By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
How would prospective students and parents describe the interactions they have with you and your campus community, as well as the emails, letters, and other communications that make up your enrollment communications plan? What do you think they’d say, and what would you want them to say?
Do your emails, texts, letters, phone calls, visits and virtual/online events look and sound a lot like what they’re receiving from other colleges and universities – a lot of facts and figures, a lot of robotic language that’s purely transactional and messages that are too long and push them to take the same action whether they’re ready or not? For five years now, that’s the feedback that the majority of students continue to give us in our ongoing focus group surveys.
In the words of one student, “I hated feeling like just one of a billion.”
First and foremost, prospective students want more personalization during the college search process. They’re tired of feeling like they’re constantly being marketed or sold to. They want to feel special, and they want to feel like you understand that this process is scary, confusing, and all about their wants and their needs.
Plus with the current uncertainty because of COVID-19, having personalized communications and interactions has never been more important.
When communications and interactions feel more general and less personal, students lose focus, lose interest, and it delays or in some cases completely prevents them from taking the next step in the process.
True personalization involves a lot more than including a prospective student or parent’s name in the email or in the subject line. Here are some things that you can do to make the college search process feel more personal:
- Introduce prospective students and parents to their admissions counselor at the beginning of the process or the moment they enter your system. Have the counselor make it clear that they are the “go-to” person at every stage of the college search.
- Make the planning of a student’s virtual/online or on-campus visit more collaborative. Most colleges dictate the itinerary from start to finish. Instead, let prospective students be a part of the planning process. The analogy I use when I lead staff training workshops is Build-A-Bear. It should be Build-A-Visit.
- At the beginning of a virtual/online event, a college fair, or a high school visit, ditch the same old approach or structure that your college and most others have been using for years. Instead, start the conversation by asking them about their college search process, their fears, and how they’re feeling about everything. Recognize where they’re at, and find ways to offer help.
- After their visit or the conclusion of your event, don’t send a questionnaire or a purely transactional message telling them to take the next step. Instead, ask them specific questions about the visit or event and what else they need from you before they’ll consider taking the next step.
- Word choice and tone matter in every form of communication you use. Take a less formal, more conversational approach. That approach will make you more relatable, believable, and personal. Don’t be afraid to start the occasional sentence with the word “and,” “but,” or “because.” It’s also okay to use a … to continue a thought. And refer to yourself as “I” and the reader as “you” or use their name again in the body of your message or during your conversation.
- All emails, letters, and text messages need to come from an actual person and not a general office of admissions account.
- Never start an email or letter with the word “Dear.”
- Use a non-transactional call to action in your emails or text messages (i.e. instead of visit or apply, ask a question and then encourage a response).
- Schedule your phone calls ahead of time and explain the reason for wanting to have a call versus just cold calling. And remember that students feel like phone calls (along with letters) are more personal than any email or text message you can send.
- Incorporate specific details about something the other person previously shared into future conversations.
- Once a prospective student engages with you and demonstrates interest, ask them if both they and their parents/family are open to talking with you about financial aid and scholarships.
- Parents want to feel like a valued partner in this process and part of doing that effectively involves having a separate track of personalized messages that not only educate and keep them in the loop, but also engage.
- Incorporate more storytelling and tell the stories that your audience cares about. One of biggest things prospective students struggle with during their college search is the ability to differentiate between colleges and universities, especially those with similar profiles. When done correctly, storytelling helps accomplish that – it can help the other person visualize, connect the dots, alleviate fear, and create a connection.
- Be more intentional and direct with the questions you ask. Instead of asking if they have any questions, ask them specific things about their decision-making process, their mindset, their frustrations, and their timeline.
- Tell your admitted, but undecided students that they’re important to you and that you’re ready for them to submit their deposit and join your campus community.
- Generate and post more student generated content (videos, pictures, and stories) on your website and on your social media platforms.
- Be consistent from start to finish. It’s critical that you consistently communicate in a personal way through different mediums throughout the college search.
When you increase the amount of personalization you provide, you will receive a significantly higher level of engagement from prospective students and parents.
I encourage you to try one or more of these things during your upcoming conversations and/or your events. Got a follow-up question about one of the bullets? Go ahead and shoot me a quick email.
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