By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
This past spring I spoke at four NACAC affiliate conferences. During each of those, I made it a point to connect with a lot of high school counselors. I got their thoughts on a number of topics including the value of high school visits by colleges. That’s not the focus of my article today, but if you really want to know what they told me, all you have to do is reach out and ask.
Instead, I want to talk with you about frustrations. Many of those same high school counselors expressed to me that they’re hearing from more and more parents who are frustrated with the college search process as a whole…namely miscommunication or a lack of communication from many college and university admissions offices.
You and I both know that parents play a major role in their child’s college choice. Our recent survey research with students found that over 92% of them said their parent(s) played a significant role in their final decision. And of the 26 training workshops I’ve led over the past twelve months, 19 of those admissions staffs listed better communication with parents as one of their action points.
Let’s talk about what needs to change. Here are four common parent frustrations that I would suggest you have a discussion about in your office:
- They want to be a valued partner from the beginning. If you’re waiting until you send out your financial aid package to create real dialogue with parents, that’s a problem. Parents recognize pretty quickly when a college isn’t involving them and instead is trying to use their child to communicate important information. They wonder why schools are taking this approach, and believe it or not, a lot of prospective students wonder the same thing. Here’s my suggestion to you. At the end of one of those early phone calls with the student, ask to briefly speak with one or both of their parents. Or, if you’re having a hard time getting the student on the phone, make a call specifically to the parents. When they get on the phone, introduce yourself, and instead of going into a long spiel about your school, I want you to make it clear that you understand they will play an important role in their child’s decision and that you value their input. Set the tone from the beginning that you want this to be a partnership.
- They expect to be consistently kept in the loop. Once you make contact with parents, it’s vitally important to know that they expect you to communicate with them as much as you do with their son or daughter. My suggestion is to create a separate set of messaging for parents if you don’t have one already. And if you do, I would tell you to make sure it contains one personalized email or letter each month that is designed to elicit feedback from parents about a specific topic or point of view…while also keeping them in the loop about any conversation that has recently occurred their child. Let me add one more thing to this. A lot of parents think there’s a lack of overall guidance for them during this process, namely after the campus visit, after their child gets admitted, and after your financial aid award letter has been delivered. Many parents feel there are gaps in communication at crucial stages when they’re searching for guidance and a clear next step.
- They want to talk with you about cost and financial aid long before they receive the award letter. Understanding financial aid timelines and terminology, as well as the FAFSA and other paperwork, continues to be arguably the most frustrating part of the college search process for both parents and students. A lot of miscommunication occurs, namely when financial aid staff and admissions staff members don’t communicate to each other about the various conversations that they’ve had with a family. I want you to make it your goal to not only have a conversation about paying for college (in general, not specifically about your school) long before your college releases financial aid awards, but to also explain the basics of how to interpret different award letters. For example, I continue to hear stories about students and parents not understanding that while College A may offer a bigger scholarship amount on their award letter, College B is actually cheaper in the end. Prepare them ahead of time a little bit for what they’re going to be looking at so that it’s not as big a shock and/or as confusing.
- They want to understand just how serious your school is about their child. Email and mail from colleges comes in fast and furious, and as we’ve talked about numerous times before, much of it looks and sounds the same. As a result, parents are looking for proof that you’re not just showing “fake interest” in their son or daughter. Three easy ways for you to give them that are – consistent, personalized messaging for both the student and parent that reinforces building a relationship with both; asking questions that get them to reveal what’s important to them as they help their son or daughter make their final decision; and timely feedback when they reach out to you with questions and/or you tell them you’re going to get back to them with more information on something.
This is definitely not a complete list, but rather four of the biggest frustrations that parents continue to express about the college search process.
Again, parents are looking for a school that respects their opinion and input and sees them as a valued partner in the college decision-making process of their son or daughter.
If you want to learn more about the monthly parent messaging we create for clients, go ahead and reply back to my email and we’ll start a conversation.
Have a great rest of the week!
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