By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
College admissions professionals are, by nature, a process-oriented group.
New names come into your CRM, you begin sending them various communications, and you make every effort to secure a campus visit or get them to apply as quickly as possible.
Here’s the problem. All that rushing is actually hurting your chances of creating real, authentic relationships with prospective students. Plus most of those same students want to work at their own pace which often times doesn’t match up with your timeline.
The good news is the solution is pretty simple. You just need to re-define your goal as you begin this next recruiting cycle. I want you to aim to establish a conversation, not a commitment.
Having a conversation with someone they don’t know is incredibly scary and difficult for most of your inquiries and prospects. That means you’ll need to put a larger focus on creating an easy conversation at the start of the process.
Here are some ways we’ve helped college admissions departments create meaningful, deeper relationships between prospective students and their admissions staff:
- Introduce them to their admissions counselor right away, and make it clear that the counselor is their “go-to” person during this entire process.
- Getting students to feel comfortable talking should be goal number one. You do that by asking a simple question…something they don’t have to think long and hard about. For example, “What are the two or three biggest things your college has to have?” Or, “Where are you at in your college search right now?” Asking a simple, direct question is one of the easiest ways to initiate a conversation with a new inquiry or prospect.
- As we’ve talked about before, keep your initial messages shorter, rather than longer, and use language that’s more conversational and easy to digest.
- In those initial messages, don’t try and sell your college. Most students are confused and just trying to figure out what to do next. Prove that you want them by trying to learn what they’re looking for and what matters (and doesn’t matter) to them. Do that and watch the conversations blossom.
- With a few exceptions, don’t rush trying to get them to visit campus. I can’t stress enough how getting asked to come visit campus sounds awkward and rushed when you do it at the beginning with students who don’t know you or much about your school. Most of the time it requires multiple conversations with you before they’re ready to take that big step. You need to help them understand why they should want to visit, and how your visit will be different than most other schools. If you want to approach this topic a little more covertly, ask them to walk you through their timeline for making their college decision. See where a campus visit drops in that timeline, and work to morph your process into their process.
- Patience and repetition. When you rush the process, you risk turning them off and being labeled as pushy. Prove that you want them, and do it through multiple communications via multiple channels. Prove you’re interested in who they are, what they want out of the process, and consistently tell stories about why your college is a school that should be near (or at) the top of their list.
As basic as this all sounds, the approach I just described is becoming rare in college admissions. Impatience and rushing through the process is the new normal, except that it isn’t “normal” for prospective students.
Play by their rules as you start messaging a new class. If you do, you might be surprised by the level of engagement that you get, as well as how much faster they’re willing to talk about the next step in the process.