by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
I’m really excited about this week’s admissions newsletter! In addition to my article on transparency during the student recruitment process, I’ve also included links to terrific pieces written by my good friends Amber Rich and John Brubaker. You’ll find those right below this article, so check them out after you’re done reading my latest offering…here we go.
I’ve had enough of the election commercials. Seriously, thank goodness they’re just about over. My biggest gripe might be the same as yours. I feel like from the Presidential election down to my local races, instead of answering a question about policy or a mistake they may have made, the candidates just resort back to criticizing the other candidates(s). Everybody has done a bad job of being transparent. One CNN senior reporter has even called this national election, “the no-transparency election”.
We respect transparency. It matters in the political arena, and for you, it’s extremely important throughout the student recruitment process. The more colleges I visit, and the more students and parents I talk to, the more I see how crucial it is for all college admissions team members to be 100% genuine and honest in the way he or she approaches a prospect…not 85%, or 95%, or even 98%, it needs to be 100%. That applies for the leadership all the way down to the student tour guides and workers.
Here’s another example. Think about the last time you booked a plane ticket or bought concert tickets online. Was it annoying to arrive at the last page and then discover the extra taxes and fees that were added on to your final price? Been there, done that.
Too many schools speak vaguely, or worse they complicate, exaggerate, and yes believe it or not some even lie when they discuss things like cost and the overall “student experience” on their campus. That’s not me telling you that. Improved transparency is one of the big things your students continue to tell us that they feel you need to improve on as you communicate with this next class of students. In fact, here are a handful of recent student quotes from our focus group research that touch on common complaints:
“Please give detailed, well-explained information. If I didn’t have a sibling who attended <XYZ College>, we would have had no idea about anything like financial aid.”
“Constant communication with parent and student is a must.”
“Contact more, and do more explaining so the incoming class has a better idea on what to expect.”
“Admissions counselors should continue to provide honest information to students and their parents.”
“If you don’t know the answer to something just be honest and say that.”
“Faster responses, more communication with the financial aid, and transparency between the department and the prospective student.”
“Although it may sound counter-intuitive, it is helpful to hear the issues that the school is working to improve. It shows a humble honesty, as well as shows that the school is interested in continuously improving itself.”
So, instead of being scared by transparency, be willing to embrace it as a way to improve customer service and increase customer loyalty. If you’re on board with that line of thinking, here are some ideas you might consider:
- At every turn encourage students and parents to provide you with feedback. If you’re truly trying to help your prospects find the school that’s the “right fit” for them, you should always want and encourage them to provide you with feedback. Even if it’s something negative about your school or something that they wish they could change after they’ve visited your campus, tell them early in the process that you’re okay with that, and explain your reason why. Remind them that you know the college search process is about them, and you’re here to help in any way.
- Explain the WHY. A lot of people ask somebody to do something for them without offering an explanation or a “because”. Why should they visit your campus and not the competition across town? Why is it in their best interest to fill out the new FAFSA right now instead of waiting until January or February? Why should they set up a time to meet with their high school guidance counselor and ask about outside scholarships that might be available to them? Take the time to clearly explain why you’re asking them to do whatever it is you’re asking them to do. (Hint: Your WHY should explain how it will benefit them)
- Give them inside access. Here’s a strategy that I recommended to a client last year as a way to help develop trust early on while also demonstrating transparency. Give them inside access to something or some process that you know they’re wondering about that very few schools discuss. For example, during the campus tour or high school visit, replace your information session for students or your usual speech with an inside look at how your campus helps freshmen make the transition from high school to college smoothly. Be specific about the programs in place and the activities that occur on your campus.
- Hand over your social media accounts to your students. Too many colleges and universities continue to offer “forced and fake” instead of “real and raw” when it comes to social media. Prospective students can tell 10 times out of 10 when an admissions staff member posts something on your Snapchat, Facebook, or Instagram account. Your students tell us that they want to see what’s happening on your campus from the student vantage point and not just what the admissions office wants them to see. Create and encourage student-generated content, especially around school traditions. Those genuine interactions and images are powerful and can help create an emotional connection.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about your negatives. When there’s a big negative about your school that you’re consistently running into, you have two choices: You can avoid talking about it and hope that your prospect doesn’t see or hear about it from somewhere else. Or, you can own it. And, you can define it for them. I strongly encourage you to talk about your negatives with prospects and parents. Say, for example, that your college is located in a small town with little to do. Don’t hide from that fact, own it…and then explain why your students love their college experience and actually view your size as a positive. Also, show confidence in the way you explain it to them so that they see you aren’t worried about it.
- Stop using admissions/EM jargon. You cannot expect teenagers and parents who have not gone through the admissions process before to be aware of the technical terms in your industry. What do “highly selective” and “holistic” really mean? How about terms like articulation, early action/decision, grant aid and need-blind? Furthermore, acronyms like FAFSA, EFC and COA also shouldn’t be used without a full explanation in order to make sure that you are on the same page with your prospects and their parents.
- Listen to them. Many customer complaints boil down to the fact that no one listens to them. Your goal should be to get and keep two-way communication throughout the recruitment process. You don’t need to “sell” at every turn. When you listen, it lets your prospects and their parents know that someone is trying to make their experience better.
If your prospects and their parents come to trust you and your institution through transparency, they’ll be far more forgiving if and when you make a mistake.
I would also add that even though this article focused on recruitment strategies, don’t forget that transparency can significantly improve the culture within your office. The more informed colleagues and staff members are, the more invested they will be.
As always, thanks for your attention! And if you’ve got a question about transparency or another aspect of student recruitment, let’s talk. Email me directly at: email@example.com