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Parent Frustrations During the Student Recruitment ProcessTuesday, September 27th, 2016

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

Last week at the NACAC National Conference, I made it a point to connect with a lot of high school counselors. I got their thoughts on a number of topics including the level of value that both they and their students perceive high school visits by college admissions counselors to hold. That’s not the focus of my article today, but if you really want to know what they told me, all you have to do is reach out and ask.

Instead, I want to talk with you about frustration. Many of those same high school counselors expressed to me that now, more than ever, they’re hearing from parents who are frustrated with the student recruitment process as a whole…namely the fact that many college and university admissions offices aren’t doing what they feel is a good enough job of engaging with them.

This is something that continues to baffle me. I know that you know that parents are a huge player in their child’s decision of where to attend college. So why then are so many admissions offices still not doing a good enough job of connecting with their prospect’s biggest influencer(s)? Our research from your students found that over 90% of them said their parents played a significant role in their final decision. And of the 12 admissions training workshops I led this summer, 8 of those teams listed better communication with parents as one of their action points.

If you’re ready to grow in this area, here are four of the most common parent frustrations that I would suggest you address:

  1. They want to be involved earlier in the process. If you’re waiting until the financial aid discussion to create real dialogue with parents, that’s a double whammy. Parents recognize pretty quickly when colleges aren’t involving them in the process the way they want to be and the way they feel they should be. On top of that, the majority of your prospects tell us in our focus group research that they too notice which colleges are and are not connecting with their parents…and everyone wonders why that’s the case. Here’s my suggestion to you. At the end of one of those early phone calls with your prospect, ask them if their mom or dad is available for a minute because you’d like to say hello. When you get that opportunity, be prepared to discuss what you’ve been talking about with their son or daughter and why you feel your school is a “good fit” for them.
  2. They want to be recruited separately by you. Your school sends email, mail, and brochures to your prospects with the goal of getting them interested enough to take that next step. The problem is most of that information still looks and sounds like every other college and university. And as I’ve told you before, in many cases your prospects are scared of what that next step means. When that happens, you and I both know who they turn to for advice. If you’re not sending separate communications to parents, you can’t expect them to have a good vision of what your institution can offer their child. Beyond that, unless the price tag is going to be $0.00, parents are going to take a big interest in affordability and value so they can justify why they should invest a significant chunk of money in your school. You need to prove both of those things to your prospect’s parents because if you don’t make that case separately, you’re going to have a significantly harder time keeping the process moving forward.
  3. They want their concerns addressed during the campus visit. Most of your students continue to tell us that sitting through a meeting about financial aid or meeting with a dean/professor during the campus visit has very little bearing on their final decision to attend your school. That doesn’t mean their parents feel the same way, so you need to be careful about what you schedule and what you don’t. Most parents are going to be interested in doing one, if not both. The easiest way to find out is to contact them separately before the visit and ask them what important things they want to get out of the visit experience. To build on this, I’m going to recommend a strategy that has paid big dividends for some of our clients. Assuming that you’ve established a level of comfort with the family prior to the campus visit, not too soon into the visit separate the student from his or her parents. It doesn’t have to be for long. Have the parents meet with your financial aid staff or that professor, and let the prospect spend some time with the student tour guide and possibly other current students. We’ve found that it makes for a more memorable experience for everybody involved.
  4. They think there’s a lack of overall guidance for parents during the process. This is especially true in the latter stages after the campus visit and after the financial aid award letter has been delivered. Many parents feel there are gaps in communication, and rightfully so, as many admissions counselors tell us they pull back a little and the communication flow slows down because they don’t want the prospect and his or her parents to feel pressured. Meanwhile, the parents are searching for guidance, unsure of what the next step is at a crucial stage.

I’ve just given you four of the most common frustrations parents have during the college search process. Now, what are you going to do with this information?

At a time when parents are looking for a school that respects their opinion and input and sees them as a valued partner in the college decision-making process of their son or daughter, I implore you to take action…and so do your prospects.

