This past week I had coffee with a friend of mine who started a small business just under a year ago. One of the topics we spent a ton of time discussing was transparency…namely how important it is when trying to build customer loyalty.
I would argue that transparency matters now more than ever in the world of college admissions. The competition for students remains fierce, and the value of a college degree is constantly being questioned.
Way too many schools continue to speak in vague terms or worse they complicate or embellish things like cost and the overall student experience on their campus. That’s not me telling you that. Your prospects and their parents tell us that improved transparency is one of the big things that colleges need to improve as they try to get and keep their attention.
In fact, here are a few student quotes from recent focus group surveys we’ve done that touch on common complaints:
“I think they shouldn’t try to fluff everything up so to speak. Just be honest and real with future students. When all you hear is good you don’t know an honest opinion unless you know someone who goes to this university. I would say just to be very real with incoming students about what <School Name> has to offer, and what it could improve.”
“Just be honest with us. We know everything isn’t perfect and you can tell us if you don’t know the answer to something.”
“There needs to be more communication and transparency about financial aid. It’s a really confusing process with all the paperwork and forms.”
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, improved transparency is a way for you to differentiate your school from your competitors.
Here are some ideas I want you to consider:
- Encourage prospects 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. Tell 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 want to understand 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 now instead of waiting until January or February? 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 inside 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 college less stressful.
- Student run social media accounts. We’re living in a time where it’s never been easier to give prospective students a peek into what makes your college unique. As I continue to conduct focus group surveys on campuses across the country, it remains clear that students view a lot of the social media content from colleges as “forced and fake” instead of “real student life.” Your prospects want to see day in the life stuff from the vantage point of your current students and not the admissions or marketing office. Specifically they want to see pictures and videos of school events, residence life, popular hangout spots on and off campus, and actual classroom discussions or work. If you’re not willing to create student run accounts (which is what they want), I strongly encourage you to at least provide more student-generated content. Connect them with the faces behind the actual posts.
- Don’t hide your mistakes or your negatives. Mistakes are going to happen. It’s a fact of life for everybody. When they do, don’t avoid talking about them. The same thing goes for your college’s “negatives.” Again, we live in an age where it’s extremely tough to avoid the spotlight. I want you to be the person that explains a mistake or redefines a negative for your prospects and their parents. The sooner you do that, the sooner you can move on and keep things moving forward. Also, show confidence in the way you explain it to them so that they see you aren’t worried about it.
- Stop using admissions jargon. You cannot expect prospects and parents who haven’t gone through the college admissions process before to be aware of the technical terms in your industry. What do “highly selective” and “holistic” really mean? How about terms like articulation, early action/decision, grant aid and need-blind? Furthermore, acronyms like FAFSA, EFC and COA also shouldn’t be used without a full explanation. Without it, you’re making it harder for everyone 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.
- Respond in a timely manner. Responding faster to emails, texts and voicemails is a game changer. If you’ve never done it before, try leaving your email open all day when you’re in the office or at home. Take 5 to 10 minutes at the start of each hour and respond to any new messages…even if your response is to let them know you’re working on answering their question or resolving their issue. It’s a small change that can make a big impact.
When your prospects and their parents come to trust you and your school through transparency, not only does it make cultivating your recruiting relationship easier, but they’ll also be far more forgiving if and when a mistake is made.
Let me also add that even though this article is focused on recruitment strategies, don’t forget that transparency can significantly improve the culture within your office. The more informed colleagues and staff members are, the more invested they will be.
If you’ve got a question about transparency or another aspect of student recruitment, I’m ready to start a conversation. Email me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you want even more tips and strategies that everyone in your office can use right now in their everyday routine, bring me to campus in 2018 to lead our admissions training workshop.
Thank you for your time and attention.