This is an opportunity for readers of this newsletter to anonymously ask me a question about any aspect of student recruitment, leadership, and professional or personal development. Each week I’ll post my answer for everyone to read.
Q. An Admissions Counselor asks:
“Regional Rep. How do you encourage students to think outside the box when they and their parents default to the local university? Sometimes students want to go away and parent doesn’t want it; sometimes it’s the reverse.”
A. Thank you for your question! A few things immediately come to mind as I write this from 12,000 feet on my way to Chicago.
For starters, can you answer what it is about your school that’s keeping many of these students (or parents) in your territory from seriously considering you? Is the “too far from home” objection real or is it more along the lines of not knowing as much (or having an incorrect picture) about your school versus the local university which they’ve grown up around? There’s an important difference between these two and there are different strategies for both.
Regardless of which one is the bigger issue right now, I can guarantee you that by asking the right “effective questions” of the student or parent(s) you can get useable feedback that will tell you how to proceed.
Going forward, I want to encourage you to be the first one to write on their “whiteboard,” which is something I refer to it when I lead a counselor training workshop. Just about every single student starts their college search process with biases for and against different schools. Some are legitimate and some are inaccurate and downright crazy. That’s because someone (a friend, a family member, a teacher, the media, etc) has written on that student or parent’s “whiteboard” and told them what to think about your school before you got the chance or took the initiative to.
What you need to do next is figure out why they feel the way they do not only about your school, but also about the local university in question. What do they want out of a college experience and how do they see (or not see) different schools being able to provide (or not provide) that for them or their child?
For example, if your school is more than a few hours away for these prospective students, why is that a problem in their mind? Are they afraid of the not fitting in and making friends because they don’t know anyone at your school and they think there’s going to be nothing to do there, or is there a more concrete reason behind why going that far away for college is a concern? If it’s an issue of fear, which I’ve found in many cases it is, now it’s up to you to reframe the conversation and explain why coming to your school will be exciting and not scary…and you’re going to need concrete and personalized examples when you tell those stories if you truly want them to make a positive impact on the other person and change their point of view.
You can write on their “whiteboard” every single time you conduct a high school visit, meet them at a college fair or during a campus visit, or through email, letters, phone calls, and social media.
The longer you wait the harder it becomes and the more likely that student will make the safe, less risky choice (i.e. the local university closer to home; the bigger name school; the cheaper option, etc).