by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
The other day during a phone conversation with an admissions counselor he referred to talking with prospective students as “complicated”. I’m sure many of you would echo that sentiment.
As you prepare to have conversations with a brand new class of prospects, I want to give you some advice on how to not only communicate but also connect with them. You’ll have to pick and choose which of these ideas apply best to you, the way you talk, and your approach with your prospects, but I think you’ll find this a good starting point on the road to connecting with this generation of students (and quite possibly their parents).
Most admissions offices around the country have officially started the formal recruitment process with a new class of prospective students. The first letters, emails, phone calls and social media messages have been sent. And, if you’re fortunate, maybe you’ve had some of your prospects reply to your initial outreach efforts. I say “maybe” because our research continues to show that fewer students these days are actually reading what you’re sending.
Regardless, you’re now faced with the daunting question of, “What’s next?”
The answer to that question is crucial. In fact, it will undoubtedly determine what kind of applicant pool you end up with in the months to come.
Having said that, I want to outline a few key, successful approaches that we’ve seen work on a consistent basis for our clients around the country. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a public or private institution, or you have a small, medium, or large student enrollment. As you review these strategies, I encourage you to adapt them to your individual situation.
- Be comfortable with asking your prospects which social media platforms they use and if it’s okay to communicate with them through those networks. Our expanding research on this topic indicates there’s one very important “rule” for this generation: Different students have different rules. A large number of students we’re hearing from indicate that they have absolutely no problems with an admissions counselor following them or direct-messaging them on social media. There is however a good size group of students that has no desire to interact with admissions on social media. In their minds it’s their space to communicate with their friends. My advice to you is to ask each prospect what they’re okay with. Let them know the reason you’re asking is because you want to be the counselor who communicates with them the way they want to be communicated with. What you’ll find is they will appreciate you asking, rather than just assuming it’s okay.
- Engage with your prospects’ parents…and start early. As I explain in our On-Campus Workshops that I lead for admissions departments, this generation of prospects not only wants their parents to be involved in the recruitment process, but they expect it. Knowing this fact, my recommendation to you, is you should be okay with talking to your prospects’ parents in place of your prospect…not every time, but most of the time. They’ll usually speak truthfully for their son or daughter and actually provide you with intelligent, useable information. That in and of itself isn’t breaking news. However, a big mistake that we continue to see admissions departments make is delaying contact until later in the process (i.e. after their child applies or visits campus). I want you to work to establish that same emotional connection with the parents of your prospects from the beginning. Call them, email them, ask them questions, and engage them. If you do, what you’ll find is that they’re ready with really useful information, and more importantly, they will come to view you as the counselor and school that respects their opinion and input and is treating them as a valued partner in the recruitment process of their son or daughter.
- It’s all about the back and forth conversation. All of your communication should focus on building and strengthening the relationship between you and your prospect. That doesn’t happen if what you’re sending them doesn’t prompt them to feel more connected with you. If letters and emails have started to go out and you’re not getting responses and learning key pieces of information about your prospects, you’re falling behind. Back and forth communication is vital! It starts by crafting messages with information that your prospects care about and that promotes engagement. In addition, you need to ask the right questions at the right times, and then listen and gather information that you can use in future communications. Without back and forth conversation, it’s going to be very hard for you to determine if a prospective student is actually reading what you’re sending, finds it appealing, and if it aligns with what they’re looking for in a college.
- Become a problem solver for your prospects. It’s something they tell us they want from admissions time and time again when we do focus group research on campuses across the country. In fact, here’s one response from a survey last month that drives home this point (The question asked was what do admissions counselors need to do differently or better as they communicate with this next incoming class): “I had one really good counselor and one not so good. The really good counselor was very quick to respond to my emails and questions and always found an answer if they didn’t know it themselves. My not-so-good counselor just threw pamphlets at me and did not help me find answers to my questions.” Which one of those counselors are you?
Not getting responses to your early letters and emails? Don’t have separate messaging for parents? We can solve both of those problems for you. If you’d like to know how, simply click this link and email me.