by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Breaking bad news to someone is never fun.
Last week during a phone call with an admissions director that wanted to talk about strategies for improving his college’s yield, I had to do just that. The facts of our conversation were pointing towards one big reason why his office experienced completely random recruiting results this past cycle – his entire team (mostly new counselors) underestimated just how important a factor parents are in the recruiting process.
Sending parents an occasional email and talking to them during the campus visit is not a winning strategy. Take that approach, and you’ll be hard pressed to discover what the parents of your recruits are really thinking (yes it matters). Plus, you’ll probably become frustrated at the power you ultimately see those same parents having on their child’s final decision.
Put yourself at your prospect’s kitchen table for a minute. As a parent, would you let your 16 or 17-year old son or daughter call an admissions counselor that’s requested contact, and allow your child to take anything beyond the very basic first steps of communication with him or her? Not without talking to you, their parent, first right?
You’ll understand then why I find it surprising that many talented, smart college admissions recruiters spend a majority of their time and energy forming a relationship with a prospective student without really talking to the parents first.
Easier said than done, I get it. That’s why today’s article is here to help.
The first thing a number of you will need to do is embrace the idea of talking to your prospect’s parents. The reason is simple. In some of our latest research, we found that 91% of recent incoming college freshmen say that their parents had substantial influence in their final decision making process. Knowing that fact, how can you even consider not making it a priority to start the conversation with the parents as early as possible?
As we explain in our On-Campus Workshops for admissions, one of the big differences with this generation of prospective students is not only do they want their parents to be involved in the recruitment process, but they expect it. More and more, we hear examples of students who tell us point blank that they look for admissions counselors who engage their parents when they have the opportunity to talk to them. Do you do that?
Furthermore, when we asked the parents if they felt like colleges were doing a good job of including them in the recruiting process only 54% “agreed strongly.” That means 46% are feeling like there could be more done to include them as a part of the process. Imagine chopping your previous recruiting list in half. That’s how many parents are feeling like you’re not doing a good enough job of making them feel like they’re important to you. The scariest part should be that you probably don’t know which of your parents are on what side of the line.
My advice to you then is simple. You need to become okay with talking to your prospect’s parents, sometimes even in place of your prospect. They’ll most often accurately speak for their son or daughter and actually give you a lot of intelligent, useful information.
Next, I want you to ask yourself the following 3 questions as you prepare to begin another recruitment cycle. I would even recommend bringing these up at your staff retreat or planning session this summer. If you’re going to win over your prospect’s parents you’ll need to address all three.
- How soon are you incorporating a conversation with the parents of your recruit into your recruiting plan?
- What percentage of messaging are you dedicating to recruiting the parents of your prospects? (Yes, separate messaging to parents is a must.)
- What kind of questions are you asking parents to get them to reveal what’s important to them as they help their son or daughter make their final decision?
By this point I hope you agree that parents play a pivotal role in the recruitment process.
Here’s some more useful information that we’ve gathered from our research and focus groups at college campuses around the country.
- Parents want honest answers about how your school is different from the competition. The college brochures look the same, the websites look the same, and the message is largely the same. How are you different from your competition? I mean really different. The counselors who can communicate those real differences to parents will earn their trust. Considering how important the parents’ views are to their child come decision time, this will be a big “win” for you in the recruiting game.
- The biggest things that parents want content about are cost and ROI. Specifically, how much will your school truly cost, and will their son or daughter be able to get a job when they graduate? Your messaging to and communications with parents absolutely must address these two “wants.” Additionally, I would suggest you include clearly defined qualifications for various scholarships and other aid as well as employment rates and starting salaries. Be prepared to start this conversation early, and make sure what you’re telling them isn’t going to be different when they speak with a financial aid counselor later in the process.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to parents on Social Media. Want to know why more and more teenagers have left Facebook for Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat? Parents have joined the social media revolution, primarily Facebook (that means it’s not “cool” anymore). Our research has shown that prospects want you to reach out to their parents this way. Some colleges are even taking things one step further by creating Facebook pages specifically for parents of prospective or enrolled students. It’s yet another way to answer questions and increase engagement.
- Consistency matters to parents. Once you make contact with parents it’s vitally important to know that they expect you to communicate with them as much as with their son or daughter.
- Enthusiasm about your prospect goes a long way. Parents want to see you pay consistent, serious attention to their kids. The more passion you show will, over time, cement the idea that you want their son or daughter more than anyone else.
While a majority of your competition will ignore the parents as long as possible, I encourage you to do the exact opposite. Begin contact with them early and work to establish that same emotional connection.
It’s critical that you develop recruiting plans for your prospect’s parents. You need to schedule calls, send emails, and probe the parents regarding their wants and needs for their child. If you do, they will look at you as the admissions professional that respects their opinion and input and sees them as a valued partner in the recruiting process of their son or daughter.
Need help creating effective recruiting letters and email messages that will win over parents (and prospects)? We work with admissions clients year-round doing just that! Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.