By Jeremy Tiers, Senior Director of Admissions Services
5 minute read
This week I’ll be in the New York City area to lead my thirteenth and final summer training workshop.
As you might imagine, fall travel season has been a popular topic lately, especially as I’ve been speaking with brand new counselors who “don’t know what they don’t know.”
Regardless of your level of experience, keep in mind that the interactions and conversations you’re about to have are your first impression, and you don’t get a do over.
That leads me to my first and arguably most important tip – Make it your goal to be memorable and create opportunities for back and forth conversations.
I know it can be tempting to dive right into the “spiel” and feel like you have to cover a ton of information all at once. You don’t. In fact when you try to, you’re going to end vomiting information, most of which the student isn’t going to remember.
Being memorable should be a consistent goal every time you interact with prospective students. When their friends or parents ask them about that high school visit or college fair, what are they going to say? Furthermore, are they going to remember your name?
If you want to stand out from your peers, come up with one or more direct questions that you can use to simply begin a conversation. The best questions by the way won’t have anything to do with their major or your school, and will instead try to uncover how they’re feeling about this entire process, as well as what kind of student experience they think they want.
Here are a couple of quick examples:
- What are you most excited about when you think about being a college student?
- As you’ve been thinking about college, what’s the biggest thing you’re worried about?
- What does the perfect college look like in your mind?
Humanize, personalize, and empathize. Those are the key things when it comes to getting conversations started with someone you don’t know.
Next, let’s discuss two common scenarios that you’re going to run into fairly regularly.
Scenario #1: You go to a high school visit and 0 students show up – What do you do? The answer isn’t drop off any new materials you might have and leave. If you’re able to spend a few minutes with the high school counselor, great. Figure out what you can help them help their students with. Ask the counselor what kinds of questions they’ve been getting from their seniors so far, and be prepared to provide some tips and suggestions. If the counselor is unavailable, introduce yourself to the secretary or see if one of the deans or other administrators is willing to chat for a few minutes. People talk and positive word of mouth is invaluable.
Scenario #2: You have a group of students (4 or more) at your high school visit or waiting in line a college fair. At a fair, don’t be afraid to ask and encourage a small group to come together so that people don’t have to wait in line. Assuming you know none of the students in attendance, it’s important to figure out who you have in front of you – specifically, what grade are they in, and where are they in their college search? What a sophomore or junior needs help with isn’t going to the exact same as a senior. And a senior who’s just starting their college search needs something different than a senior who has taken some campus visits and either narrowed down their list or already started filling out applications. I want you to ask yourself, what can I talk about that will help the most people. Also, anytime you have a group of students (at a high school visit or a college fair) try to prompt one or more of them at different times to talk about various things they’re dealing with as a way to offer the student point of view instead of you always being the one doing the talking.
Now let me give you a bunch of other do’s and don’ts:
- Smile a lot and do your best to always be approachable.
- Always be prepared to lead the conversation versus asking what questions a student may have. You need to be direct and intentional. Leading however doesn’t mean dominating. Provide opportunities for the student to share things about themselves or offer their thoughts on something.
- Ask follow-up questions like, “Why is that important to you?”
- Don’t ask a student what they want to major in or what program they’re interested in as your first question. It’s not wrong, but it’s going to make you sound like every other admissions representative before you.
- Don’t hand a student one of your travel materials and just start reciting everything that’s in it.
- Don’t sound like a robot who has memorized everything. Just be yourself and talk in a conversational, relaxed tone.
- Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to something.
- Talk slower, make eye contact, speak with confidence, and do your best to also speak with passion, excitement, and/or empathy.
- Be prepared to share more stories and less history and stats.
- Be prepared to connect the dots for the student about why certain things are important, and/or why your current students think that what you just talked about makes the student experience at your school different, unique, or better.
- If you’re at a college fair and you have parents as part of a small group at your table, do your best to make them feel included by offering separate tips and advice during your conversations that offer value to them.
- Be prepared to talk about the cost of college and financial aid. Focus less on the FAFSA and general information about grants, scholarships, and loans, and more about figuring out things like are they worried about the cost of college, have they already eliminated some schools because they assume those colleges will be unaffordable, and have they sat down with their parents or family and come up with a plan to pay for college.
- If you’re talking with an out-of-state student, ask them why they’re looking at colleges that are farther away from home. Why is that appealing to them?
- If you’re going to encourage them to sign up for a campus visit, make sure you explain the why and how first – why are visits are important, and how will it make their college search easier.
- In addition to gathering a student’s contact information, be prepared to clearly explain their next step, and be prepared to follow up with the student in a timely fashion.
- Have a daily plan for how and when you will enter student notes into your CRM. Do not wait until the end of the week or the end of travel season.
Good luck, safe travels, and if you’ve got a specific question, remember I’m only an email, text, or DM away. I’m happy to chat if you’re looking for other tips and advice.
And if you found this article helpful, I encourage you to forward it to someone else on your campus who could also benefit from reading it.