By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
It’s a fact – a lot of students make completely illogical decisions during their college search process.
Choosing a school (or where you’re going to apply) because of a boyfriend, girlfriend, the climate, the food, being able to play a sport there, or how big the dorm rooms are might seem completely illogical to you and the wrong way to do it. That’s understandable. But it’s not changing anytime soon.
Over the past few years I’ve seen and heard more examples of irrational, emotional decisions than ever before in our ongoing work with college admission and marketing departments.
Let’s start by talking about five important constants I see with this generation of students. Keep these in mind as you communicate with this next class (and their families).
- Students are deciding based on their emotions. Emotion often outweighs logic and facts at each stage of the college search process. The words feel, felt, and feelings appear time after time in our ongoing survey research when we ask about various decisions.
- Students are thinking short term, not long term. What feels right at that moment is often more important versus logically planning something out over four years.
- Students are looking to see which colleges actually personalize the process, make it about them, and provide help at each turn. As I explained in an article I wrote a couple of weeks ago, they’re looking at you as either a resource or a salesperson. Are you consistently staying in touch, and do your communications ask for their feedback and opinions on things? Do you explain the why behind things? Do you feel like someone they can trust?
- Students are turning to others to help them make their decisions. Namely parents, peers, and other family and friends in their inner circle.
- Students will make the safe decision if they can’t differentiate or don’t understand the why. If they don’t understand why your school is worth more, or how different aspects of your school make it a better fit for them based on what they want, they tend to make the safe decision. That includes choosing the biggest name school on their list, the cheapest school, the one closest to home, and the one where all their friends are going.
Knowing all this, let me share a few additional ideas and strategies that will help you moving forward.
- The goal in that first or second communication should be to establish a conversation, not a commitment to visit campus or apply. Getting new inquiries and prospects to feel comfortable talking should be goal #1. That happens when you ask a personalized question that’s straightforward and easy to answer. Something like, “Where are you at right now in your college search?” Or, “What are your two or three must haves for college?” Asking a simple, direct question about the student, their process, timeline, fears, wants, etc. is the easiest way to initiate a conversation. What they tell you then allows you to focus on the appropriate next step.
- To keep the conversation going in those early emails and letters, find ways to feed their emotions and make a personal connection rather than a logical case. It’s not that making a logical argument with facts and figures about your academic programs or your outcomes is wrong. It just may not be the right time yet. Instead, work to cultivate a recruiting relationship. As you learn more about the student, insert stories that create emotions. Help them understand why they should want to learn more about your school and take the next step in the process. Establish an emotional connection, and they’ll be more likely to listen to your logical argument down the line (and take the next step faster).
- Make your case with more passion than your competition. I tell admissions counselors all the time that being genuine and caring more than other counselors has long term ROI. And I continue to see/hear plenty of stories where the emotional connections that the admissions staff, tour guides, and other staff on campus helped build end up being a significant reason why the student chose their school. Emotions sell because emotions are real. And remember, there’s helping because you truly care, and helping because you want something from the other person. Prospective students (like all of us) can 100% recognize the difference.
- Once they demonstrate interest in your school, include and engage the parents or other family members with influence. When you loop them into your conversations early on, and when you ask them for their feedback on things, you gain allies who feel like a valued partner.
- Patience, patience, patience. When you rush the process, you cheapen the process. Prove that they’re important to you, and do it through consistent messaging and conversations that show you’re interested in who they are and what they want out of the process.
I encourage you to test out these strategies right now with some of the new names you have.
Let me know how it goes, and if you need help keeping the conversation going and talking about next steps, I can help you with that too. All you have to do is ask.
I’ll be in Louisville at NACAC for the rest of the week starting tomorrow (Wednesday). If you’re in town, come by Booth 461 and say hello.