If you want to learn more about the parent messaging we create for clients simply email me directly at jeremy@dantudor.com

What to Do Next After Your First Contacts Are DoneTuesday, August 9th, 2016

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

What’s your plan now?

Many admissions departments around the country have officially started the recruitment process with the next class of prospective students. The first emails and letters have been sent, and the first phone calls have been made.

If you’ve been asking the right kinds of questions, and you’re trying to understand your prospects’ individual wants and needs and not just selling your school, maybe you’ve even had some of them engage with you and begin the application process. If you’re shaking your head no, keep in mind it doesn’t have to be that way. We can help.

Regardless, you’re now faced with the daunting two-word question that worries even a veteran, confident college admissions recruiter: “What’s next?”

The answer to that question is critical. In fact, it will undoubtedly determine what kind of results you have in the months to come.

So, you tell me. What do you think should come next? It would be great if there was a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to that question…but there’s not. The answer will vary significantly from school to school.

Having said that, today I want to outline a few successful approaches that we’ve seen work on a consistent basis the past couple of years for our clients. As you read through each of these strategies and key questions, I want you to ask yourself how you can adapt them to your school and your specific situation:

How are you going to start to establish that your school is the smart choice? Our research has uncovered a surprising trend with this generation of students in terms of how they actually make their final decision – They have to justify it logically. It’s true that they can emotionally gravitate towards a college throughout the process, however, at some point in the later stages, either they or their parents start asking, “Is this a smart decision.” What you do with your communication between now and that final decision will determine if your school ends up being seriously considered.

How are you going to start to establish that your school is the emotional choice? Every year in the early stages of the recruitment process we see prospects gravitate to an admissions counselor and college that creates an emotional tie with them. It’s important to have a strategy that will help create that feeling in the first place. One of the examples both Dan (Tudor) and I use when we present our On-Campus Workshops is Starbucks. They have mastered the art of creating and managing a feeling of comfort when you walk into any one of their thousands of stores nationwide. The color on the walls, the music that’s playing, and the inviting, comfy furniture…it’s all done specifically to create a feeling of warmth and comfort. What’s your plan to create the right feeling for your prospects now that the initial contact message is in their hands? If you and your admissions colleagues don’t have one, you’re introducing random results into the recruiting process.

You MUST engage the parents early. Our research also finds that most parents are both polite and anxious as you begin to contact their child. On the one hand, they don’t want to interfere with the process, and on the other hand, their urge is to step in and play a part as soon as possible. A big reason behind their urge to be involved is a result of their child asking them to. While the majority of your competition will ignore the parents as long as possible, and fail to do basic things like getting their prospects’ parents names and cell phone information, I want to encourage you to do the opposite. Establish early contact with the parents of this next class of recruits and work to establish that same emotional connection with them. Call them, email them, ask them questions, and engage them. 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 admissions counselor that respects their opinion and input and is treating them as a valued partner in the recruiting process of their son or daughter. Do you have a plan to communicate with your prospects’ parents at the beginning? If not, you’re missing a BIG opportunity to create some separation from other colleges.

Work to establish a mutually agreed upon timeline for making their decision. Do everything you can as early as possible to find out when your prospect (and his or her parents) sees a final decision being made. You don’t have to get an exact date. A general time of the year is fine. By simply asking a few effective questions about the prospect’s timeline not only will you find out how long you probably have to recruit that prospect, but you’ll also gain valuable insight into how they’ll be making their decision. Most counselors we observe wait to have this conversation until after a prospect applies for admission. Don’t let that be you. If you’re willing to ask a few critical questions early in the process, you’ll be able to strategically design a messaging plan that earns your prospect’s interest.

