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How Many of These 29 Things Are You Doing?Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services 

 

There are a number of different ways that you can create better recruiting stories. While I was doing some fall cleaning, I came across a bunch of them in various documents and notes on my MacBook.

My first thought was to pass along these tips and recruitment strategies to you in this week’s article. Not all of these will apply to you, but a lot of them will.

And whether you’re a long time reader or one of the many new people that have been added to my newsletter community over the past few weeks, reply back and let me know what you think about this article…or about the newsletter…or both. My goal continues to be to help admissions professionals grow, lead, and win. Thank you for your continued support!

  1. Write down three things you know prospective students don’t care about. Stop talking about those things immediately.
  2. You have to decide to tell your story. It starts there. Too often colleges revert to a list of statistics, facts and data that they relay to prospective students. Worse yet, most colleges stop telling their story way too early in the process, thinking (mistakenly) that once they actually begin speaking one-on-one with a student, they don’t need to continue telling their story.
  3. Eliminate the myth that direct mail isn’t effective as a communication tool. I know postage costs a lot, and yes eliminating or minimizing it would also save a lot of time. Too many colleges have decided that this generation doesn’t read mail and/or doesn’t want it. Our ongoing survey research continues to show the exact opposite. Students understand letters take more time to craft, and they use that as tangible proof that a college is “serious about them.” And if you want data to support this point, 58.4% of students in our surveys said they wanted a letter from a college once a month during their college search. Another 25.4% said once per week.
  4. Go through your upcoming emails and letters and take out all of the “big words.”
  5. Be okay with starting an occasional sentence with the word “and” or “but.” This generation of students could care less whether it’s grammatically correct or not.
  6. And use a more conversational tone. That won’t make you less professional, it will actually make you more relatable.
  7. Have one consistent voice in your recruiting communications (emails, letters, phone calls, text messages). That person, who I recommend should be the admissions counselor, should be doing the bulk of the communicating with a student/family from start to finish.
  8. Start a conversation about fear. A Director (and reader of this newsletter) did exactly that as part of her open house welcome remarks this past weekend. Multiple parents expressed their appreciation to her.
  9. Use Facebook if you want to tell your stories to parents on social media.
  10. Use Instagram and YouTube to tell your social media story to prospective students.
  11. Most colleges do not produce social media content native to each platform.
  12. Facebook ads and Instagram influencers. Google them both right now, and educate yourself if you haven’t already.
  13. Consider having one or more of your current students Vlog their journey during the school year. I’ve been recommending this to colleges for the last two years and the handful that have listened have seen amazing results. This is the next BIG thing. Be an early adopter.
  14. If you want to increase engagement, change your call to action to a question that asks for the reader’s feedback or opinion on something.
  15. Consistency over volume.
  16. The best idea won’t work without the right execution.
  17. If your current students were tasked with convincing their friends from high school (or community college) to choose your school, how would they do that? You should ask them and then discuss their feedback within your office.
  18. Don’t be afraid to talk about cost, value, and financial aid early on with parents (as well as their son or daughter).
  19. Don’t give up on students who don’t seem to be engaged with your story. Many are still listening and just not responding yet.
  20. As the recruiting process moves forward, the story should get more and more narrow, focused on them specifically.
  21. In many conversations, context matters more than you think.
  22. As you tell different stories, your goal right now in October should be to get them to campus…not to apply. Don’t skip this important step, because the campus visit continues to be where feelings occur and where the decision is made for many.
  23. The campus visit is the most important aspect of your story. Does everyone involved in your visits (namely your tour guides/student ambassadors) understand and believe that? What stories can they tell? And how is your campus visit a different feel from your competitors?
  24. Most parents will vote to have their son or daughter stay close to home, or go to the school that costs less, unless you tell them why your school is the better, smarter choice.
  25. It’s hard to continue to tell your story effectively later in the process if you don’t keep track of previous conversations with students and their parents in your CRM.
  26. Look for objections and enthusiastically address them with prospective students.
  27. A large majority of your admitted students need you to tell them why to pick your school over the others on their list.
  28. Recent student outcomes (by major) are becoming more and more important to this generation of students.
  29. Phone calls will continue to offer massive ROI to those who can execute them correctly. “Voice” leads to deeper relationships.

Recruiting, like story telling, is a process. Respect that process, manage it, and remember, it should always be about them.

Here’s Why You Need ConsistencyTuesday, October 9th, 2018

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services 

 

Do me a favor and take 10 seconds to think of who the two or three most successful people that you know are. Now, what are some of the things that those people have in common?

For me, the people that I know who are at the top of their fields are consistent in their actions each day…what they do when they wake up, when they get to work, how they lead their team, etc.

Speaking of leadership, which is a topic I’m extremely passionate about and trying to bring more attention to in the world of admissions and higher ed, I would argue that if you’re a leader and you’re not consistent, your team (or whomever you manage) won’t completely buy in and follow you wholeheartedly when you ask them to execute. Some important food for thought.

When it comes to student recruitment, I can’t stress enough the importance of being consistent from start to finish with all of your recruiting communications.

