI that your college’s graduates have experienced, have institutional data or at worst national data at your disposal, in addition to success stories of your alumni. It’s your job to show the value of your school’s diploma, and the benefits that will come as a result of the experiences your prospect will gain during their time on your campus. When done correctly you will be able convince many of your recruits and their parents that cheaper isn’t always better.
  • Collaborate with your school’s financial aid staff. The days of directing all “money” questions to your financial aid office are coming to an end. Admissions’ collaborating with financial aid is now essential. If your college hasn’t merged the two entities, then I strongly recommend you do some cross training. Understand what financial aid officers look for and how they make their decisions. Be able to navigate your school’s financial aid website, because if you can’t do so, you can guarantee your prospects won’t either. Cultivating these relationships will make a tangible difference. Remember that both offices are working towards the same goal of enrolling the “best fit” students.
  • Understand that they might have the money, but aren’t sure they want to spend it on your school. When a family talks about not being able to afford your school, understand that in some cases they can afford it, they just haven’t decided that they want to. Ask yourself what would happen if a bigger brand name school with a perceived higher academic reputation entered the picture for your prospect and offered the exact same financial aid package. Chances are that family would find a way to “make it work” financially. Just remember that more often then not your prospect has the money, they just aren’t sure they want to spend it on your school. You then need to consistently and creatively find ways to get them to justify the expense and why it’s worth the investment.

At the end of the day there will be times when despite your best efforts, you won’t be able to overcome the reality that some families just cannot afford your school without taking on significant financial debt. Your goal is to present smart reasons why your school is the “right fit” for their child, and demonstrate greater value than your competition.

Want personalized help in creating a better recruiting strategy? CLICK HERE to learn about our Admissions Recruiting Advantage options that schools around the country are using.

Developing Successful Campus VisitsMonday, December 8th, 2014

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

I recently conducted one of our effective on-campus admissions workshops for a college in the Northeast.

When it came to recapping their focus group research the most impactful discovery was that 85% of the students surveyed said the campus visit moved this particular school up, or to the top of their list. Despite those numbers, one of the school’s senior counselors wanted to discuss ways they could turn a great visit into an amazing one-of-a-kind visit, the kind that creates that “feeling” all recruits rely on to help them choose a college.

Let me ask each of you a question. “When’s the last time your admissions office took a step back and evaluated your campus visit?” Some of you might be saying to yourself, “Jeremy we haven’t had any complaints about our visits, so why spend time doing that?” A visit to your campus is number one on your prospect’s list for determining if your school is the right one for them.  Our ongoing focus group research on campuses around the country indicates the face-to-face communication you have with a prospect will determine what kind of chances you have at securing their commitment to join your student body. Unfortunately, that same research also suggests that many schools are delivering virtually identical visits, and therefore not providing prospects with strong enough proof as to why their school is the right fit.

Lets back up for a minute. First and foremost, you have to give your prospects a reason to come to campus. It starts with your recruiting message. You must be telling a compelling enough story using a mix of communication that ultimately creates anticipation in their minds. Your prospects want to buy what you’re selling, but you need to give them a reason to do so. They will anticipate coming to campus if they’ve been given exciting peeks at what awaits them when they get there. This is an opportunity for you and your admissions staff to use creative thinking and paint them that picture.

O.k., back to auditing your campus visit. The first thing I encourage you to focus on has nothing to do with the tour route or your tour guide. During your walk across campus, look for things such as burnt out light bulbs, weeds, trash in stairwells and paint in need of touching up. We see little things such as these all the time when we participate in campus tours during workshops and client visits. If we see them, that means your recruits and their families notice them as well. They may seem minimal in the grand scheme of things, but I encourage you to reach out to your school’s physical plant and see if these small projects can be prioritized. The result will be more comments about your school’s “beautiful campus,” which again is something that contributes to creating that “feeling” for your recruits. The campus visit sets the tone for the rest of the recruiting process.

Now that you understand how critical every aspect of the campus visit is to successful recruiting, let’s discuss some common mistakes that colleges make when they’re hosting these visits. Keep in mind this feedback comes directly from our research with students just like those on your campus.

Too many scheduled meetings. The absolute worst thing you can do as a school is to cram as many meetings as possible into your prospect’s visit. All of that running around leads to exhaustion. Students can only take in and process so much information, so quality must be emphasized over quantity. They want to get a feel for how well they will fit in on your campus. A day full of meetings destroys that possibility. You need to carve out some down time for rest and self-exploration.

