by Paul Nemetz-Carlson, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
A few years ago – in a conversation about recruiting – a Division I men’s hockey coach said to me, “we work really hard to get all of our kids to commit without a visit.”
“You don’t want them to visit?” I asked.
“Sure we do. Just not when they’re still making a decision,” he answered. “We get them to commit BEFORE they visit.”
They played at a run-down community rink off-campus – with limited seating, cramped locker rooms, and the constant busyness of shared tenants. While they knew they could provide a great college hockey experience, the visual appearance didn’t come close to matching the presentation of their competitors.
It reflected a problem that many coaches of all levels already face – with sub-optimal facilities, lack of modern campus, and challenging locations – where they constantly wonder how to best present their institution. It was an admission that if a prospective student-athlete came to campus he would see something different than his idealized vision of college athletics. But it also was a recognition of the role a campus visit actually plays in the traditional recruiting process.
In the current climate marked by uncertainty, an extended DI dead period – prohibiting on and off-campus recruiting, and state/national travel restrictions, it turns out he was just way ahead of the curve.
With coaches still recruiting and prospects still making decisions, to succeed in the current environment, everybody will need to be prepared for a new normal and the visit-less commitment.
Truthfully, most coaches don’t understand the role traditional campus visits play in recruiting. They see it either as another necessary step in a recruiting process defined by timelines and tasks – or – as the place to showcase their personality hoping to win over recruits and families.
In reality, it primarily serves as confirmation of your comprehensive recruiting story. Because you have already communicated with them and shown them how to think about your program, being on campus is an opportunity to look for the visual cues and experiences that confirm their perception of your program.
When you approach visits in this manner, a great visit allows them to envision their future and re-enforces how they see themselves fitting in. It’s also a reminder that recruiting – to this generation – should always be framed as a story of people over a reliance on things and buildings.
While visits matter, good recruiters will recognize that this uncertain climate may force them to do things differently – having to answer the question of why their prospects don’t need a visit.
Because this is an uncomfortable idea for many coaches, here are four ways to help everyone be more comfortable with visit-less commitments.
- Redefine the Best Way to Present Your Campus
By now, every coach and institution has created some version of a virtual tour to share with prospects who can’t get to campus. What’s unique about this approach is the ability to edit and highlight specific elements that connect to your program story. Tours can be shorter, more directed. Coaches have more influence on the narrative, actively choosing what to include and what to leave out.
Over the past few years – much of the facility update discussion has centered around the visual elements of the “walk-path” coaches share on tours. In a virtual world, you now control everything on the walk-path. Take advantage of this opportunity to find new ways to present your program – what it looks like, what if feels like, and why people want to be a part of it.
- Be Personal
Coaches – throughout the recruiting process, recruits are constantly asking the question, “why you?” They’ve traditionally relied on meeting you as part of their assessment. So, if you’re going to bypass the visit, you’ll need to replace that personal touch. Give recruits and their parents more of YOU.
Think of opportunities to connect beyond phone calls and text. Find ways to add personalized digital graphics, messages, and notes to your communications. Increase your use of FaceTime, Zoom, and Video Chat platforms. To you this may seem intrusive, but it’s actually quite normal to recruits and connects your written messages to a face.
- Explain Your Timeline and Why
With every coach and every prospect in the same situation, you need to explain why your process is different than others. You will have to provide a reason for why you need them to decide before they will have an opportunity to visit. Be clear to establish your timeline, why it exists, and what you are going to do – specifically – to replace the parts of the “normal” process affected by the current situation.
From experience, know that recruits don’t always need to adhere to the traditional check list of recruiting must-do’s. Every process is unique to that prospect. Don’t feel pressured to push visits to the fall because if they can still get all the information in a different form, more time is rarely the answer. Our advice on timelines is always: Be clear, be fair, and be firm.
- Schedule a Visit for the School Year
One of the biggest benefits of a visit is to connect recruits with members of the team. It remains incredibly important. It’s smart to schedule a visit for the future – after a recruit has ALREADY committed. Taking this approach embraces the on-campus visit’s role as a confirmation and provides comfort to anyone who might be hesitant to decide without seeing campus.
You can let them know there’s always more to your story and “if you love the cover, the book is much better.” Even in a normal environment, the best visits are the ones where you tell recruits beforehand how much they’re going to love it, tell them how much they’ll love it during the visit, and remind them what they loved after they leave.
Ultimately, a visit-less commitment is a question of trust. They trust you are providing an accurate representation of your institution. They trust that the experience you promise to provide matches the experience they will find. They trust you are the best program and staff to help them realize their athletic, academic, and personal goals.
If you create trust, you can create the FEELING that a recruit will want to be a part of your program. They’ll embrace all parts of their experience – even the less than perfect ones – and celebrate what you HAVE, rather than what you don’t.
And if you capture that FEEL, you can skip the visit!
Be Distinct. Be Different.