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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.