Non-Impactful meetings. I understand that certain departments at your school want to be involved in the campus visits. Here’s the problem. Students consistently tell us that sitting through a meeting with people they will likely never see again is a buzz kill. They become bored and never get a sense of how what’s being explained is beneficial to them. Most importantly, very few of these meetings factor into their final decision. One meeting I would however highly recommend you consistently block time for is with someone in your school’s career center. As the cost of higher education continues to rise, families want to know more about ROI (Return on investment).

The length of your campus tour. The average college campus tour lasts between 60 and 75 minutes. Our research, which again is feedback from students, consistently tells us this is too long. Make the time one day to join or follow a tour group and watch what happens after about 30 minutes. Students become uninterested and start to check their cell phones. Like it or not, that’s this generation of recruits. They have an extremely hard time staying focused, particularly after that first 30 minutes.

Your tour guide’s presentation. There’s two parts I want to address here. First off, your tour guides must be enthusiastic individuals who have no trouble engaging your prospects and their families. Delivering the campus tour in a dull, monotone voice is an immediate turn off. Furthermore the guide must be well educated on every part of campus, including any recent changes and additions. Finally, they must remember the importance of TMI. I’m referring to discussing social issues and personal experiences on campus that are irrelevant and inappropriate. The second key takeaway here is the worst thing your visit experience can offer a recruit is the exact same thing the last two visits they went on offered. Your tour guide’s talking points must be defined. If all they’re doing is talking about the renovation of this building, the history of that building, and so on, then that’s a problem.

Not highlighting the “why.” Every campus has the same things – dorms, a cafeteria, a place where students congregate, a library, etc. All of those things are great and they need to be highlighted, but not enough schools emphasize why each of those should matter to that specific recruit. Maybe your freshmen dorm room sizes are larger than most, or your cafeteria allows students once a week to fill up a container as full as possible with food and take it back to their dorms for later on. Wouldn’t it be worth pointing out why those things are beneficial?   Doing so allows your prospect to visualize, and as we’ve stated many times previously, that’s another part of helping create that “feeling.”

No personal touches. In a previous article we discussed how personalization is the secret to increasing enrollment. You must incorporate personal touches and create a genuine welcoming environment for families. That goes for your prospect as well as mom and dad because we all know how important a role they ultimately play in their child’s decision. Welcome signs, parking spaces with their name on it, and providing background information to others who will be involved in the campus visit are good places to start. This is another chance for your counselors to be creative.

Letting them leave campus without telling them what’s next. Here’s something we see happen all the time. A school hits a home run during the campus visit. Everyone’s excited. Mom and dad along with their son or daughter get into the car and start the long drive home or to the airport. As they finish recapping the visit, the question of what’s next always arises. Too often the admissions staff doesn’t clearly lay out that next step for the recruit before they leave campus. We also advise clients to ask the prospect if they can see him or herself as a student on your campus. Failing to do one or both of these means you’re missing a giant opportunity for your school.

If your school has recently evaluated and addressed any campus visit issues, minor or major, I applaud you. Let me challenge you now not to be afraid to re-tweak things going forward. If you’re in the majority that hasn’t done so, start dissecting your visits now. Do not wait until next year. You can make easy changes quickly and effectively that will improve the overall experience for your current group of prospects.

It’s also a great idea to ask your tour guides for their input on the campus visits. Ask them what you should do more and less of. They’ve recently gone through the process and have a better feel for what today’s student wants.

Need help creating a campus experience that will allow your school to stand out from the competition? Invite us to conduct an on-campus workshop with your school in the New Year. We can help! Contact Jeremy directly at jeremy@dantudor.com for more information.

Why You Should Recruit Non-Traditional Students DifferentlyMonday, December 1st, 2014

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

The Times They Are a-Changin’.  Bob Dylan’s legendary song would be an appropriate description if you were asked to summarize the makeup of today’s college student body.

Colleges and Universities still enroll plenty of high school graduates. However, the fastest growing segment of the higher education market is non-traditional students. Roughly 40% of all college students are older than 24, according to U.S. Education Department data.

The thing is, a 32-year old single mom wants something completely different than an 18-year old high achieving student whose most recent dilemma was what to wear to promThese two demographics have different expectations, different motivations, and different objections.