Are you establishing control of the process? Are you going to control the recruiting conversation and the decision making process, or will you relinquish that role to them? What I’m suggesting is that you should establish yourself as the counselor that will be guiding them through the recruitment process rather than telling yourself that your job is to give them your school’s information, answer questions, and then stand by and wait politely for their decision. A large part of your job is to guide your prospect’s decision from start to finish. Not trick, not force, but guide. You do that through effective questioning, establishing logical “next steps” throughout the process, and continually providing them with smart reasons why your institution is the right choice. How do you plan to establish that role as the leader of the conversation and their trusted guide?

After reading these strategies and questions, some of you may discover that you need to make some major changes in how you recruit during the early stages of the process. I’m sure some of you other readers may not need to adjust your approach at all.

If you had the feeling with this last class that you were really were ineffective when it came to carrying on a logical, consistent conversation with your prospects and their parents, now is the time to act.

Our Tudor Collegiate Strategies team offers one-on-one help with formulating a research-based approach to communicating with recruits. It will save you time and eliminate a lot of frustrations. The next step is to email me at jeremy@dantudor.com

4 Important Things About Communicating With This Next ClassTuesday, July 12th, 2016

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

The other day during a phone conversation with an admissions counselor he referred to talking with prospective students as “complicated”. I’m sure many of you would echo that sentiment.

As you prepare to have conversations with a brand new class of prospects, I want to give you some advice on how to not only communicate but also connect with them. You’ll have to pick and choose which of these ideas apply best to you, the way you talk, and your approach with your prospects, but I think you’ll find this a good starting point on the road to connecting with this generation of students (and quite possibly their parents).

Most admissions offices around the country have officially started the formal recruitment process with a new class of prospective students. The first letters, emails, phone calls and social media messages have been sent. And, if you’re fortunate, maybe you’ve had some of your prospects reply to your initial outreach efforts. I say “maybe” because our research continues to show that fewer students these days are actually reading what you’re sending.

Regardless, you’re now faced with the daunting question of, “What’s next?”

The answer to that question is crucial. In fact, it will undoubtedly determine what kind of applicant pool you end up with in the months to come.

Having said that, I want to outline a few key, successful approaches that we’ve seen work on a consistent basis for our clients around the country. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a public or private institution, or you have a small, medium, or large student enrollment. As you review these strategies, I encourage you to adapt them to your individual situation.

  • Be comfortable with asking your prospects which social media platforms they use and if it’s okay to communicate with them through those networks.  Our expanding research on this topic indicates there’s one very important “rule” for this generation: Different students have different rules. A large number of students we’re hearing from indicate that they have absolutely no problems with an admissions counselor following them or direct-messaging them on social media.  There is however a good size group of students that has no desire to interact with admissions on social media. In their minds it’s their space to communicate with their friends.  My advice to you is to ask each prospect what they’re okay with. Let them know the reason you’re asking is because you want to be the counselor who communicates with them the way they want to be communicated with. What you’ll find is they will appreciate you asking, rather than just assuming it’s okay.
  • Engage with your prospects’ parents…and start early. As I explain in our On-Campus Workshops that I lead for admissions departments, this generation of prospects not only wants their parents to be involved in the recruitment process, but they expect it. Knowing this fact, my recommendation to you, is you should be okay with talking to your prospects’ parents in place of your prospect…not every time, but most of the time. They’ll usually speak truthfully for their son or daughter and actually provide you with intelligent, useable information.  That in and of itself isn’t breaking news. However, a big mistake that we continue to see admissions departments make is delaying contact until later in the process (i.e. after their child applies or visits campus). I want you to work to establish that same emotional connection with the parents of your prospects from the beginning.  Call them, email them, ask them questions, and engage them. If you do, what you’ll find is that they’re ready with really useful information, and more importantly, they will come to view you as the counselor and school that respects their opinion and input and is treating them as a valued partner in the recruitment process of their son or daughter.
  • It’s all about the back and forth conversation. All of your communication should focus on building and strengthening the relationship between you and your prospect.  That doesn’t happen if what you’re sending them doesn’t prompt them to feel more connected with you. If letters and emails have started to go out and you’re not getting responses and learning key pieces of information about your prospects, you’re falling behind. Back and forth communication is vital! It starts by crafting messages with information that your prospects care about and that promotes engagement.  In addition, you need to ask the right questions at the right times, and then listen and gather information that you can use in future communications. Without back and forth conversation, it’s going to be very hard for you to determine if a prospective student is actually reading what you’re sending, finds it appealing, and if it aligns with what they’re looking for in a college.
  • Become a problem solver for your prospects. It’s something they tell us they want from admissions time and time again when we do focus group research on campuses across the country. In fact, here’s one response from a survey last month that drives home this point (The question asked was what do admissions counselors need to do differently or better as they communicate with this next incoming class):I had one really good counselor and one not so good. The really good counselor was very quick to respond to my emails and questions and always found an answer if they didn’t know it themselves. My not-so-good counselor just threw pamphlets at me and did not help me find answers to my questions.” Which one of those counselors are you?