If your office doesn’t have a clear long-term plan to consistently communicate all the different parts of your school’s story and the things that make you unique to both prospective students and parents, student recruitment will be harder for you.

Here’s why consistency works and how it will give you an advantage over your competition:

  1. It gives prospective students a predictable flow of information. As obvious as that may be, there’s still a large number of colleges and universities whose recruiting communications are anything but consistent. Some schools come out of the gate strong for the first month or two with a new prospect or inquiry and then run out of things to say before really gaining traction. Others blast students with information at various points in the funnel but provide little in between. My recommendation is to use the drip method of communication. From start to finish communicate small chunks of information about various aspects of your school that explain why students should want to learn more and take action in your favor. When you extend your messaging out over the entire recruiting cycle, you’ll win over some students simply because other schools fall off.
  2. It plays a role in their decision making. It’s a proven fact – this generation of students appreciates and values when a college consistently stays in touch with them and when they consistently make the process about them. I’ll expand more on that in point number three. When we work with clients and help them develop a messaging campaign for an entire cycle, we often hear stories like the following one from students in the surveys we conduct. When it came time to make a decision between two or three schools and they had to use a tiebreaker, the school that communicated with them the most during the college search process won out. It might not make sense, but consistency is something that matters a lot to this generation of students and it influences their decision-making.
  3. It helps create connections and build trust. I’ve talked before about the importance of having one consistent voice in your recruiting communications (your emails, letters, phone calls, text messages). Instead of sending singular pieces throughout the cycle from your leadership, the admissions counselors, a current student, faculty, etc., establish a point person from the beginning. My recommendation, based on our focus group research, is that your admissions counselors be that person. When you do that it increases the level of personalization, and it sends a clear message to students and parents that your counselors care a great deal and are willing to help problem solve. Over time that will build loyalty and what you’ll find is the student/family continues to interact with you more than your competitors.
  4. Consistency helps prompts a response. Do you ever wonder what prospective students and parents think about the recruiting emails and letters that you send them? You should. The easiest way to find out is to consistently ask for their opinion and feedback on various things, not just pushing them to visit and apply all the time. When you have a call to action like this it gives them a safe, non-committal way to connect with you. Doing so will lead to another layer of demonstrated interest. Keep in mind that it may take you three, five, or even ten times to get that response, but remain consistent and stay the course. A lot of your prospects tell us that they’re looking for a reason and permission to reach out and contact you. Most won’t do it on their own because of fear, but the more they see you consistently asking for their opinion and feedback, the easier it becomes for them to engage.

I hope these four points got you thinking a little bit…or maybe a lot.

A word of caution – schools can be consistent but with a poor message. Dan (Tudor) and I see it happen all the time. Generating a weak message consistently can sometimes be as bad as getting a great message out randomly.

Let me give you one more related piece of advice that may be helpful. Consistency also builds discipline. It can help you put structure into your day, and that will lead to greater productivity and efficiency.

I hope you have an amazing rest of your week! 🙂 And if you use Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram, click on those icons at the top of this article and follow me for more tips, strategies, and behind the scenes content.

NACAC and Why This One Thing Matters So Much!Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services 

 

If you read my newsletter frequently, then you know I’m always on the lookout for real life examples with practical applications that I can turn into articles. I even have a friend who’s an Executive Director of Admissions who asks me each time I see him if he’s going to end up in an article one day. Not today, but I was ironically with him at last week’s NACAC National Conference, more specifically the counselors’ college fair, when today’s article came to me.

Body language matters! I’ll explain why in just a minute.

If you want to become a better admissions counselor or leader, every aspect of communication (even the nonverbal kind) is important as you try and connect with a prospective student or parent, or when you try and lead your staff. We all give and receive signals every single day…things like how fast or loud we talk, how close we stand, how much eye contact we make, and the gestures we make. Even when we stand and don’t say a word, we’re still communicating non-verbally.

Throughout last week’s conference in Salt Lake City, I saw numerous examples of good and bad body language. I saw vendors who were overbearing, moving around too much, looking around while talking to people, and standing in a manner that was standoffish. And I saw admissions counselors at the counselors’ college fair having relaxed, easy going conversations with each other…smiling, laughing, hugging, and eyes totally locked in. There’s more, but I’m sure you get the point I’m making.

Why is this important? Because body language can totally change how you, me, your colleagues, and your prospective students interpret messages. Did you know that some studies have shown as much as 70% of our communication is done non-verbally? Crazy, right!

Knowing all of this, the first piece of advice I want to give you is if your prospect’s words don’t match his or her body language, you’d be smart to rely on body language as a more accurate reflection of their true feelings. This goes for things like college fairs and high school visits.

Here’s another important reason that body language needs to be something you think about. Research shows that we decide in the first few moments of meeting someone whether or not we like them, and in some cases, feel like we can trust them. You can create a favorable first impression and build rapport quickly by using “open” body language. In addition to smiling and making eye contact, show the palms of your hands, talk slowly and normally, and keep your arms unfolded and your legs uncrossed.

