By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
“That was completely unexpected!” Those were the words that a good friend of mine told me he thought to himself after having a conversation with an undecided senior at his school’s admitted student day event.
My friend doesn’t work in admissions and instead is the Head Men’s Basketball Coach for the small, private university. He had just finished giving a presentation at the request of the VP of EM to a group of students and their parents when one student approached him and said this:
“I really want to come here but you guys don’t have a football team…growing up I always dreamed I would be cheering for my school’s football team on Saturdays.”
The undecided senior explained to my friend that she had narrowed her choices down to his school and one other small, private college in the same state…the other school by the way does have a football team. She told him she felt like he was honest and genuine during his presentation, so she figured he might be able to help her understand how she would fill her weekends without football. She really liked the people at his school she had met/talked with throughout the college search process, but football, in her mind, was a big deal to her. She was having trouble understanding how she would fill that void.
Choosing a college based on a football team or a school’s athletic success, a high-end student center, or climbing walls and lazy rivers might seem completely illogical to you and the wrong way to come to a final decision. In fact the mother of this student told my friend she didn’t want to let her daughter ask him this question because she couldn’t believe this is what her daughter’s decision might come down to.
Always remember this – you’re not recruiting you, you’re recruiting this generation of students. And, over the past couple of years I’ve seen more examples of irrational, emotional decisions than ever before in our ongoing work with college admission departments.
Here are five important constants I see with this generation that I want you to keep in mind:
- They’re deciding based on their emotions. Emotion outweighs logic and facts.
- They’re thinking short term, not long term when it comes to their college experience. What feels right at that moment versus over 4 years.
- They’re looking to see which colleges really personalize the process. Are you a resource or salesperson? Are you consistently staying in touch and asking them for their thoughts? Do you feel like someone they can trust?
- They’re relying on others to help them make their decisions. Namely parents, peers, and other family and friends in their community. And possibly even you!
- They’ll often turn to irrelevant statistics to justify their actions. You might develop a great relationship with a student and have a solid financial aid package, but in the end, they pick the school with the larger, newer dorm rooms or the one where they boyfriend, girlfriend, or group of friends are going.
The bottom line is this generation is a tough group to recruit.
Let me share with you some additional ideas/thoughts that might help you moving forward:
- Search out information as early as possible about how they’re going to make their college decision. Ask questions that let the student reveal their tiebreakers and other things that matter to them…no matter how silly you might think they are.
- If the early recruiting emails and letters you send are focused solely on the logical argument that your school and your academic program are the best choice right out of the gate, you may be making a huge mistake. It’s not that your prospect doesn’t need that it just may not be the right time as you start the recruiting process.
- Over the past year in both this newsletter and during NACAC affiliate conferences I’ve spoken at, I’ve really tried to drive home just how much today’s prospects are driven by fear. How are you, your colleagues, and your recruiting messages helping to alleviate that fear?
- Find ways to feed their emotions and make a personal connection rather than a logical case. If you take that approach you’ll set yourself up for having them listen to your logical case more intently once you have that illogical, emotional connection.
- It’s okay to ask them, “Is that the smart way to make your college decision?” Maybe the answer is yes, or maybe it isn’t. Asking that question and actually getting them to think about everything in a new light is one of the most productive challenges you can issue during the recruitment process.
- Make your case with more passion than your competition. I continue to see/hear plenty of stories where the emotional connections that the admissions staff helped build end up being a significant reason why the student chose their school. Emotions sell because emotions are real. And remember, passion has nothing to do with your budget.
- Always include the parents. When you clue them in early on to your conversations with their son/daughter, and why your point of view is important, you gain allies.
This advanced thinking and problem solving is one of the many skills I teach admission counselors and leaders when I come to campus and lead our popular training workshop. If you or your colleagues are looking for fresh perspective and insight from someone who works with many college clients throughout the country, email me now and let’s start a conversation. My spring/summer calendar has filled up even more over the past two weeks, and I don’t want you to miss out!