By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Too often college admissions professionals don’t give prospective students and parents enough context when sharing different parts of their school’s story and value proposition.
Here’s what I mean. A lot of admissions counselors start a conversation with a prospective student and say something like, “We have professors that care and a welcoming community that will quickly feel like home.” There’s also discussion about things like class sizes, experiential learning, and the fact that a high percentage of your recent graduates are employed or continuing their education soon after graduation.
On the surface there’s nothing wrong with any of that. Each one of those things is important.
But if you dig deeper, context is missing. Without it, you’re going to sound just like every other school that’s having similar conversations with those same students.
When I lead a staff training workshop I explain that prospective students often need the WHY behind what a counselor, coach, faculty, or another staff member is telling them or asking them to do. An example that has come up a lot in my recent conversations with admissions leaders is a decrease in the number of campus visits. If you want to reverse that, you need to explain in a personalized way how visiting campus will benefit the student as they go through their college search, and/or make their life easier. And it needs to be more than just generalized statements and facts.
The “why” helps you to educate, motivate, and empower. And when a student or parent understands the value and benefit behind something, they’re more likely to take action.
Giving context also does three other important things:
- It gives them a reason to listen to you.
- It accelerates their understanding of your school and why it might be a good fit for them.
- If done regularly, it helps to personalize the recruitment process.
As you prepare to engage more with next class of students, consider implementing these three strategies that have worked well for our clients:
Start any big conversation with an explanation. These could include visiting campus, financial aid, the FAFSA, and completing your school’s application. As an example, you could say something like, “Here’s why I want to talk to you now about financial aid and paying for college…” Doing so sets up a reason for them to listen to what you’re about to say.
You should also end a big conversation with definition. After you show a prospective student or parent something, or talk to them about a specific topic, define it for them by saying something simple like, “Here’s why all of this should matter to you…”
Anticipate and address potential negatives ahead of time. If you know that other schools consistently point out a negative about some aspect of your school (ex. your location, size, or outdated buildings), get ahead of it. Give the student or parent context about what they’re likely to hear, and do it in a professional, non-negative way that combats and eliminates their intentions. For example, if you know that a direct competitor is likely to mention your school’s outdated dorms, give your prospect context. Explain why they shouldn’t be worried about that, and then show, through storytelling, what happens inside your dorms and how the RA’s or RD’s do a good job of creating a fun and positive living environment.
It’s up to you to define what prospective students and parents should think about something and why that something should be important to them. And in some cases, you’ll also need to explain how that something is different at your school.
Context is one of the hidden secrets of effective recruiting. Do it correctly and you’ll not only notice an immediate difference in the level of engagement you have, but it will also allow you to move a student/family through the recruitment process more efficiently.
P.S. Whenever a prospective student gives you a vanilla answer to something, don’t be afraid to ask them for context. Two easy ways you can do that are, “Can you help me understand that a little better?” or “Why is that important to you?”
P.P.S. If you’re in a position of leadership and you manage one or more people, offering context in certain situations can be extremely helpful and build even more trust. I continue to have a lot of admissions counselors share the frustration they feel when they take an idea to their boss and have it rejected. Without giving some context, that counselor is likely to walk away thinking it was a terrible idea, and they’re less likely to bring future ideas to the table.