When you’re at college fairs, doing high school visits, or leading an information session during a campus visit event, are you looking at your audience or are you staring at your PowerPoint or the marketing materials that you brought along? How’s your energy level?

Does your body language mirror that of the person you’re talking to? Mirroring indicates interest and approval.

All of this matters…a lot! You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

One final point – It’s hard to fake nonverbal communication. Some people can sit a certain way or shake hands in a way that makes them appear confident. The truth is that likely won’t work unless you truly feel confident and in control. This is something that I talk about a lot with young, new admissions counselors. You can’t control all of the signals you’re constantly sending off about what you’re really thinking and feeling.

Body language is a great way to gauge how your prospect, or anyone for that matter, is responding to what you’re telling them, but you have to be very aware of what to look for and what you’re communicating to them.

I hope this was helpful. Reply back and let me know. And if you have questions about anything I’ve said, I’m all ears, so let’s start a conversation.

See you back here next Tuesday!

Are They Full of Anticipation or Anxiety?Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

    

What’s the last thing that you really couldn’t wait for, or that you couldn’t wait to do? Maybe it’s this week’s NACAC Conference in Salt Lake City.

In the Tiers’ household it was something that happened a little over a week ago. My wife and I took our 9-year old daughter to her first concert – Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour. For about the past six weeks our daughter had been counting down the days on a chalkboard in our kitchen and talking about it all the time.

Needless to say it was quite the event. They actually ended up setting the all time attendance record for a concert at Lucas Oil Stadium – 55,729. And while we were driving home after the concert, our daughter told us, “Best day ever!”

Anticipation can really be a powerful thing if you use it correctly while recruiting new students, especially via storytelling. You can create a whole lot of emotions and positive feelings! As I’ve told you many times before, the reason that’s so important is because it’s those same emotions and feelings that most students rely on when they make their college decision.

On the other hand when you create anxiety you can really hurt your chances of getting a student to take any serious action in favor of your school during their college search. By serious action I’m referring to things like visiting campus or completing an application.

Let’s be real, almost every student you’re recruiting right now is feeling some level of anxiety about their college search, some more than others. And I’d also argue that your prospects notice when you communicate with anticipation compared to communicating and recruiting with an attitude of anxiety. All of this means you’re already fighting an uphill battle. The good news is it’s a battle that you can still win.

So, how can you use anticipation to your advantage when you’re recruiting? I’ll get to that in just a second. First, let me add that when admissions professionals communicate and recruit with anxiety, they hesitate and they second-guess themselves. I’ve seen it firsthand many times. They also end up giving up much earlier on those students they don’t seem to have a chance at landing. Please take a second and really think about what I just said as it applies to your daily interactions and conversations.

Now, on to four easy concepts that you should incorporate as part of your regular recruiting strategy:

  • Start by looking at the tone of your messaging. There are two different tones that Dan (Tudor) and I see being used all the time, neither of which is usually effective. First, some schools are too “sanitized,” meaning they rattle off a laundry list of statistics about their college and facts about their campus. All of that is too detached and too unemotional to make a connection with most young people. Secondly, you don’t want a constant tone of pressure (i.e. visit or apply every single time) or anxiety. I encourage you to review your recruiting materials and define if and how they build anticipation (and if they don’t, work on changing them).
  • Prospective students will anticipate your next message more if you lead into it with your previous message. This is a foundational strategy that we use when we create our clients’ monthly recruiting message campaigns. Your emails and letters should be ongoing and sequential. Whenever possible they should set up the next message. Too many communication plans that I’m asked to review contain singular messages for different people that try to cram every key point about a certain topic into one email or letter. The result is something that feels pieced together, is way too long, and overwhelms and/or bores the reader.
  • Ask yourself, “What can I get them to anticipate next?” If you’ve had me on campus to lead a workshop before then you know how important it is at this time of the year, for example, to have the flow of the recruiting process move as quickly and as efficiently as possible toward securing a campus visit. So, ask yourself, how would we want to have a prospective student anticipate the campus visit? I can tell you that one effective way is to focus on selling the idea of meeting and interacting with your current students; or sitting down face to face with a professor or Dean in the student’s academic area of interest (and preferably one that they could actually be taught by); or having a 1-on-1 meeting with someone to introduce and outline the key parts of the financial aid process. It could be anything that’s a logical next step in the process. The key question is, “What are you getting them to anticipate next?”
  • Prospective students will anticipate talking to you if you exceed their expectations. Too often admissions counselors jeopardize future interactions and conversations with a prospect when they fall back on the same tired, boring, run-of-the-mill conversation points that students tell us they dread: “How was school this week?”, “Do you have any big plans this weekend?”, “How’s your college search going?”…you get the picture. When you have a one-on-one conversation with any prospective student, you need to have a plan to engage them and keep their attention. Much of that begins and ends with the types of questions that you ask. Whatever you choose to discuss with them, make sure you’re consistently being helpful and doing your best to create excitement and anticipation.

Good luck, and thanks for taking the time to read my latest article. I really appreciate it!

