by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
It remains of the biggest problems that most college admissions departments and counselors fail to overcome these days: Differentiating themselves from their competition.
We consistently stress to our clients the importance of being unique, original and even surprising when it comes to their recruiting. For some of you reading this, that may be a scary proposition. Sure, it’s far easier to use the safe, less risky approach, but please stop being surprised when it produces mixed results.
Study after study tells us that we’re all programmed to notice what’s different.
More than ever, this generation of students wants and needs to see, hear and feel something different if you’re going to separate your school from the pack and successfully enroll them.
Once you’ve accepted the fact that it’s okay to be different, I encourage you to also keep in mind that not every prospective student is one in the same. That means a great recruiting idea that generates results with one student or segment of students might not be effective for another. Always remember who a prospect is and why a particular message is important to them.
There are many instances when differentiating yourself or your school during the recruitment process can be beneficial. Here are five aspects of the student recruitment process where we’ve seen schools take a different approach and subsequently make a considerable impact with their prospects.
- Your Brochures. Many admissions departments’ brochures do a great job of looking exactly like every other college in the country. The photography shows smiling faces that look staged, and there’s a plethora of impressive statistics and bragging about the education their school can deliver. What’s the problem with that? Every single other admissions department presents the same message. If you want to get the attention of today’s marketing savvy teenager, you’d better say things differently than your competitors. I want you to come up with a compelling story told in a different way. I’d even tell you it’s okay to define yourself so precisely that some of your prospects know instantly that you aren’t the school for them. While you’ll lose a handful of recruits that would have said no eventually anyway, you’ll attract three times more who will gravitate towards your philosophy of being unique and different from everyone else that’s recruiting them. I’ve seen it work numerous times for colleges willing to take a leap and tweak their approach.
- Your letters and emails. If you want to create a reaction and consistently engage with your recruits, you need to forget the writing rules. Short, clear and to the point, along with a less formal and more conversational tone. That’s the key. Your recruits have also made it clear to us that in many cases they scan (not completely read) the recruiting communications that you send them. They look for keywords and phrases that might be underlined or in bold.
- Your campus visits. Here’s a new idea that we’re seeing produce positive results. Use Periscope as an introduction to your campus. If you’re not familiar with this app, click that link because I believe it’s a game changer. Periscope allows for two-way communication between the broadcaster and his or her viewers. You could offer mini-tours that provide a behind the scenes look at big events and happenings on your campus as a way to encourage people to come to campus and experience the complete tour.
- At college fairs and school visits. Getting your prospect’s attention, specifically during fairs and school visits, has never been more challenging. At your typical college fair or school visit, aside from the color of the banner or the layout on the table, what’s really different at first glance between institutions A, B, and C? Not much. Let’s change that! Here’s a strategy that we discuss in detail with admissions staffs when we come to their campus and lead a training workshop – I want you to ask an unexpected, amazing question. I’m talking about one that makes your prospect stop in their tracks, not say anything, and really think about what the answer is. Be original, and don’t be afraid to make it a little more off the wall (within reason of course). The question doesn’t have to have anything to do with your school. It might be something to do with pop culture or the college search process in general.
- How you recruit others around your prospect. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself who’s recruiting your prospects for you when you’re not? It’s an important question. Our ongoing research continues to show that parents are the most important outside influence your recruit will utilize when it comes to making their decision. But you already know that. So, let me start by reminding you to cultivate your relationship with the parents. If you aren’t creating separate messaging for them, you should think about doing so. We do it for our clients, and it continues to pay dividends in a BIG way! Now let’s discuss everybody else that matters in your recruit’s life. This may include their siblings, best friend, girlfriend/boyfriend, high school counselor and possibly another mentor at school or in the community. If you want to be different, it’s time you started connecting on various levels with each of these influencers, so they too understand the value of your school and why it’s the best option. It may not make sense, but the research shows that prospects will often go against their own gut and side with some of these highly influential outside decision makers.
When recruits believe that their college choices all offer the same thing, they naturally must see the people selling them as different to make a choice. How different are you? It’s crucial to come up with ways throughout the recruitment cycle to differentiate both your institution and yourself.
If you and I haven’t connected yet, let’s change that! I’d love to hear about what you’re working through right now. Maybe there’s something I can HELP YOU with. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org