By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
“I got through 10 lines of the handbook and just put it down because it became so frustrating and overwhelming at times.”
That quote came from San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan last week when he was asked about the 113-page health and safety handbook the NBA sent to its players as part of its restart plan later this month in Orlando.
DeRozan’s frustration is totally understandable. The handbook is long, full of jargon and bullet points, as well as a number of rules that seem trivial.
As a college admissions or marketing professional, there’s a valuable and relatable lesson here – Not enough college admission and marketing departments appreciate the need for using student-centered language in their enrollment communications (both department wide and as an individual admissions counselor).
During the communication audits we perform, I continue to see lengthy emails and letters with overly professional and robotic language that sounds like a press release and feels purely transactional. All of your messaging, even if it’s around COVID-19, needs to be short, sound human, feel personal & not read like a list of facts.
If you’re worried that shifting to a more conversational tone will make you less professional, let me reassure you again that it won’t. According to prospective students (and parents), language like that is more authentic, feels more personal, and it makes you more relatable and believable. This is important because when you combine all of those elements you’re more likely to generate a response and action, plus you’ll stand out from a lot of other colleges who will continue to do what they’ve always done.
Besides the tone you use, word choice matters. I implore you to stop using admissions jargon in anything you send out. Colleges shouldn’t expect prospective students, parents, and families who haven’t gone through the process before to be aware of industry terms, as well as certain phrases and acronyms. What do test optional, test blind, test-flexible, and holistic really mean? How about terms like experiential learning, articulation, early action, rolling admission, grant aid and net price? And acronyms like FAFSA, EFC and COA also shouldn’t be used without an explanation.
Remember, this next class of students and their families are currently feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Many rising seniors have quickly grown tired of virtual visits, events, and zoom. Most are unsure how the college search process works, or what a school going test optional really means. Outside of price, they have no idea how to differentiate between colleges that have similar profiles, or how they’re going to afford college or make a decision. And as we’ve discussed numerous times before, they’re scared to make the wrong decision.
What prospective students and families need most from you right now is what they’ve always needed – someone who can humanize, personalize, be authentic, be transparent, listen, and try to help alleviate some of their fear and stress.
They need your guidance and encouragement more than ever before no matter the medium you use to communicate.
When was the last time you took a close look at your department wide or individual recruiting communications? I’m talking about emails, letters, text messaging language, social media posts, and even the questions that counselors and/or tour guides ask prospective students in person or during virtual events. If it hasn’t happened in the past six months, I’d recommend a full review immediately…yes it’s that important!
Speaking of virtual events, with fall travel likely to be limited, start a discussion now (if you haven’t already) around how you’re going to make those events feel personal, authentic, and helpful versus forced, scripted, and transactional. Focus less on the platform you’ll use and more on the people that will be using the platform and trying to develop interest and cultivate those recruiting relationships.
And if you happen to use a third party vendor to help you with your enrollment communications at any stage, please double check that they’re following the student-centered blueprint I just laid out. Students and parents notice when they get the same templated email from multiple schools, especially at the prospect and inquiry stages.
Want to talk more about something I said in this article or get some outside advice on your communications? Just shoot me a quick email. I’m happy to chat with you.
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