What You Should Do With All Those New NamesTuesday, September 18th, 2018

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

    

As your admissions team navigates through college fairs and high school visits, I’m sure everyone has been accumulating plenty of new names to add to your database. Once those leads are inputted, now what? How are you going to get those students excited enough to visit campus or start filling out your application?

That early impression, specifically the first one you make with name buys or new inquiries, or the initial follow-up you have with new students after a college fair or school visit, is something you don’t get a second chance to make. How are you going to build excitement or build on the excitement you’ve generated and begin creating those feelings that convince students to take the next step in the process with your school?

Our ongoing focus group research continues to show that students are looking to see who contacts them consistently early in their college search process. And, just to be clear, I’m not talking about sending a bunch of marketing materials to them over those first few weeks. I’m talking about personalized, helpful, and easy to digest communications that clearly show them they’re important and that you understand this process is about them. In their minds, this is a strong indicator of just how serious you and your school are about them.

Here are some ideas that I urge you to consider if you want to make all those new names count:

  • Deliver that first communication right away. There needs to be a clear strategy in place as to how those new names will make their way into your CRM quickly, even when you’re on the road. If that’s something you’re struggling with, or if the strategy in your office isn’t clear, I encourage you to talk to your supervisor immediately. Sending a prospective student that first communication in a timely fashion is extremely important. I’ve previously discussed who the first contact piece should come from and what kind of communication that first one should be. If you missed that article or you need a quick refresher, click this link.
  • Limit the selling. This one isn’t a new idea, but rather a reminder. Take it easy on all of the info, numbers, and statistics about your school. Our research shows that most students aren’t interested in being “sold” on your school right away. In fact, you can’t realistically do that in a first email, letter, or phone call, so don’t try. The goal of your first contact or two should be to get the student to engage with you, to find out as much as possible about the students’ wants and needs, and to learn how they see themselves going through the college search process.
  • Tell them what you like about them (be specific). It might surprise you, but this is one of the top things that prospective students want to know right away. It’s also something that your competition probably isn’t doing, so you’ll stand out. Why do you think your school is a good fit for them? How will your school help them transition smoothly both academically and socially? And how can your school help prepare them for success after graduation? Those are some of the questions that you need to answer early on.
  • Plan to stay consistent. Make sure you’re communicating foundational, logical facts every six to nine days through a variety of communication methods. That’s what our ongoing focus group research says most students want in terms of frequency. Our research also indicates that when a prospective student sees ongoing, regular contact from you, not only do they engage with the messaging on a more regular basis, but they also make the judgment that your school has a greater interest in them and values them more.
  • Address that other 4-letter F word. I would argue that fear drives just about every decision that students make during their college search. One of their biggest fears is making the wrong decision…there are others. I want you to create a discussion around this topic and then help them come up with a plan to alleviate their fear. Do that, and you’ll win their trust and in turn gain a major advantage on your competition who doesn’t believe this topic is important or doesn’t know how to address it.
  • Come up with a list of better questions. Knowing that prospective students are nervous or in many cases scared to have a conversation with you, especially early on, the kinds of questions you ask are extremely important. Questions like “What are you looking for in a college?” are fine, but they’re also probably going to get you a vanilla, untrue answer much of the time. Instead, ask them to walk you through how they’re going to make their college decision, or ask them what are two or three must-haves that they need to see in their future college. The better the questions, the greater chance you have of connecting with your prospect, understanding their mindset, and ultimately coming up with a strategy to successfully recruit them.
  • Create curiosity. We frequently remind our clients about the importance of crafting emails or ending a phone call with unanswered questions, especially early in the process. You want to create curiosity and prompt them to want more interaction from you…something that makes them want to go to the next step in their communication with you. (Hint: Creating curiosity is done by giving less information, not more).
  • Start a conversation with their parents immediately. Establish early contact with the parents, and through consistent communication, work to establish that same emotional connection with them. Make it clear that your goal is to help make this entire process easier for their family. If you do, what you’ll find is they’re happy to provide you with useful information, and more importantly, they will look at you as the person that respects their opinion and input and is treating them as a valued partner.

As I said earlier, communication with new prospects and inquiries (and parents) should result in one thing at the start of the recruiting process – a response. I want you to do everything you can during the early stages to create an environment where students feel comfortable enough to communicate back and forth with you.

If you’d like to talk about this article further, or if feel like you’re off to a slow start with this next class, I’m happy to help. Reply back and let’s start a conversation.

The Most Confusing Part for Students and ParentsTuesday, September 11th, 2018

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

    

In our focus group surveys throughout the year we ask what one part of the college admissions/college search process was or is the most confusing. The winner by a wide margin, every single, time continues to be financial aid or specifically the FAFSA.

What concerns me is I continue to read and hear stories about colleges and universities waiting until their school’s financial aid packages are distributed before starting a real conversation with families about cost and paying for college.

In addition, more schools are starting to have their admissions counselors be the point people for these conversations, which I believe can be extremely beneficial if done correctly. I phrase it that way because, behind closed doors and via email, some of those same counselors tell me they either don’t receive any real financial aid training, and/or there are parts of that process that they don’t fully understand. Just like financial aid shouldn’t be a one-time conversation with a prospective student/family, one training session on this topic is not nearly enough for those who are tasked to explain it.

