By Jeremy Tiers, Senior Director of Admissions Services
3 minute read
One of the biggest things prospective students at all stages struggle with during their college search is being able to differentiate between schools, especially colleges that are similar in size and/or location.
Most colleges continue to make a lot of generalized statements on their website, in their messaging, during high school and campus visits, as well as during admitted student day programs.
Saying your school has “small class sizes”, “a welcoming community”, and “professors who care” does not make a big impact with this generation.
The students you’re communicating with right now need concrete examples and context that connects the dots for them and explains how you’re different and why you’re better.
“You know how you always ask students what make them different? Tell us what makes y’all different. Why should I choose your school over anything else.”
That student quote came from a survey of high school seniors we conducted in collaboration with Niche this past year.
Our ongoing survey research also continues to show that when students aren’t able to differentiate, many default to making the safer, less risky choice when it comes time to take action – namely applying or depositing. Meaning, they’ll choose the cheapest school on their list, the one that’s closest to home, the one with the most recognizable name, or the one where all their friends are going or applying to.
26.1% of the more than 2,500 college freshmen we surveyed in 2021 said the college or university they chose was not their number one choice, but rather the cheapest school on their final list.
Am I saying I want you to constantly brag and gloat about your school and speak negatively about other colleges? No. Instead, the most effective way to explain how something or some aspect of your college or university is different or better is through storytelling.
Storytelling is both your proof and a way to differentiate what makes the student experience at your school different and better.
If you want to talk about your school’s small class sizes, make sure you explain the benefit that comes from that. How does less students allow for a different type of learning and teaching?
If you want to emphasize that you have a welcoming community on campus, provide specific examples of activities (and people) that help new students adjust to college life. You could also gather direct quotes about your community by asking current students to describe the campus atmosphere. Are people welcoming and friendly? Do they feel at home living on campus? Was it easy to make new friends and get involved in things when they first started?
If you want to highlight that your faculty are not just teachers, but also mentors, gather and provide specific examples from your current students that show how they care and mentor. Get your students to talk about their interactions with professors to prove how personal and engaged they really are.
When you tell more stories and provide more context on your website, in your emails, on social media, and during your virtual or in-person events, prospective students tend feel better connected and have a better understanding of the value behind different things. That, in turn, helps create emotions and feelings that students in particular tell us they remember when it comes time to take action.
I encourage you to think about (and talk about as a staff or department) the way in which you’re currently explaining to different groups of prospective students (as well as parents/families) how you’re different and why you’re better.
And remember, it’s not just about telling more stories and giving more context, it’s also about connecting the dots and explaining to a student how they will personally benefit from what you’re sharing with them.
If you’d like to talk more about something I said, I’d love to hear from you. Simply reply or email me here.
And if you found this article helpful, forward it to someone else on your campus who could also benefit from reading it.