By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Discussions about authenticity and personalization have dominated my summer.
They were hot topics at the recent eduWeb Digital Summit. Conversations about them consistently pop up in my Twitter and LinkedIn feeds. I’m now getting personalized text messages from airlines like United telling me how long it will take to walk from gate to gate when I connect flights. And last Saturday night both things were on full display during the Shawn Mendes concert that my wife and I took our daughter to for her birthday. In the picture at the top, Shawn talked about still being nervous to perform certain songs. And his opening act (Alessia Cara) talked to the crowd about her insecurities both now and as a teenager.
According to our ongoing focus group research, if you want to increase engagement and improve your communications with this generation of students, authenticity and personalization are absolute musts.
Every single time we conduct a survey with students we see multiple quotes like these:
“We like being communicated with in a direct personal way, making things about us and how we can fit in at your school.”
“I think that it’s really important to just be real. We all understand it’s the job of admission counselors to sell the school that they work for. What I enjoyed from <College Name> is that I had actual conversations with my counselors.”
“Most emails from colleges feel like a product is being marketed to us or that they’re going to give us a deal on a car or their service. Candid, human communication is everything because we can tell when we’re being pitched to.”
“Ditch the script and talk to us like normal human beings.”
“Get to know us first and give honest advice instead of just trying to persuade us into going to your school.”
Here are some things you can do to deliver more authenticity and personalization to this next class of students.
- Introduce prospective students to their admissions counselor at the inquiry stage and make it clear that the counselor is their “go-to” person during the entire process.
- Generate more student created video content on your website and on your social media platforms. Empower current students to talk and vlog about their experiences (good and bad).
- Change the call to action in your emails from visit and apply to asking for their opinion/feedback on something, or ask a question that’s related to the content in your email.
- When you’re leading a college fair or high school visit in person or virtually, start the conversation by asking them about their college search process, fears, and/or concerns.
- Hand written notes still generate a lot of excitement!
- Most students consider phone calls (when set up ahead of time) and letters the most personalized forms of communication during the college search.
- Make the planning of their virtual/campus visit more collaborative. Most schools dictate the visit itinerary from start to finish. Try a different approach. Let prospective students be a part of the planning process.
- Prior to the campus tour, have the admissions counselor connect with the tour guide or student ambassador leading the tour and give that person some “connectors” about the student that can be weaved into the discussion during the tour.
- When you don’t know the answer to something, it’s okay to tell the student or parent you don’t know.
- Provide helpful tidbits/suggestions throughout the year to common problems/frustrations.
- Don’t embellish or sugarcoat things in an effort to get a student to visit or apply. It can be a huge disappointment after the fact.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about your school’s “negatives.” (Ex. Con’s about a specific major, student life, etc).
- Takes ownership for a mistake if one occurs.
- Quit using admissions jargon.
- Make sure your phone calls don’t sound completely scripted, especially if you’re using student callers. In the words of one student, “Don’t make it sound so scripted. Say what you want to say and have a genuine conversation.”
- Personalized emails that come from their admissions counselor and not office of admissions or a general admissions account.
- When appropriate, share your personal story or the stories of your current students, especially ones about challenges you faced, or challenges that current students are facing (Ex. paying for college, doing poorly on a test/assignment).
- Be open about your school’s processes. Give parents and families more insight into how admissions decisions are made, how financial aid works, etc.
- Word choice and tone matter in every form of communication you use. Take a less formal, more conversational approach. That approach will make you more relatable, believable, and more authentic. Don’t be afraid to start the occasional sentence with the word “and,” “but,” or “because.” And it’s okay to use a … to continue a thought. In the words of one student, “Keep it personal and more on the casual side. With high schoolers now that “business talk” freaks people out.”
When you increase the amount of authenticity and personalization you provide, you increase the likelihood a student will engage, and/or take the next step in the process with your school.
I encourage you to try one or more of these things in the coming weeks. And when you do, let me know how that goes for you.