I want to help, so today I’m going to share with you some strategies and tips for starting the cost conversation and making the overall financial aid process a little less stressful for the families you’re trying to serve. These are things that I talk about when I lead a staff training workshop and when admissions professionals reach out to me for advice/best practices.

Let me start by giving you some specific financial aid items (I call them pain points) that students have mentioned numerous times in our aforementioned surveys this summer.

  • The paperwork was hard to keep up with (and not the same for every school)
  • Different deadlines
  • Financial aid online vs. on paper
  • FAFSA – My parents are divorced and have split custody. What do we do?
  • Trying to figure out outside scholarships
  • FAFSA verification
  • Different loan options and applying for them
  • How much the actual price of a school really is

All of these things, and more, lead to frustration. And frustration can unfortunately lead students and families to do nothing. As one student said in a survey last month, “FAFSA was too hard so I didn’t fill it out and submit it.”

On to the strategies and tips:

  • Start the conversation early. Let me define what I mean when I say early. For high school freshmen and sophomores, it’s helpful to educate both them and their parents about financial aid processes and terms. Be mindful though that they’re at a different spot in their college search than juniors and seniors are, so don’t overload them with too much information. Instead, focus on things like sticker price versus actual price, especially if you work for a private college and don’t want them to potentially rule you out because of sticker shock. For juniors and seniors the process is becoming more real, but again be mindful of where they’re at in the overall process. Once they’ve shown “demonstrated interest” in your school (ex. they visit campus) I would encourage you to begin the conversation about paying for college. I’ll talk more about how to do that below. For seniors specifically, if you haven’t already brought it up, this needs to happen as soon as possible. Start with the students who rank high on your list or again have shown demonstrated interest in your school. I cannot stress enough how much harder you’ll be making things for yourself if you wait until after your school has sent out financial aid awards to start a real conversation, or you assume that your school’s financial aid staff will handle this for you. Don’t avoid talking about cost because you’re worried it will be uncomfortable and/or lead to an objection. Be proactive because this will lead to a greater comfort level and a lot less questions down the road when you try to convert those admitted students.
  • Start it with the parents. This should always be a parent first or parents together with the student first conversation…not a student first one. That doesn’t mean you can’t touch on things like completing the FAFSA or deadlines with the student. But anything much beyond that should always involve their parents. In most cases, the parents are going to play a significant role in their child’s college decision, so go ahead and make them a valued partner from the beginning. And because this is the biggest financial decision that just about every student has had to make to this point in their young life, most believe this is (and want it to be) a mom and dad conversation anyways.
  • This is NOT a one-time conversation. I would argue it’s not even a two or three times conversation. Because there are so many moving parts with financial aid, I recommend you break things into a bunch of single, easy to digest conversations throughout each student’s search. It’s about educating each family on processes, timelines, and terminology, while also being mindful that some families won’t need as much education. For example, the FAFSA should be a single conversation. So should the “4 buckets” talk.
  • Begin by having the “4 buckets” talk. Every family you’ll deal with falls into one of four financial aid buckets when it comes to paying for college – Parents will be paying for everything; Student will be paying for everything; Parents and student will do some type of split; and some version of, “Our family is so confused by all of this that we have no clue.” As your icebreaker, I want you to ask the parents which bucket sounds most like their family right now. Having that information will be super helpful in allowing you to keep the processing moving forward.
  • Ask the parents what kinds of challenges this process creates for them. That line of questioning is extremely important for the parents of every family you work with. You need to ask questions that allow parents to ask questions and share their challenges, concerns, and fears. You also need to probe and figure out how important a factor cost will be in their families’ decision-making process (and why). Doing these things will allow you to understand what type of family you’re dealing with, meaning some families have the ability to, and will pay more if, they fully understand the value that your school offers. Other families would love to choose your school but may not realistically be able to afford the leftover cost.
  • Help them develop a financial aid timeline. I talk a lot in this newsletter about developing timelines. So many students in our surveys tell us they wish they had a list of next steps specific to financial aid. Sending them a step-by-step checklist that includes key deadlines will make everyone’s lives easier and in many cases make this process more efficient.
  • Explain what the FAFSA is and why it’s important. We both get it, but you might be surprised to learn that in 2018 there are still a large number of students and families who either don’t know what this form really is, and/or why they should not only complete it, but complete it as early as possible after October 1. I encourage you to figure out what they know/don’t know about the FAFSA, and then educate them as much as needed.
  • Explain the difference between scholarship and net price. If I had a dollar for every time I heard about the following situation occurring, I’d be a very wealthy person. A student considering your school looks at your financial aid award letter and compares it to the award letter from school B that they’re also interested in. As part of your school’s award they will receive a $15,000 scholarship. As part of school B’s award they will receive a $19,000 scholarship. However, the net price to attend your school is $4,000 cheaper than school B. Instead of processing that fact, the student (and in some cases their parents) focus on just the scholarship amounts and view school B as the better option and the college that wants them more. This again is where I encourage you to educate the families that you’re working with early in the process so when they receive their award letters they have a better sense for what the actual cost will be.
  • Share examples they can relate to (aka: storytelling). Show/tell the parents and/or the student that they’re not alone when it comes to feeling the way they do about this part of the college search process. Tell them about a similar situation with a family where someone like them succeeded…and how you helped. It’s much easier when they have a current example (or two or three) of someone like them, or someone in a similar situation to theirs, who moved forward with confidence and made the investment in your school…and is loving their decision.
  • Be prepared to provide detailed student outcomes. Building off my last bullet point, you can’t and shouldn’t expect a family to commit to making a greater investment or taking on additional debt unless you can provide detailed examples of the potential return on their investment. Detailed outcomes and alumni stories will help prove your school’s value in easy to understand dollars and sense terms.
  • Continually educate yourself and your colleagues. Just like prior-prior, changes will continue to happen. As I mentioned earlier in this article, the days of college admissions counselors directing all “money” questions to their financial aid office are quickly coming to an end. That means ongoing education on this topic is more important than ever before. In addition to collaborating and cross-training with your school’s financial aid staff, make sure you understand how to navigate your school’s financial aid website, because if you can’t do it, I can guarantee you there will be a bunch of prospective students that won’t be able to either.
  • What is your school’s “value proposition?” This final bullet point is a question that I want you to think about. If I asked you to explain your value prop to me today, could you? How well would you do? I frequently ask this question of college admissions professionals, and too often it’s radio silence. If you want families to make the investment in your school, you need to have a firm grasp of your value prop, part of which is what makes you different from your direct competitors and other schools with a similar profile. I would also tell you that the customer service piece is another part to consider.

