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!