by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
As your admissions team navigates through college fairs and high school visits I’m sure everyone has been accumulating plenty of new names to add to your database.
A popular question I’m asked this time of year goes something like, “How do we get these new students excited enough that they complete our application?”
That early impression, specifically the first one after a college fair or school visit, is something you don’t get a second chance to make. How are you going to begin creating those feelings that convince a new prospect (namely a high school senior or transfer) to take the next step in the process with your school?
Here are some things I want you to keep in mind as you begin communicating with those new prospects. To be clear, I’m not just talking about the letters and emails that you’ll be sending out. Your follow-up, ongoing communication over these next few weeks will be almost equally, if not more, important. Why? Your new prospects are looking to see who contacts them consistently early on. In their minds this is a strong indicator of just how serious you and your school are about them.
If you want to make all those new prospects and inquiries count…
- Deliver that first communication right away. Don’t start your recruiting relationship off on the wrong foot. There needs to be a system in place to get those new names into your system quickly. If that’s not happening right now you need to make changes, and fast. Sending a new prospect their first communication in a timely fashion is extremely important. You also need to determine what type of communication you’re going to send. In most cases, we recommend our clients send a first contact letter instead of an email. It’s a tangible, safe interaction and one that our research finds effective.
- Limit the selling. This isn’t new advice, but rather a reminder, if you want to experience early reach-out success. Take it easy on all of the statistics about your school. Our research shows that prospects aren’t interested in being “sold” on your school right away. In fact, you can’t realistically do that in a first email, letter or phone call, so don’t try. The goal of your first contact or two should be finding out as much as possible about how the prospective student sees himself or herself going through the college search process. Avoid asking them what other colleges they’re considering or which schools they’re most excited about at this point. Too much, too soon…that’s what your prospects tell us.
- Tell them what you like about them (and be specific). That’s the top thing young people want to know right away. It’s also something that your competition probably isn’t doing, so you’ll stand out. Why do you think they’ll have no problem fitting in at your school? How can your school help prepare them for success after graduation? Those are the questions that you need to answer for your prospect early on.
- Stay consistent. Make sure you’re communicating foundational, logical facts to your prospect every six to nine days through a variety of communication methods. If you don’t do this you risk inconsistent recruiting results. Our research solidly indicates that when a prospect sees ongoing, regular contact from you, not only do they engage with the messaging on a more regular basis, but they also make the judgment that your school has a greater interest in them and values them more. Those feelings are what you should want your prospects to feel.
- Come up with more effective questions. As we’ve discussed before, your prospects are nervous or in many cases scared to have a conversation with you…especially early on. If you want to change that then don’t ask questions like, “What do you want in a college?” That’s a question that gets a vanilla, untrue answer much of the time. Instead, ask them to walk you through how they’re going to make their college decision or ask them who else they’ll be leaning on to help them make their decision. The better the questions, the greater chance you have of connecting with your prospect, understanding their mindset, and ultimately coming up with a strategy to successfully recruit them.
- Create curiosity. We frequently remind our clients about the importance of crafting a message or ending a phone call with unanswered questions, especially early in the process. You want to create curiosity and prompt them to want more interaction from you…something that makes them want to go to the next step in their communication with you. Ask yourself, “Am I creating curiosity when I talk with new prospects?” (Hint: Creating curiosity is done by giving less information, not more).
- Have a call to action. A call to action is what gets them to respond to you. You need to tell your prospects what to do and how to do it. Want them to call or email you? Tell them that very clearly. Tell them when to call, and let them know what you want to talk about. Want them to reply to your email? Be crystal clear on when to reply and what information to include. Not consistently having a clear call to action is the number one reason most communication flow plans fail. I’d also strongly recommend that you avoid asking new prospects to visit campus or complete your application in those first couple of contacts. When you do that it jumps several spaces ahead on their recruiting game board, and you risk coming off as disingenuous and too hurried according to our research. You need to build to that point. Only bring it up once you have either a) spent two or three conversations asking them questions and getting to know them, or b) they bring it up (that would apply to their parents as well).
Communication with new prospects and inquiries should result in one thing at the start of the recruiting process – a response. Your specific goal when a new student enters the funnel over the first few weeks should be creating an environment where they feel comfortable enough to communicate back and forth with you.
If you feel like you’re off to a slow start with this recruiting class, we can help. You’ll start to see a difference immediately after you implement our Admissions Recruiting Advantage program…just ask our clients. Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.