Here’s something else I want you to keep in mind. 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 what they consider significant financial debt. Be okay with that as long as you’ve been transparent and helpful throughout.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read this week’s article. If you’ve got a question about it or any other aspect of student recruitment or leadership, I want you to reach out and connect with me.

See you back here next Tuesday!

Last Week I Forgot to Tell YouTuesday, September 4th, 2018

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

    

Last week I gave you some advice about fall travel.

As I was responding to many of your emails about this topic, it got me thinking that it might be helpful for me to expand on something I said in that article.

Part of the problem in getting and keeping the attention of prospective students at a college fair or during a high school visit is that too many admissions professionals repeat the same “elevator pitch” over and over. Now, multiply that by the number of college reps that a student talks to at a fair, for example, and you can see how that could become annoying real fast.

Not all students are alike. Meaning, you shouldn’t take the same approach with every single one of them.

In order to get them excited enough to fill out your school’s inquiry card or to take whatever the next step is, you need to know more about who they are and what their wants, needs, and fears are as they’re looking at different colleges.

As I’ve mentioned before, the easiest ways to do that is by asking effective questions. Your goal in those first 15-20 seconds should be to ask one or two open-ended questions that are easy to answer and show the student you’re making the conversation about them. This approach will allow you to gather enough information to put together a response that will hopefully peak their interest and/or help them solve a problem.

Teenagers are no different than the rest of us. If you wait and give them information when they want it and are ready to receive it, they’re more likely to remember it, see the value in it, and take action because of it.

If you’re in a rush to deliver information, there’s a pretty good chance that the student is going to feel rushed and/or pressured. Remember, not all inquiry cards are equal, meaning some students will fill them out just so they can walk away and be done talking to you.

Have fun with these interactions because when you’re excited and you ask the right kinds of questions I guarantee you that just about every student will gladly talk about themselves and share all kinds of useful tidbits of information. Those will be extremely valuable during future conversations so make sure your focus is 100% on them and not on other students hanging around your table or waiting in line.

When you consistently take this personalized approach not only at fairs/school visits but also with your follow-up emails, letters, hand-written notes, phone calls, and texts, it becomes much easier to get the student to take action when you say something like, “I’d love to get you on campus and be able to show you instead of just telling you. If I send you some information about visiting campus and what you’ll be able to see and do when you’re here, can you and your parents figure out a day to come do that?”

Good luck, and travel safe!

Before Fall Travel Starts, Read ThisTuesday, August 28th, 2018

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

    

As you know, I travel a lot, especially June thru September. In fact, I’m currently in the middle of trip number eight this month, writing this on a layover in Minneapolis, heading to lead a staff training workshop the next two days.

The most popular topic among admissions counselors this month during the 1-on-1 meetings that go along with each workshop I lead has been fall travel. Everybody is either currently planning it or just finished. From analyzing past travel data, to the value of high school visits, to new ideas for college fairs, counselors have been asking me for advice on these things and more.

Whether it’s college fairs or high school visits, getting (and then keeping) the attention of prospective students continues to be a challenge for many in 2018. Why is that? I would argue there are two big factors at play – fear on the part of students, and most college reps continue to take the same approach and have the same “elevator pitch.”