Not getting responses to your early letters and emails? Don’t have separate messaging for parents? We can solve both of those problems for you. If you’d like to know how, simply click this link and email me.

Talking With Parents: A Crash CourseTuesday, January 5th, 2016

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

Let’s get right down to business today!

You know that the parents of just about every single prospect and admit on your list will have substantial influence in their child’s final decision making process.

You also know that the cost of attending college continues to go up, not down.

Go ahead then and put yourself at your recruit’s kitchen table for a moment…because you and I both know these kinds of conversations happened across the country during the holiday break.

As a parent, would you let your 17 or 18-year old son or daughter pick a college using their own judgment and discretion?  Hardly.

Not without talking to you, their parent, first.

You’ll understand then why it baffles me that many talented, smart college admissions recruiters still have not spoken to one or both of the parents of this next class of recruits.

As a serious recruiter trying to gain the trust of a family during the recruitment process, not making the same efforts to contact and develop a relationship with the parents as you do with a recruit is a losing strategy.

Easier said than done, I know.

The two most common questions I get from counselors and directors alike when helping an admissions team improve their parent interactions are, “Where do we start” and “What do we say to them?”

Talking with parents needs to happen as early as possible. In most cases your first opportunity to speak with them is probably going to take place over the phone.

To help get the ball rolling, let me suggest several questions and talking points that we’ve seen work well recently.  In addition to establishing credibility, asking these kinds of questions will get parents to open up and allow you to determine just where your school stands at this point in the process:

  • “What are you trying to get out of this whole college search process?”
  • “What is it about our school that makes it a potential good fit for your son/daughter?”
  • “What are you trying to get your son/daughter to focus on at this point?”
  • “Have you crossed any specific schools, or types of schools, off your list at this point?”
  • “What’s your biggest fear as a parent as you help your son/daughter look at colleges?”
  • “What are two big questions that I could answer for you right now?”
  • “Has your family talked about a timeline for when you would see him/her making a final decision?”

If these questions sound like things you’d ask a recruit, that’s not an accident.  We find that most parents view themselves as equal partners in the decision making process. Furthermore, most kids not only want that to be the case but expect that to be the case.

Let me add one more thing about those seven questions. Any place that you see son/daughter or him/her I would encourage you to use their child’s first name.

Your goal in talking to the parents is simple but important: Establish the beginnings of a relationship, and let them reveal things to you instead of you selling things to them.  If you do that, you’re going to notice an immediate change in the interest level of your recruit and their family.

Next, I want to give you some additional facts about parents that we’ve gathered from our research and focus groups:

  • Parents want honest answers about how your school is different from the competition. The college brochures look the same, the websites look the same, and the message is largely the same. How are you different from your competition?  I mean really different The counselors who can communicate those real differences to parents will earn their trust.
  • Parents value information on cost, ROI and safety. Your recruiting communications must clearly address each of these three “wants.”
  • Consistency matters to parents. Once you make contact with parents it’s vitally important to know that they expect you to communicate with them in a consistent manner just like their son or daughter.
  • Enthusiasm about their child goes a long way. Parents want to see you pay consistent, serious attention to their kids.  The more passion you show will, over time, cement the idea that you want their son or daughter more than anyone else.

