By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
As you might imagine, fall travel season was a popular topic these past few weeks during my 1-on-1 meetings with admissions counselors as part of the training workshops I led.
When I talk with brand new counselors it’s a lot of, “I don’t know what I don’t know, so what advice do you have for me?” With more experienced counselors, it’s questions about things like lunchroom visits, how they can get more students to show up, and what kinds of questions will continue to produce engagement.
In today’s article I’m going to cover all those things and give you a laundry list of do’s and don’ts.
First, let me ask you this – During your school visits and college fairs, are you predictable or memorable?
Being memorable should be a consistent goal every time you interact with prospective students. When their parents or friends ask them about their day, will they be excited to share details about their conversation with you? Really think about that for a minute because in 2019 too many admissions counselors and college reps continue to use the same rehearsed approach. I see it firsthand when I attend fairs, and students continue to share the same annoyances in our ongoing survey research when we them ask about high school visits and college fairs.
It starts with your intro. Asking what questions they have or what they want to major in is not a great icebreaker with this generation of students. Plus it’s what most other schools are doing, so it’s harder for you to be memorable.
Instead, consider asking them what they like to do and how their college search is going…specifically their fears and what’s hard, confusing, and/or annoying. I want you to do that because it will help relax the student’s nerves, and they’re more likely to engage and open up a lot faster once they see you care about their feelings and needs.
The advice I just gave you will work at both fairs and school visits. And it will work with one student or a group of students. Keep in mind, though, any time you’re talking with multiple students, you should try to find out each of their timelines and mindsets first. Doing that will allow you to shape the conversation appropriately and provide the most value for the most people.
For example, right now it’s safe to say that most high school seniors and juniors are thinking about and/or trying to figure out the following:
- Which schools they want to learn about more
- Which schools they should visit
- Which schools they’ll apply to
- Can they afford a private college
- Do they want a bigger school or a smaller school
- How are similar type schools really different
Start the conversation by asking the group about one or more of those things. Then be ready to offer tips and advice that they can use right now.
All of that brings me to my first “DO.” Do be prepared to consistently lead the conversation both with one student and with a group of students. Think of it as a game of catch. You start with your icebreaker and you throw it to them with your question, or your talk leads them to ask you a question. Eventually the student or students stop talking, and they throw it back to you. It’s up to you to lead again.
Next, if you’re trying to increase the chances that students will show up during school visits, create a short, personalized email a week or so before and send it as a reminder. Text messaging also works well for this if the student is familiar with you or your school. Along with that, I encourage you to reach out ahead of time (more than just a few days in advance) to the school counselor, along with teachers, deans, and secretaries. Let them all know you’re excited to visit their school and ask them if they’d be willing to spread the word, and/or if they know of any students who are looking for a college like yours.
If you do connect ahead of time with a student and they make it clear they’re not able to leave class for your visit, ask them if they’d be willing to set up a quick phone call to connect.
On to lunch visits – If you know you’ll be doing one, try and reach out to the student or students at that school ahead of the visit and ask them if you can join them for five minutes during lunch. Be prepared to offer a good reason why they should say yes, which might include helping them figure out their next steps not just with your school, but in general. Or, consider (if it’s logistically possible) bringing a current student who went to that school or is from the area with you to lunch. Frame it as a way for prospective students to hear from someone who was just in their shoes and is now on the other side. That strategy also works well at college fairs.
Let me give you some other important things you should DO often:
- Always make it 100% about them and then your school…not the other way around.
- DO remember how much fear of different things is on their minds.
- DO smile, be approachable, be personable and be relaxed.
- DO ask questions like, “What does your perfect college look like?” “What are your parents saying about your college search?” and “What’s the most confusing part of this for you right now?”.
- DO ask follow-up questions like, “Why is that important to you?”
- DO be prepared to talk a lot about cost, affordability, student life, and dorms.
- DO explain how to find different outside scholarships to help them pay for college.
- DO load up on the stories so you’re able to tell different ones. Stories sell and compel.
- DO ask them for their opinion on different things that you end up sharing.
- DO give them straightforward answers and explanations.
- DO speak with confidence.
- DO express passion for your school, but DON’T go overboard.
- DO try and explain how your school is different in common areas. (Ex. How do your professors show they care; How is your community actually “welcoming”)
- DO share your personal email (and cell number if you’re comfortable) and encourage them (and their parents) to reach out with follow-up questions.
- DO clearly explain what their next step is, and consider having a timeline or checklist handout that they can take with them as a point of reference.
- DO have a plan to upload your notes to your CRM while you’re on the road.
Now, here are some extremely important DON’TS:
- DON’T hand them a pamphlet or a bunch of information and then start talking really fast.
- DON’T just recite the information that’s in what you handed them.
- DON’T overwhelm them with general facts, figures, and rankings about your school.
- DON’T feel like you have to get through everything in one conversation. It’s about getting to the next conversation.
- DON’T dominate the conversation. Remember what I said earlier, you’re leading it, but it should always be a two-way conversation.
- DON’T exaggerate something or brag to try and make your school sound better.
- DON’T have a condescending tone in your voice.
- DON’T give off the vibe that this is your job but you don’t want to be here today.
- DON’T take the, “Fill out this card (inquiry card) and get free stuff” approach.
- DON’T continue to talk about your school when they tell you they’re not interested.
- DON’T repeat the same things multiple times.
- DON’T make the student feel bad for asking what could be perceived as a silly question.
- DON’T be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to something they ask.
- DON’T just leave if nobody shows up for a school visit. Spend a few minutes trying to make connections with other staff members at the school.
Good luck, safe travels, and if you’ve got a specific question, remember I’m only an email, text, or call away. I’m happy to chat if you’re looking for help.