When advising clients on assembling their recruiting communications for these non-traditional prospects, we emphasize the importance of creating different messaging and using different techniques to secure their commitment.

Let’s start by defining some characteristics that today’s non-traditional student possesses.

  • Usually 24 years old and older
  • Delays enrollment
  • Attends college part-time
  • Employed (works 30 hours or more per week while enrolled)
  • Has dependents (spouse, children)
  • Is a single parent (studies show that women make up 71% of all student parents)
  • Mid career professional
  • Often looking to advance their career or achieve a personal goal
  • Is considered financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid

Once you’ve put together a detailed profile of a typical non-traditional student that your institution believes is most likely to succeed at your school, you’re then ready to start marketing to this group.

Let’s take a look at some of the key differences between these two groups.  Furthermore, how do you use those differences to your advantage against your competition that is looking to enroll the same non-traditional recruits?  Here are three big things we think every admissions office should know:

  • Unlike their traditional counterparts, non-traditional prospects don’t rely on their parents’ opinion as they make their decision. Non-traditional students feel they are in charge of their educational career. They are largely independent and more concerned about paying bills on time and making school fit with their work schedule, than whether or not mom and dad approve of a school. What this means for you is that you won’t need to spend the same amount of time recruiting their parents as we recommend for a high school prospect.
  • Unlike their traditional counterparts, you’re going to find it much, much harder to get in touch with non-traditional prospects.  These students are juggling multiple responsibilities in addition to work. It’s going to be difficult to reach them by phone. What should you do? We have found that creating weekly standing appointments, or ones every other week, is a successful strategy. It goes on their schedule and is much more convenient, which is something they place a premium on. Social media is another easy way to connect with this demographic. They access Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter in many cases more frequently than their traditional counterparts, and research shows they’re generally open to these forms of communication. Use these to show the prospect things your campus offers that will be of benefit to them. Finally, I’ll repeat something that I said earlier. Don’t forget that those increased responsibilities to their families gives non-traditional students more opportunities to procrastinate or be distracted from taking that next step in the admissions process. It’s your responsibility to make them feel wanted, help them connect the dots, and keep them on track.
  • Unlike their traditional counterparts, non-traditional prospects won’t be as concerned with your dorms, meal plan or school activities. Moving out of their parent’s home is something that’s difficult for many traditional students. Most will live on campus and thus want comfortable accommodations and a meal plan with some variety. For non-traditional students this isn’t something they generally need or want to have to pay for. They don’t go to college for socialization or fancy dorms, and have their own support systems outside of school. Besides your institution’s academic reputation, here are some things that non-traditional students value greatly.   Start with availability of evening, weekend or even distance learning courses. These are a necessity. Your school’s career center is also a valuable tool that you can highlight. Connecting them to someone in the career center early in the process is highly recommended. Lastly the flexibility to complete their degree at their own pace matters significantly. Your messaging should address topics such as these, as well as any other areas that are important to them.

Non-traditional students have also made it clear they’re more likely to use the Internet to gather research on schools, versus scheduling a campus visit. They simply don’t have enough time in their hectic schedule. This means your digital marketing needs to be strong and have a section that clearly defines your non-traditional program offerings as well as things like financial aid. They need to be able to know how they will piece it all together and ultimately fit in on your campus. You must help them connect all the dots.  

Even though non-traditional students won’t be attending college in the traditional sense, there is one big similarity between the two groups that an admissions counselor should never forget. Non-traditional students also place a high value on personalized attention prior to enrollment. Personalization at every point of contact – direct mail, online, over the phone, and on campus can make a big difference in persuading a non-traditional student to enroll.

Just remember that if your school is committed to enrolling more non-traditional students, you need to approach them differently than your high school prospects.  They are very, very different.

Jeremy and the experts at Tudor Collegiate Strategies can help you develop personalized messaging for all different types of recruits, including non-traditional students. Want to learn how? Email him directly at jeremy@dantudor.com

How to Effectively Handle ObjectionsMonday, November 24th, 2014

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

Earlier this year my wife went through the process of buying a new car. Like most, she was somewhat apprehensive of the various sales people and their pitches. After all, buying a car is a big purchase. In the end it was a salesman who listened, gained my wife’s trust, and answered her objections that got her business.

