By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Every year we’re reminded how important of a role parents play in the college search process. A lot of them are involved from start to finish. That includes reaching out to colleges, helping to arrange campus visits, completing applications for their son or daughter in some cases, and being the person or people that their child leans on when it comes time to make a decision.
Of the 37 training workshops I’ve led over the past year, 25 of those admissions staffs listed better communication with parents as one of their action points.
Not enough colleges and universities in 2019 are prioritizing parents and making them a valued partner. A big part of the problem continues to be a lack of clean parent data in the CRM. Most schools tell me they’re working with very little info, some of which isn’t even accurate.
If you’re looking to gather more parent information, here are three things you should start doing immediately:
- Shorten your RFI form and make sure you’re asking for parent info.
- During any campus visit/event, make sure someone is always checking to see if you have (or if you have the correct) parent info in your system for each student.
- Create an ad hoc email or quick text message for students asking them to send you parent names, emails, and cell phone numbers. Explain in that message why you’re asking for that information, and tell the student to let their parents know you asked for it.
Along with that, here are five things you can do to strengthen your relationship with parents, and provide them value:
Create a specific stream of communications that focuses solely on parents. Because they’re becoming more influential in the process, it’s vital to start engaging with them early. For some that will be during the student’s junior year, but at the very least it should commence at the start of senior year…or as soon as a student enters your system. Start by sending parents a welcome email or letter from their admissions counselor that introduces the counselor, makes it clear that the counselor values their input, and that the counselor is their families’ go to person for everything. Set the tone from the beginning that you want this to be a partnership. From there, have a consistent stream of messages or communication (ideally something once a month) that focuses on the same topic and selling points you’re making to their son or daughter, but from a parental perspective. Consistently doing this will make an incredible difference in your overall results.
Ask parents about their fears/concerns. Common ones I hear a lot include cost, safety, outcomes, and having their son or daughter adjust academically and/or socially to college life.
Tell the parents you’d like to start the cost/paying for college conversation with them. Explain that it’s not a singular conversation, and that your goal is to help them stay on track and relieve some of the stress. Things you could talk about include how their family plans to pay for college, financial aid timelines and terminology, the FAFSA, scholarships, loans, net price, and anything else FA specific to your school. I want you to make it your goal to have as many FA conversations as possible before your school sends out its financial aid awards.
Make at least one phone call to them to make sure they’re getting their questions answered. Take some time to find out what’s important to them, what insights they can give you about their son or daughter, and how you can make the process go as smoothly as possible for them. This is a huge way to differentiate yourself from your competition.
Consider creating a Facebook group for parents of admitted students. More schools are adopting this strategy and getting lots of positive feedback.
This is definitely not a complete list, but it’s five things that continue to work well for our clients, and schools who reach out and ask me for advice on this subject.
Again, 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.
If you take the time to create and cultivate a relationship with the parents, you’ll significantly increase the chances of conversion.