By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Over the weekend I came across a newspaper article in which college admission counselors and EM leaders shared recommendations and what they wish students knew about the college search process. I always find these pieces interesting, and this one was no different.
The biggest themes that stuck out in the article were the value of visiting campus, taking advantage of the personal attention that colleges offer, and communicating more with admissions counselors (asking the right questions) at schools they’re serious about.
I want to focus on number two and three, and here’s why. On the surface, both of those points don’t seem to be asking for too much from this generation of students. Or do they?
We all acknowledge that anxiety and stress accompany the college search process. If you need more proof, go to social media and start searching terms like “college decision”.
And yet each week I continue to get frustrated calls, texts, emails, and social media messages from college admission professionals who want to know what they need to do to get more students to “take the initiative,” “talk,” and “tell me what they’re thinking” so I can provide them with the relevant information.
I think before you can realistically expect any of those things to occur you need to understand just how real your prospect’s fear is, and you need to find a way to start alleviating it.
When your prospects are reading your brochures, letters, emails, social media posts, and text messages, as well as when they visit your campus, they’re trying to figure out if they TRUST you enough to not only listen but also engage with you.
The greater the level of trust not only with you, but also with your colleagues and current students, the higher the probability that student will enroll at your school. Remember, college is a purchasing decision where trust is essential.
How can you emphasize trust to your prospect and have them actually come away feeling more connected with you and believing that your institution could be the “right fit?”
Here are some suggestions that continue to get results for our clients:
- Be easy to talk to. It’s such a simple concept, yet it’s something that many admission professionals just don’t pay attention to. The text and sentence structure that you use in your letters, emails, social media campaigns and text messages matters. You need to make it easy for your prospect, most of who are already scared to have a conversation with you in the first place, to actually reply to you.
- Demonstrate empathy. If you don’t empathize with your prospects and their parents how can you expect to really understand their problems and objections? Make getting to know them the priority, not your selling your school.
- Do your homework ahead of time. Before you make that first phone call to this next class of prospective students, or before their scheduled campus visit, gather some basic facts and information about the student and their family. I continue to be amazed at the number of counselors who tell me that they enter that initial conversation without any talking points unrelated to their school. We live in the social/digital age, so there really isn’t any excuse. You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Having those “connectors” as I call them is an easy way to build trust quickly. Show your prospect that they’re not just another name on your list.
- Be honest, even if the truth hurts. It would be great if your school were the “right fit” for everyone. It’s not, and that’s okay. Honesty is one of the key traits that allow others to rely on you. When you’re willing to admit that your school needs to improve on (fill in the blank), or that one of your competitors has a better (fill in the blank) than you do, it’s actually a good thing.
- Be a good listener. For a lot of people, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. The quickest way to destroy trust is to dominate the conversation. When you do most of the talking you make it impossible to discover what’s really motivating the student to consider your school. When you want to cultivate your recruiting relationship, make it your goal to let the student (or parent) do most of the talking.
- Don’t overpromise. The last thing you want to do when trying to build trust is sound ridiculous. Never promise something that you can’t deliver because you think doing so will put you closer to (getting them to apply, getting them to commit to a campus visit, getting them to commit/deposit).
- Exude a quiet confidence. Your prospect is looking for a reason to trust you. A counselor who isn’t confident or can’t explain to them why they’d be a great fit at their school is going to have trouble gaining that prospect’s real trust.
- Be a resource, not a salesperson. You’re either one or the other in their minds. Both Dan (Tudor) and I tell our clients all the time that the key to achieving successful and consistent recruiting results is to be a resource rather than a salesperson. When your prospects see you as a resource you’ll find that they’ll initiate contact with you more often, and some of them will even reach out for advice on how to handle situations with other schools that they’re considering.
- Be authentic. It’s okay to show real emotion from time to time. And by the way, it’s really hard to fake authenticity. You either are or you aren’t.
- Use a phrase such as, “You can trust me to help make this process less stressful for you and your family.” Let me be clear that a phrase like this shouldn’t be used unless you plan to back it up 100% of the time. That means you respond to emails and text messages, and you return phone calls promptly. That means you help them find solutions to their problems on their time, not just when it’s convenient for you. And that means you do your very best to put a checkmark next to each of the nine bullet points prior to this one.
Let me leave you with this question. Right now if someone asked your undecided students or your next class of prospective students (and their parents) how much they feel they can trust you, what would their answers be?
Was this article helpful? I’m always interested in hearing what you think. And if you have a question about trust or any other aspect of student recruitment, let’s start a conversation (or at least get one scheduled on the calendar).
P.S. If you took two minutes last week to fill out my brief newsletter survey, thank you. If not, could you please do that for me right now by clicking this link. You just might cast the deciding vote when it comes to what feature I add next to this newsletter. As of this morning, two options are tied.