By this point I’m sure you can see why we place such an important emphasis on communicating with the parents as early as possible. You need to become okay with talking to your recruit’s parents, sometimes even in place of your recruit.

Sending parents an occasional email and talking to them during the campus visit is not a winning strategy. Take that approach, and you’ll be hard pressed to discover what the parents of your recruits are really thinking. Plus, you’ll probably become frustrated at the power you ultimately see those same parents having on their child’s final decision.

The last thing that I would recommend if you want to develop a winning communication strategy with parents is separate messaging. I’m talking about a recruiting com flow plan specifically designed for parents that goes beyond your phone calls and emails. Are you doing that now? You should be. We do it for our clients because it results in parents viewing them as the school that respects their opinion and input and sees them as a valued partner in the college decision-making process of their son or daughter.

Want to learn more about the parent messaging we create for clients or maybe you’re curious about other strategies that we recommend to help colleges stand out in the minds of parents?  Email me directly at jeremy@dantudor.com

The Balancing Act – Parents And ProspectsMonday, October 13th, 2014

During much of my career as a college basketball coach I held the title of Recruiting Coordinator. That meant it was my responsibility to organize and helping execute the “campus visit.” When I put together the information packets, I always made sure that the parents received something unique that was tailored towards them. Why, you ask? The role of parents in the recruiting process has drastically changed over the past ten to fifteen years.

Across campus it’s no different. Parents are now more involved in every aspect of the college admissions process.   Finances are a big reason why.

The campus visit has become a balancing act. Your staff must successfully meet the needs of your prospects, along with their parents. It’s a hard act to master, and while there’s no “perfect mix,” because every prospect and parent is unique, there are some important rules that you can use to build a better campus experience for all involved.

In his article, “Balancing Parents and Prospects During Their Visit to Campus,” author, speaker and founder of Tudor Collegiate Strategies, Dan Tudor, offered two important rules that you and your staff can use.

  1. Separate the prospect and their parents.  Not too soon into the campus visit, find a way to separate the prospect from their parents.  The reason is simple: Each party will usually have a much more memorable visit, and your staff will get more information from both the recruit and his or her parents.  Useable, actionable information that will help increase your school’s chances of winning over that recruit.
  2. Send parents on the traditional admissions tour, and send the recruit off with a different member of your staff, and possibly a current student.  There are mountains of data from all of our focus group surveys we’ve done with clients over the years, helping them design winning recruiting visits for their prospects. That data, largely comprised of feedback from current college athletes reflecting back on what they liked and didn’t like about their visits to college campuses, tells us something that boils down to this main point:  When you separate the recruits and the parents while they are visiting your campus, they are both free to speak their mind.  Parents can ask questions that they might not normally ask around their son or daughter. Recruits can relax and be themselves around their peers, instead of awkwardly deferring to those over-eager parents who gladly jump in to answer the question that you just tried to direct to their son or daughter.  The long admissions tour? The parents will be much more receptive than their kids – who, by the way, would love the chance to just hang out and play Xbox with other students as a way to determine whether your campus feels best to them.

Yes, there are many potential twists and turns you could implement into those two basic rules.  The possibilities are almost endless, depending upon the needs and personality of the prospective student coming to campus.

However, these two rules are big keys to a good foundation from which to build a solid campus visit.

Want us to be on your campus in the coming months?  We’re setting our visit schedule to campuses around the country, and we’d love to come work with you and your Admissions team.  Learn more about how we help schools recruit more efficiently. Click here for all the details or email Jeremy Tiers directly at jeremy@dantudor.com to ask him for options and potential workshop dates with your staff.

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