The good news is there are all kinds of strategies out there that can change the outcome and help you increase engagement levels. One of the most effective that I continue to recommend is asking an unexpected question. By unexpected I mean something that other counselors aren’t asking. It could be related to pop culture, or it could be something that you know is on the minds of many students as they conduct their college search. The question could be serious or funny. Either way it will have nothing to do with your school.

Here are a few quick examples:

  • “What scares you the most about your college search?”
  • “How the heck can a private college be affordable?”
  • “Have you ever wondered why colleges make you fill out so many forms?”
  • “What do you need help with right now?”
  • “Ninja or PewDiePie?”
  • “Fortnite or League of Legends?”

Let me also add that if you’re going to use references to pop culture (like I did in the last two examples above) make sure you do your homework first if you’re not familiar with what you’re asking, and make sure you know your audience…you probably wouldn’t ask those last two examples to very many teenage girls.

The biggest benefit to asking an unexpected question (other than getting a prospect to stop and actually have a conversation with you) is that you’ll sound smarter and more interested in the student than a lot of other counselors who ask the same “yes, no” vanilla questions…or choose to dive right into the facts/figures of their school.

Depending on the kind of unexpected question you ask, you may need to be ready with a quick follow-up question. And once you’ve asked your question(s), remember the importance of listening. Doing so will allow you to figure out what’s important to that student, while at the same time finding opportunities to begin telling your school’s story and why they should want to learn more.

Here are six other fall travel tips that are extremely important:

  1. Load up on the stories. Storytelling will help you achieve emotional engagement and create connections more than any facts/figures that you can offer. If you’re not sure where to find all those stories, start by talking with your tour guides, student ambassadors, and other colleagues in your office.
  2. Upload your notes to your CRM daily. No matter how busy you get, make time for this because, if you don’t, you’ll not only be hurting yourself in the long term but potentially the students/families that you’re trying to help. And if your CRM doesn’t have a place to upload notes, go talk to your supervisor about this immediately.
  3. Gather accurate contact information for prospective students AND parents. Confirm with the student that the information they’re giving you is their contact information and not mom or dad’s. Then I want you to ask them for their parents’ names and contact information. Too many colleges have a low percentage of parent information for students prior to the admitted stage. As I’ve discussed many times before, engaging the parents early is crucial. That’s hard to do if you don’t have accurate (or any) parent information.
  4. Don’t make every high school visit the same. Lunchroom, library, classroom, wherever you meet with students, read the room and adjust to your audience. I continue to see quotes in the surveys we do where students use words like “boring,” “annoying,” and “they’re all the same,” to describe these visits. Make them more interactive and engaging instead of just handing out your viewbook, mini-viewbook, or other marketing piece and then going through the spiel.
  5. No students doesn’t equal a wasted visit. It’s a fact. Most counselors are going to visit one or more schools this fall and have no students show up. If this happens to you, I don’t want you to drop off the updated marketing materials to the high school counselor and walk out the door. Instead, use it as an opportunity to make other connections at that school. In addition to the high school counselor, try and say hello to the principal, assistant principal, dean(s), secretaries, athletic director, teachers, etc. It’s a much smaller world than many realize, and word of mouth continues to be extremely valuable in 2018.
  6. Know your body and take care of it. Everybody is different. Know how much sleep you need to function each day and get it. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and body language absolutely matters. Also, drink a lot of water (not soda), and do your best to limit the fast food.

Good luck and safe travels!

If you’ve got specific fall travel questions I’m only an email, call, or text away.

P.S. How valuable do you think high school visits are in 2018? And are you planning on making more, less, or the same number this fall? I’d love to have you tell me. By the way, my recommendation (if you’re wondering) is to double down and do more. If you want to know why, all you have to do is ask.

They’ll Do the Same Thing My Daughter Does If You Let ThemTuesday, August 14th, 2018

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

    

My wife and I already know the answer before we even ask the question.

Every now and then we let our 9-year old daughter pick where we go out for dinner. There are a ton of nice restaurants within a 15-20 minute drive from our house. But, every time despite having all those options, she opts for one of two familiar choices – McDonald’s or Culver’s.

My daughter chooses ‘safe’ over the unknown. It doesn’t matter that what she usually orders (hamburger, Mac and cheese, or noodles with butter) is available at a bunch of other restaurants. In the end, she settles.

Prospective students do the same thing throughout their college search. They did last year, and they will again this year unless you help them make an uncomfortable decision.

Here are four core issues you’re going to have to find a way to take control of if you want prospective students to bypass their own McDonald’s or Culver’s:

