By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Prior to leading any training workshop, I always conduct a recruiting survey with that college’s incoming or current freshman class (depends on the time of the year). The questions we ask get to the heart of what students liked and didn’t like about the way colleges communicated with them during their college search process. It’s a lot of great context for us and for the schools we work with.
One of the survey questions asks students to give the admissions counselors at their school advice on what they need to understand about the way this generation of students wants to be recruited.
“We want to feel that you genuinely care about us as an individual. Not that we are just another person paying tuition.” That student quote appeared in a recent survey, and comments like it continue to show up multiple times in just about every survey we do.
Like it or not, prospective students (and their parents) see you as either a salesperson (bad) or as a resource (good).
A big key to increasing yield is to consistently be a resource rather than a salesperson. This generation of students wants to feel that you’re genuinely trying to help them navigate what has become a scary and confusing process.
“Just be friendly. <Admissions Counselor name> was so gracious, kind, and caring throughout the process and really gave the university a friendly face that I could associate myself with.” That student quote was an answer to the same question in the same recent survey, and it’s proof of the positive impact that being a resource can have in the mind of a student.
A lot of admissions counselors believe they have to “sell” their school early in the process and try to move name buys and inquiries as fast as possible towards applying, visiting, and ultimately making a decision. Each of those is important, but as I’ve told you before, we’ve found there’s a more effective approach that you can take. It’s one that will still allow you to do each of those things, and at the same time, do each in a way that consistently makes students feel like you’re actually making the process all about them.
If you constantly inundate students with information and bullet points about every single aspect of your school, and you never give them a chance to get a word in or ask questions, they’re going to view you as a salesperson. Conversely, if you ask them questions about their wants, needs, fears, and timeline, and you communicate consistently with their parents, and you help them solve their on-going problems, they’re going to see you as a resource. Plus, in the process of taking that approach, what you’ll find is you still have all kinds of opportunities to discuss key things that make your school unique and a good fit for that student.
There are a lot of other benefits that come from being a resource. For starters, it’s much easier to connect with a student/family and build trust. When you develop a reputation as someone who is trustworthy, you’ll quickly become the “go-to” counselor for help and advice. And, as I just touched on, when you’re a resource, students will tell you what you need to tell them to sell them. Here’s what I mean. Accurate and timely information is important. One of the biggest mistakes I continue to see admissions counselors make is they give information before they get information…they talk too much. The end result is A) Overloading the other person with too much information; and/or B) Giving the wrong information based on the student’s wants and needs. Asking the right kinds of questions at the right time will lead to students telling you what they want to know about next and what they feel needs to happen first before they take the next step in the process.
So, does that mean if you’re a salesperson you won’t be able to connect with and gain a student’s trust? No, but I promise you it will be a lot harder, and a lot more time consuming.
Here are a few additional things you can do to become a resource for your prospects:
- Respond quickly to emails, texts, and phone calls
- Deliver information in an easy to understand, conversational, and engaging format
- Stay current on trends and pop culture
- Continually polish your problem solving skills
- Consistently network and exchange ideas with other admissions professionals
- Cross train/collaborate with other departments on your campus (specifically financial aid and athletics)
- Admit when you don’t know something and ask for help
Over the July 4th holiday break I encourage you to look back at some of your recruiting emails and letters from this past cycle. Do they come across as friendly and helpful or salesy? It’s one or the other.
And as you talk more about fall travel in your office or changes that you’re going to make next recruiting cycle, specifically in the way that you communicate with students, let me know how I can help. I’d love to start a conversation about helping you grow.
Stay cool, enjoy the 4th, and I’ll leave you with a couple of pictures from the neighborhood fireworks show that myself and a few others put together last weekend for our community. This is such a fun time of the year!