By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
When it comes to making a big financial decision, paying more for something, or picking one product or experience over another, we want and value honesty and transparency.
And when a business, or in your case a college or university, delivers that it builds trust and loyalty including positive reviews and word of mouth, both of which are invaluable.
Unfortunately, a lot of prospective students, parents, and families don’t feel like the majority of colleges and universities are being completely honest and transparent in 2020. They believe colleges only highlight their “positives,” and worse, that some are intentionally complicating or embellishing things like cost and the overall student experience just to get more campus visitors and applications. Those annoyances continue to show up in our focus group surveys and on social platforms like Reddit.
Today I’m going to give you some ideas on how you (both as a college and as an admissions representative) can improve your transparency.
But first, I think it’s important to share a few student quotes from our recent focus group surveys with you. These four responses came from four separate surveys when we asked students for feedback about college fairs and high school visits. Similar feedback continues to show up in just about every single survey we conduct.
“They sell their college too much, they need to be honest. Not all colleges are the perfect fit like they make it sound. They need to tell you if you fit or not.”
“Most dodged the question of affordability and only highlighted the more popular aspects. It was really annoying.”
“I don’t want to hear why you think your school is in the greatest city on earth for half an hour. I want to hear what makes <College Name> different than every other college in the area.”
“For tuition/payments/cost it wasn’t comparing apples to apples. Some school’s tuition included books, etc. It was confusing to figure out what school had what in their tuition. Show us the actual cost instead of having everything listed in different places.”
Whether it’s at a college fair, high school visit, event on your campus, or in an email or over the phone, today’s student wants you to be honest, direct, personal, and make everything as clear and as straightforward as possible. Doing that allows them to figure out much faster if your college could be a good fit.
Plus, increased transparency is a way for you to differentiate your school from your competitors.
Here are some additional ideas I want you to consider:
- Encourage prospective students and parents to provide you with feedback (at all stages). If you want them to feel comfortable enough to express their feelings and concerns, you need to create rapport and provide regular opportunities in your communications for them to feel comfortable bringing up a tough or sensitive topic. Tell them early on that if they come across or experience something negative or concerning about your college, you want them to share that with you because doing so will allow you to better serve and help them moving forward.
- Explain the WHY or the BECAUSE. Not enough attention is given to context and why it’s beneficial for the other person. Throughout the college search process colleges ask students and parents to take action on a multitude of things. Students tell us that one of the biggest reasons they delay taking action is because they lack understanding of the “why” or the “because.” Why should they visit your campus as a junior? Why should they considering applying now if they haven’t already? Why is it in their best interest to fill out the FAFSA in October instead of February? And why should they come back to campus for one of your admitted student events? I encourage you to take the time to clearly explain why you’re asking them to do something and how it will benefit them or make their life easier.
- Give them behind-the-scenes access. This is a strategy that I recommend all the time to our clients as a way to help develop trust while also demonstrating transparency. Give prospective students behind-the-scenes access to something or some process that you know they’re wondering about. For example, explain how your college evaluates an application, or replace your college’s information session with an inside look at how your campus helps new students make both the academic and social transitions to college less stressful.
- Start the financial aid/paying for college conversation much earlier. For most students and families, it’s about figuring out what they know and don’t know and then educating or guiding them. For example, with high school freshmen and sophomores, focus on things like sticker price versus true cost and familiarizing them with future timelines and deadlines. For juniors, also talk about applying for scholarships. And for seniors, help them develop a checklist or calendar of key deadlines. Also encourage that group to visit their high school guidance office and ask about outside scholarships. And once those seniors (and even juniors) show serious interest in your school (ex. they visit campus), schedule a time to have a personalized conversation with that family about paying for college/financial aid.
- Provide student generated content on social media. Students are very clear about the kind of content that would be helpful for colleges and universities to post on their social media accounts. They want to see authentic, unscripted, day in the life stuff from the vantage point of your current students and not the admissions or marketing office. Specifically, they want to see pictures and videos of school events, residence life, popular hangout spots on and off campus, and actual classroom discussions or work.
- Address your mistakes and/or your college’s “negatives.” Take ownership for a mistake or an unfortunate circumstance if one occurs or has recently occurred. If necessary, explain the action that was taken to prevent similar mistakes or even incidents. The same thing goes for your college’s “negatives.” College is hard, and every school doesn’t offer everything for everybody. Be willing to lead a conversation around some of the challenges that your current students face. And if your school has resources and services to help with those challenges, explain what that looks like and what they can expect to encounter.
- It’s okay to say you don’t know something. When you don’t know the answer to something, it’s okay to tell the student or parent you don’t know or you’re not 100% sure. After you do that, go and track down the answer/information and then follow-up with them. And if you need to educate yourself on something, be sure and do so as it will help in future situations.
- Stop using admissions jargon. Colleges shouldn’t expect prospective students, parents, and families who haven’t gone through the search process before to be aware of the technical terms, certain phrases, and acronyms. What do test optional and holistic really mean? How about terms like experiential learning, articulation, early action, rolling admission, grant aid and net price? And acronyms like FAFSA, EFC and COA also shouldn’t be used without a full explanation.
- Become a better listener. So many student and parent complaints and frustrations boil down to the simple fact that they feel like no one is listening to them. If you’re an admissions counselor, your goal should be to get and keep two-way communication throughout the entire process. You don’t need to “sell” at every turn. Present yourself as a liaison who can make this scary and confusing process easier and less stressful. That involves listening…a lot of listening! When you listen, it makes the other person feel valued, and it gives them the assurance that you’re focused on them and not just your school.
When prospective students and their parents and family members come to trust you and your school through transparency, it makes identifying fit and cultivating your recruiting relationship easier.
If you thought this article was helpful, I encourage you to forward it on to a colleague that you think might also benefit from it. And if it was forwarded on to you and it was helpful, I’d love to have you sign up for my weekly newsletter where it first appeared. You can do that right here at the top of this page.
One more thing – Even though this article is focused on recruitment strategies, transparency can significantly improve the culture within your office. The more informed colleagues and staff members are, the more invested they will be.
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