By Ethan Penland, Director of Admissions Services
3 minute read
Do you have a place on campus that all of your current students know about, and they have a catchy nickname for it? Or do you have a building on campus that has a specific name, but you shorten the name to an acronym when referring to the building? Maybe you have a particular word or phrase on your application that seems straightforward to you, but students tend to have questions about what it means?
I would imagine most of you reading would have said “yes” to at least one, or all, of the questions above. Many institutions have catchy nicknames, acronyms, and particular words or phrases they use all around campus or in their day-to-day work.
What also is common is the use of those nicknames, acronyms, and words and phrases in communications to prospective students.
Imagine you’re reading an article and they reference something by the acronym without any context. How would you feel? I can tell you that I would be searching back through the article trying to get some context because now I’m confused. I may even feel like I have missed something important, and now I’m left out of the loop.
This is how your prospective students feel when your communications include jargon that is unique to you and your campus community. Take it a step further, it is also how they feel when you use higher ed jargon that may be second-nature to you and your colleagues, but to the student, it is just confusing foreign words.
So, here are some steps to take to minimize the potential of using jargon in various communications:
- Get a couple of eyes on it – This is the easiest thing you can do. Before anything goes out–yes, check for spelling and grammar, but have another layer of review. Look for jargon that is specific to your institution or higher ed jargon that may be confusing.
- Be basic with your words – Just because you are an institution that revolves around education doesn’t mean you have to “flex” by adding in a bunch of complex words. I call them “SAT words.” If it is not a word that you use in casual conversation, then don’t use it. Keep it light and basic.
- Recognize your audience – Simply put, before you craft the message, or add information to your website, ask yourself, “Who is going to read this?” By starting with that question, you can drastically change the approach of crafting your message. We tend to write out content that we are wanting to share, but when you ask that question, the content becomes audience-centered, and we write based on what they need.
- Spell it out – Quick, what is the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized? Or, what defines a full-time student? These are common words or phrases used that are left up to the student to identify or understand. Break it down for them. Give an explanation as to what the words and phrases mean on your campus. Sure, it’s a few more sentences for them to read, but that’s a lot less time for them to have to go search for the meaning.
- Give them a resource guide, early and often – Okay, so maybe you can’t eliminate all jargon. What can you do? Many schools are creating a dedicated webpage or printed or printable guides to share with students to use as a reference or a resource when specific jargon cannot be avoided. These resources should be plastered on any highly-trafficked webpage that a prospective student or parent visits throughout the search process. Don’t know where to start with identifying the web pages? Check with your website owner for analytics to see where most of your web traffic is going. Also, link to the resources when you send emails or mailers that have important information that may include specific jargon.
I must confess, I was guilty of using jargon in my communications to students when I was on the college side. It sometimes is easier to include jargon than to break it down or avoid using particular words, but I soon recognized I wasn’t being a resource–I was creating more of a barrier.
I encourage you to reflect and see if your communication practices need improving. That is one step closer to giving all of your students a fair shake at college access.
If you found this article helpful, or if you would like to have a conversation on anything mentioned, let me know! I appreciate all of your feedback! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter!