By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Transparency matters more than ever in the 2019 world of college admissions.
I say that because I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend over the last two years in our ongoing survey research with students. Many of them think colleges sugarcoat a lot of things during the college search process. And more than you might think actually believe that college representatives either stretch the truth or flat out lie to them in an effort to get them to do things like visit and apply.
Again, that’s coming straight from students that you’re trying to enroll. They want more transparency throughout the process, and when they don’t believe a college is giving it to them, many share that fact with friends, family, etc.
In fact, here are a few student quotes from recent focus group surveys that touch on common complaints. This is advice they’d give admissions counselors about communicating with students during their college search.
“Be upfront and honest about the campus and community. Do not sugar coat things because it can be a huge disappointment when they get to where they committed too.”
“I would like them to be straight up and be clear of what the college offers them.”
“We just want to be treated like adults just tell it to us straight. Tell us the negatives too.”
“I always got irritated when they wouldn’t give me a straight answer about costs.”
“Don’t lie, just answer questions as honest as possible.”
Instead of being scared by transparency, I want you to be willing to embrace it as a way to improve your college’s customer service. Plus, full transparency is a way for you to differentiate your school from your competitors.
Here are some ideas I want you to consider:
- Start the conversation about cost early. Let me define what I mean when I say early. For high school freshmen and sophomores, it’s helpful to educate both them and their parents about financial aid processes and terms. Be mindful though that they’re at a different spot in their college search than juniors and seniors are, so don’t overload them with too much information. Instead, focus on things like sticker price versus actual price, especially if you work for a private college and don’t want them to potentially rule you out because of sticker shock. For juniors and seniors the process is becoming more real, but again be mindful of where they’re at in the overall process. Be prepared to explain how your school makes it affordable, and be proactive by leading a serious conversation about how they or their family plans to pay for college. Doing that will lead to a greater comfort level and a lot less questions down the road. If you’re looking for more ideas on talking about cost and financial aid, read this article I wrote.
- Encourage students and parents to provide you with feedback. If you want them to feel comfortable enough to express their thoughts and concerns, you need to create rapport and provide a range of regular opportunities for them to bring up a tough or sensitive topic. Communicate to them early on that if they come across or experience something negative or concerning about your college, you want them to share that with you, because doing so will allow you to better serve and help them moving forward.
- Explain the why. Not enough attention is given to context and why it’s beneficial for the other person. Throughout the college search process colleges ask students and parents to take action on a multitude of things. What I’ve found is that oftentimes they’re looking for the why or the because. Why should they visit your campus? Why should they apply right now? Why is it in their best interest to fill out the FAFSA in October? Take the time to clearly explain why you’re asking them to do whatever it is, and how it will benefit them or make their life easier.
- Give them behind the scenes access. This is a strategy that I recommend all the time to our clients as a way to help develop trust while also demonstrating transparency. Give prospective students inside access to something or some process that you know they’re wondering about. For example, during the campus visit or high school visit, replace your information session or your usual speech with an inside look at how your campus helps new students make both the academic and social transitions to campus less stressful.
- Start student vlogging to show them the student lens. Use social media to show prospective students some of the things that happen on campus throughout the year. Introduce them to some of your current students and show what it’s like to be a student on your campus…but show it from the student perspective, and keep it real and authentic versus being forced and scripted. That kind of access and transparency would be interesting and helpful according to students.
- Don’t hide your negatives. Every school has them so don’t avoid talking about them. Be the person that redefines a negative or explains and takes ownership for a mistake if it occurs. The sooner you do that, the sooner you can move on and keep things moving forward.
- Quit using admissions jargon. You can’t and shouldn’t expect prospective students and parents who haven’t gone through the college admissions process before to be aware of the technical terms that you use regularly. What do “highly selective” and “holistic” really mean? How about terms like articulation, early action/decision, grant aid and need-blind? And don’t forget about net price. Furthermore, acronyms like FAFSA, EFC and COA also shouldn’t be used without a full explanation. Without giving one you’re making it harder for everybody to be on the same page.
- Listen, listen, and listen some more. So many student and parent complaints boil down to the fact that they feel no one is listening to them. If you’re an admissions counselor, your goal should be to get and keep two-way communication throughout the entire recruitment process. You don’t need to “sell” at every turn. When you listen, it lets the other person know you care and that you’re trying to make their experience better.
When prospective students and their parents come to trust you and your school through transparency, not only does it make cultivating your recruiting relationship easier, but it also speeds up the entire process.
Let me also add that even though this article is focused on recruitment strategies, don’t forget that transparency can significantly improve the work environment and culture within your office. The more informed colleagues and staff members are, the more invested they will be.
Thanks for spending a few minutes with me today. Have a great rest of the week!