By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Normally this time of year admissions teams would be having a lot of in-person conversations with prospective students. They’d be talking with students at their high schools or college fairs, and students would be visiting campus in sizeable numbers. Those face-to-face interactions with different people from your college or university end up playing a significant role when it comes to generating applications, and ultimately making a college decision. In fact, the “feel” of campus has been the most important factor for six years running as we continue to survey students about their college decision.
Young people make decisions based on how they feel – we all do. Every time we interact with someone it makes us feel a certain way. Hold that thought for just a minute.
With limited to no travel, and either limited or no campus visits this fall, the question I’ve been getting lately is, “Will it be possible for us to duplicate those same kinds of feelings this year?”
I would argue that, no matter how hard you try, no virtual event or virtual tour is going to feel the exact same as being on your campus. And, talking to you or a current student on Zoom, FaceTime, or via chat isn’t going to feel the exact same as standing or sitting next to you in person.
Having said that, there are a number of things that you and others at your school can do to generate similar positive feelings that ultimately help influence prospective students to take the next step in the process.
Before I share that list with you, I want to go back to something I said earlier – every time we interact with someone it makes us feel a certain way. Think about that for a minute. If a prospective student was asked to describe you and your interaction or communication with them after the fact, what would they say? What would you want them to say? If you’ve never thought about that before, I really encourage you to spend some time on it soon.
That’s because prospective students (and their parents/family) quickly see and define you as either a salesperson or a resource. And how they view you impacts how (and if) they interact with you.
Check out these two student quotes from different client surveys:
“I feel like <College Name> cared about me more than other schools. Everyone was great, very friendly and attentive to my concerns, and they were easy to reach and easy to talk to.”
“My counselor kept in touch with me and wanted to know how I was doing and feeling in general, not just in my search for colleges. This personal touch made that college a top contender in my choices.”
Prospective students can feel whether or not you’re personalizing your communications, and they can feel how much you care about them as a human being versus just another student who can pay tuition.
The same thing goes for anyone who speaks during your virtual events, those who narrate your virtual or on-campus tour, and for all of your enrollment communications. What kinds of feelings are they creating? All of it matters…a lot!
How the admissions staff treated a student throughout the process has consistently been the number two most important factor for the past few years when we survey students about making their college decision. This generation of students wants to feel that you’re genuinely trying to help them navigate what continues to be a scary, confusing, and stressful process.
A lot of colleges and admissions counselors continue to believe they have to “sell” their school early in the process and try to move interested students as fast as possible towards visiting (or doing a virtual event) and applying. Both of those actions are important, but as we’ve talked about before, when you position yourself as a resource who leads the conversation and consistently makes it about the prospective student, they tend to take those actions faster…or figure out faster that your school isn’t a good fit for them.
If you and your school are constantly inundating prospects and inquiries with loads of generalized information and bullet points about different aspects of your college, they’re going to view you as a salesperson who doesn’t really care about their wants, needs, and feelings. You will be mostly, if not entirely, ignored.
Conversely, if you and others from your college or university ask them direct questions about their wants, needs, fears, timeline and decision-making process, and then you deliver information about your school in an easy to understand, conversational tone based on what they tell you, they’re going to see you as a resource.
Here are 14 other things I encourage you to start (or keep) doing if you want to be viewed as a resource:
- Establish the admissions counselor as the point person from day one.
- Consistently use a conversational tone in all communications, and always create opportunities for the prospective student to engage and make it a back-and-forth, two-way conversation.
- Consistently communicate in some shape or form with students (regardless of stage) every 6 to 9 days. When communication happens on that schedule, students tell us that it ‘feels’ right to them.
- If you’re going to say you have a “welcoming community” or “professors who care,” explain how that happens, and/or how it’s different or why it’s better at your school.
- Respond quickly to emails, texts, and phone calls. Make it a matter of hours or minutes, not days.
- Have a separate stream of messaging for parents/families versus cc’ing them on the student message. And don’t wait until the applicant stage to start that conversation.
- Recognize the current situation, and be extra empathetic in your communications and events. Ask them about their fears and feelings.
- If an inquiry or prospect hasn’t taken the next step (i.e. signed up for a visit, virtual event, or started their application) ask them what’s holding them back and see if there’s something you can do to help, versus sending another message with nothing but information and a transactional push.
- Incorporate your current students a lot more in your virtual (and on-campus) events and on your social media channels.
- Make sure those speaking during your virtual (and on-campus) events don’t sound completely scripted and lack energy.
- Instead of rolling out the exact same topics as every other college and university during your virtual events (or your on-campus info session), consider helping inquiries and prospects figure out which colleges they should apply to. Or, why a private college (if that’s you) might be worth paying more for. Or, have your freshmen students offer advice around what they know now that they wish they knew back then (i.e. when they were going through their college search).
- Have personalized, thoughtful follow up with students after they attend your virtual event (or if you meet them in person).
- Cross train, collaborate, and consistently communicate with other departments on your campus (specifically marketing/communications, financial aid, and athletics).
- Encourage starting a conversation about financial aid and paying for college earlier in the process. Take it step by step and have singular, 101 level conversations.
How many of those things are you and your colleagues consistently doing right now?
When you develop a reputation as someone who is student-centered and a resource, you’ll quickly become the “go-to” person for help and advice, not just about your school, but about everything. And, in many cases that will lead prospective students and parents/families to tell you what they want to know about next and what they feel needs to happen first before the next step in the process will get taken.
Got a question about this article? Reach out to me and let’s start a conversation.
If this article was helpful, go ahead and forward it to someone else on your campus who could benefit from reading it.
And if you’re interested in more articles like this with tips and strategies that you can use right now, you can find them here in our Admissions BLOG.