by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
You pull up your list of prospective students. How are you going to convince each one that your school is the right choice for them? Will you start by sending out a few of the old generic form letters, follow that up with emails as well as a phone call, and then cross your fingers? That’s one approach, but I think we both know that in the competitive market of college admissions recruiting you’ve got to do more. You have to convince each recruit that his or her name is not just a number. You have to personalize!
Personalization was one of the most valuable lessons I learned as a College Advisor. Each student had individual needs and goals, and some were more ambitious than others. One of the first questions I used to ask them when discussing post-secondary planning was, “If you were given $100,000 dollars right now, what would you do with it?” The answers were wide ranging to say the least. The bottom line, however, became clear. Not everyone would take the money and produce the same results.
College admissions’ recruiting is no different. Today’s student is busier then ever. If they’re going to spend the next 4-6 years on your campus, and in most cases make a significant financial investment to do so, they want to feel that the messages they receive are relevant to their interests and needs. This mindset however is not limited to just your messaging. Prospective students want the entire process to be personalized.
The first step is to understand your audience: what makes them tick, what motivates them, and what content about your college they will find most helpful. As you ask questions, it’s important to know the right amount of information to ask for. Doing so will allow you to create personalized content. Keep in mind, though, that you can also overwhelm the prospective student if you ask for too much information, especially early on. For example, you may discover that a higher income student cares more about lifestyle and the academic reputation of your college. Conversely, a lower income recruit might be more concerned about the surroundings, friendliness and what your school will do to make it affordable. There’s no doubt that listening is a challenging task for many of us, but it’s essential to form that connection and create a personal experience if your school is committed to increasing enrollment.
Here are a few ways that you can effectively use personalization during the recruitment process:
- Direct Mail. When students narrow down their list of potential schools, they’ve told us that direct mail plays a big part. As a college coach, every one of my recruiting mailers had two things: A hand written note or comment on the bottom that was related to the message in that specific mailer and a hand written mailing address. Teenagers are constantly looking for something that sets your college apart, and this is a simple and effective way to stand out.
- Creative and Relevant Content. If you’ve started to build a relationship with your prospects, you will have discovered things they like and things they don’t. Use this to your advantage when sending mail. It’s much more successful than the patch and blast approach. If you have a student who wants to major in Music, figure out who some of their favorite artists are. Then create a unique mailer that incorporates something about that artist, the prospective student and your school. Make sure the message is clear, concise and not too drawn out. This will grab their attention, especially if it’s tailored to their interests.
- Tell a Story. Today’s admissions recruiting cycle starts a lot earlier. Because of this it’s important to develop a long-term strategy. Storytelling is a powerful method for building relationships with your recruits. Start by picking a key message. Then, break that down into bullet points and over time create individual letters that build toward your ultimate message. Make sure that your letters are relevant to the prospect’s needs and it will keep him or her engaged. It also shows them that you took the time and effort to craft a unique message.
- The Campus Tour. Simply put, this one can make or break your school’s chances. When surveyed, prospective students consistently state that the campus visit is a top 3 or 4 factor in influencing their college choice. It starts as soon as your recruit checks in at the admissions office. Whoever greets them and conducts the tour needs to be friendly, extremely knowledgeable about your school, and have some basic information about the recruit and anyone accompanying them. At the very least this includes first names, where they’re from, and what the prospect’s interests are. Like it or not, students and parents often make the mistake of discounting a great school because the person or people involved in the campus tour turned them off. It’s also important that at some point during the visit, the prospect spends some time with the admissions counselor involved with their recruitment. This creates continuity and shows them your staff is committed to helping them find the right fit. If your visits are already getting high marks, then I encourage you to raise the bar. For example, if the student is a big football fan, why not take them on a personal tour of your team’s locker room. This makes them feel special and is an easy way to create a lasting memory.
- Social Media. Social media and technology have changed the recruiting game. Let’s start with email. Over 140 billion of them are sent each day, and this remains the most utilized method for delivering personalized content. Your subject line is the key. According to our research, students will judge whether or not your message is worth opening by that subject line. Keep it short, don’t make it formal, and do something to create curiosity like asking a question. Next we have your apps. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram remain popular with the high school crowd. Your school can organize a private Facebook group for prospective students, or use Twitter to create virtual information sessions on a particular topic assigned with a hashtag. Now, let me touch on the next big things – Snapchat and Vine. Snapchat is image based and allows you to take pictures, record video and even video chat. “Vines”, as they’re known, are short video clips that can be used in many different ways including congratulating students on getting accepted to your school. It is also very easy to embed your “Vines” on websites. Regardless of which method of social media you use, remember that recruits want you to show the personal, behind-the-scenes personality of you and your program.
The common theme with each of these methods is they’re more time intensive and involve some extra creative thinking. It remains a proven fact – students make decisions based on the level of personalized attention and immediate service they get. If you want to stand out amongst the crowd, I encourage you to make them a part of your next recruitment plan. Use personalization correctly, and your staff will be able to deliver effective communications that entice recruits to choose your institution.
Jeremy and the experts at Tudor Collegiate Strategies can help you develop research-based personalized messaging for both your current class and your future recruits. Want to learn how? Email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org