  • Understand the psychology behind their motivation for playing it safe. Most students begin their college search adventurous and seemingly open to anything, including what you’re telling them about your school. But, as many admissions counselors discover, it wanes as time goes on. Why? Because they, like most of us, gravitate to familiar and safe. That might result in the student choosing the school that’s the closest to home, the one that’s the least expensive, has the biggest name recognition, or some other traditionally safe-sounding reason. Sometimes, you benefit from being the safe choice. Many times, you don’t. What I want you to remember is this reasoning is common, and it can be overcome.
  • It’s your responsibility to tell them how to think. Let me be clear on this. I’m not suggesting you trick students into choosing your school. You don’t have that power. However, you do have the tools needed to define why your college or university is going to be the better choice in the end. And you have complete control over how much passion and confidence you exude. You need to clearly lay out all the reasons that a student should take the risk and choose your school. If you don’t, who will? Telling your story effectively is one of the foundational ways you begin to change the hearts and minds of your prospects.
  • Ask them to explain why they’re feeling ready to take a big risk. Another important part of an admissions counselors’ job is to understand why a prospective student is ready to take a risk. For example, you have an interested student from several states away who’s telling you that he/she is open to hearing/learning more about your school. The first thing I want you to ask them is, “So tell me why moving away from home and going far away to college seems like it might be the right decision for you?” If that student comes back with defined reasons as to why they’re looking at colleges out of their area, then you’ve got a strong start to that prospect’s recruitment. If on the other hand you get an answer like, “I don’t know, I just want to see what all my options are and look around a little,” I would argue you proceed with a lot of caution. That scenario can take the form of a lot of different conversations, but the main point I’m trying to make is this: If you sense your prospect is taking a risk or isn’t the typical student you usually see interested in your school, ask them early on to explain why they’re interested.
  • Ask them to define their timeline. One of the most important aspects of getting a prospect to leave their safe zone and consider a riskier path is to have them define their timeline for how their process will move forward, and how they’ll make their final decision. I’ve talked about timeline at length before, but if you need a quick reminder or maybe this is your first time reading my newsletter and you want more strategies on how to do that effectively, read this article I wrote. Defining their timeline early in the process is a critical piece for making sure a student is ready to seriously consider your school.

As you start to have in-depth conversations with this next class of prospective students, make sure you’re looking for what your prospect’s safe options are, and make a plan to clearly and consistently justify why taking a serious look at your school is well worth the risk.

Have a great rest of the week!

It Might Not Make Sense, ButTuesday, August 7th, 2018

By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

    

It happened again, this time during a staff training workshop that I led for a college in Illinois yesterday.

During a break, one of the admissions counselors came up and asked me if his peers at other schools are also dealing with students making completely illogical college decisions. The short answer I gave him was, “of course.”

Choosing a college based on whether or not they have a football team might seem completely illogical to you and the wrong way to break a tie between schools, but it happens from time to time. And some students in 2018 are also still picking colleges based on where their high school friends are or are not going…that includes a boyfriend or girlfriend as well. One student even said in a recent survey we conducted for a school that the deciding factor that led them to pick their college was, “I thought it would be easier to change my major here than at other schools.”

Over the past couple of years I’ve seen and heard more examples of irrational, emotional decisions than ever before in our ongoing work with college admission departments.

Here are five important constants I see with this generation of students that I want you to keep in mind as you start to communicate with this next class:

  • They’re deciding based on their emotions. Emotion often outweighs logic and facts, including when it comes to deciding which colleges to visit and apply to.
  • They’re thinking short term, not long term, when it comes to their college experience. What feels right at that moment is often more important versus over four years.
  • They’re looking to see which colleges truly personalize the process and really take an interest in them. Are you a resource or salesperson? Are you consistently staying in touch and asking them for their feedback and opinions on things? Do you feel like someone they can trust?
  • They’re relying on others to help them make their decisions. Namely parents, peers, and other family and friends in their inner circle/community.
  • They’ll often turn to irrelevant statistics to justify their actions. You might develop a great relationship with a student and offer them a competitive financial aid package, but in the end, they pick the school with the larger, newer residence halls or the one where their boyfriend, girlfriend, or group of friends is going.

The bottom line is this generation is a tough group to recruit. They often change their minds multiple times daily, and they do things that leave people like yourself scratching your head.

Let me share with you some additional ideas/thoughts that might help you moving forward:

  • Search out information as early as possible about how they’re going to make their college decision. Ask questions about tiebreakers and other things that matter most as they look at different schools…no matter how silly you might think they are.
  • If the early emails and letters you send are focused solely on the logical argument that your school and your academic programs are the best choice, you may be making a huge mistake. It’s not that your prospect doesn’t need that, it just may not be the right time yet.
  • Over the past two years in both this newsletter and during NACAC affiliate conferences I’ve spoken at, I’ve really tried to drive home just how much this generation of students are driven by fear. How are you, your colleagues, and your recruiting communications helping to alleviate that fear?
  • Find ways to feed their emotions and make a personal connection rather than a logical case. If you take that approach, you’ll set yourself up for having them listen to your logical case more intently once you have that emotional connection.
  • Make your case with more passion than your competition. I continue to see/hear plenty of stories where the emotional connections that the admissions staff, tour guides, etc. helped build end up being a significant reason why the student chose their school. Emotions sell because emotions are real. And remember, passion has nothing to do with your budget.
  • Always include/engage the parents. When you clue them in early on to your conversations with their son/daughter, and when you ask them for their feedback on things, you gain allies who feel like a valued partner.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your week!

As always, if you have questions about this article or any other aspect of student recruitment, leadership, or professional development, I’m ready to listen and help. Reply back, and we’ll start a conversation.

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