In many ways the college selection process mirrors that of buying a vehicle. Both are large financial commitments that will be met with one or more objections. Despite being inevitable, objections during the recruitment process should never be seen as a door closing in your face. Instead your admissions team needs to take time and uncover why a recruit is really objecting. From there they can help defuse the objection, which if they’ve cultivated a relationship with the student and their family, will pose less of a challenge and happen less often over time.

Overcoming objections can be done in a number of different ways.  First off, it’s important to anticipate any potential objections ahead of time. As an admissions professional you know what the common ones are. Trying to avoid discussing them is the wrong approach. Whenever we conduct one of our On-Campus Workshops we tell clients that yes, believe it or not, you want people to object to something about your campus or institution. That objection means they are listening and processing the information they are seeing themselves or hearing from you, which in turn will help them reach an informed decision about your school.

Ask yourself, “When’s the last time you recruited a student who didn’t have questions, concerns or firmly disagree with something you talked to them about?” It’s o.k, and I encourage you to embrace that fact moving forward.

For example, you should always be prepared to talk about the cost of attendance and financial aid with your prospects.  It’s going to continue to be on the minds of just about every recruit as the cost of college continues to rise. Whether you have that talk with only the parents, or the parents and the prospect together is the choice of your office. Keep in mind though it’s a sensitive topic. Our research has shown that your prospect’s parents will be more open with you if their son or daughter is not there.

Addressing any objection becomes much easier if the recruit and his or her parents are comfortable about voicing their opinions to you. Creating and maintaining good communication is essential. If you make every effort to treat objections as “normal” you will have a more productive conversation.

Here are some proven strategies to combat objections that I encourage you to employ with your current and future groups of recruits.

Listen to the Objection. When your recruit offers an objection don’t cut them off mid-sentence. Even if you’ve heard the same objection from other recruits and you already have the answer, give him or her a chance to explain why they’ve come to their conclusion. Remember each recruit’s objection is unique to him or her. By listening you will be able to pick up some helpful clues from the way a prospect expresses their objection. Also keep in mind that your body language says a lot. If you sigh while listening to an objection the prospect is likely to treat that as a sign that you feel the question is unwarranted.

Get Clarification. Rarely will someone give his or her real objection up front. That’s why clarifying the objection is extremely important. This process will require you to think quickly on your feet, but doing so should help you discover the real objection. We tell our clients that asking probing questions is the key to getting to the heart of their lack of interest. If a recruit says your school is too far from home, get them to be more specific. You’ve got the “what,” now you need the “why.” Doing this will allow you to give them a response that helps redirect their interest back towards your school. Sometimes you’ll even discover that an objection isn’t really an objection. What you’re hearing instead is someone who doesn’t want to be influenced and is stalling.

Acknowledge and Add Information. Clarifying allows you to get to the real objection; acknowledging will confirm it for you. Once you recognize and understand someone’s objection you can then add information that will redirect his or her objection. Many times an objection is due to lack of information or false perception. For example, how many times has a recruit told you that “school X” said their specific academic degree is better? Start by saying, “Thank-you for bringing that up.” Then present information that dismisses that perception. In most cases a recruit wants to see if you will confirm their current line of thinking or correct them with new reasoning. Finally remember that telling the student what you think they want to hear usually backfires. Focus on being honest and providing all of the information they need to make a sound decision.

Become a Problem Solver. The goal anytime an objection arises is to provide a solution.  Answering the objection will provide the recruit with a different perspective that may very well eliminate their objection. This is where problem solving enters the equation. We encourage our clients to approach things from a different perspective that will stand out amongst their competition. Your recruit has an objection that they want answered. This is a great opportunity for you and your staff. Using the information you’ve accumulated on a particular prospect, as well as intuition and logic, a solution can be formed. When a solution is presented make sure that the other person understands it and feels that it’s truly an answer to their objection.

Overcoming objections is one of the biggest challenges that an admissions recruiter faces. The key to remember is that the only person who can truly overcome the objection is the prospect. Your job is to create an opportunity for this to occur through effective questioning and subsequent problem solving. If you can successfully do this you will significantly improve your school’s chances to gain the prospective student’s commitment.

Want more techniques and in-depth ideas on overcoming objections?  Contact Jeremy directly at jeremy@dantudor.com to discuss a plan that we can implement in your admissions office.

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