by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Last week at the NACAC National Conference, I made it a point to connect with a lot of high school counselors. I got their thoughts on a number of topics including the level of value that both they and their students perceive high school visits by college admissions counselors to hold. That’s not the focus of my article today, but if you really want to know what they told me, all you have to do is reach out and ask.
Instead, I want to talk with you about frustration. Many of those same high school counselors expressed to me that now, more than ever, they’re hearing from parents who are frustrated with the student recruitment process as a whole…namely the fact that many college and university admissions offices aren’t doing what they feel is a good enough job of engaging with them.
This is something that continues to baffle me. I know that you know that parents are a huge player in their child’s decision of where to attend college. So why then are so many admissions offices still not doing a good enough job of connecting with their prospect’s biggest influencer(s)? Our research from your students found that over 90% of them said their parents played a significant role in their final decision. And of the 12 admissions training workshops I led this summer, 8 of those teams listed better communication with parents as one of their action points.
If you’re ready to grow in this area, here are four of the most common parent frustrations that I would suggest you address:
- They want to be involved earlier in the process. If you’re waiting until the financial aid discussion to create real dialogue with parents, that’s a double whammy. Parents recognize pretty quickly when colleges aren’t involving them in the process the way they want to be and the way they feel they should be. On top of that, the majority of your prospects tell us in our focus group research that they too notice which colleges are and are not connecting with their parents…and everyone wonders why that’s the case. Here’s my suggestion to you. At the end of one of those early phone calls with your prospect, ask them if their mom or dad is available for a minute because you’d like to say hello. When you get that opportunity, be prepared to discuss what you’ve been talking about with their son or daughter and why you feel your school is a “good fit” for them.
- They want to be recruited separately by you. Your school sends email, mail, and brochures to your prospects with the goal of getting them interested enough to take that next step. The problem is most of that information still looks and sounds like every other college and university. And as I’ve told you before, in many cases your prospects are scared of what that next step means. When that happens, you and I both know who they turn to for advice. If you’re not sending separate communications to parents, you can’t expect them to have a good vision of what your institution can offer their child. Beyond that, unless the price tag is going to be $0.00, parents are going to take a big interest in affordability and value so they can justify why they should invest a significant chunk of money in your school. You need to prove both of those things to your prospect’s parents because if you don’t make that case separately, you’re going to have a significantly harder time keeping the process moving forward.
- They want their concerns addressed during the campus visit. Most of your students continue to tell us that sitting through a meeting about financial aid or meeting with a dean/professor during the campus visit has very little bearing on their final decision to attend your school. That doesn’t mean their parents feel the same way, so you need to be careful about what you schedule and what you don’t. Most parents are going to be interested in doing one, if not both. The easiest way to find out is to contact them separately before the visit and ask them what important things they want to get out of the visit experience. To build on this, I’m going to recommend a strategy that has paid big dividends for some of our clients. Assuming that you’ve established a level of comfort with the family prior to the campus visit, not too soon into the visit separate the student from his or her parents. It doesn’t have to be for long. Have the parents meet with your financial aid staff or that professor, and let the prospect spend some time with the student tour guide and possibly other current students. We’ve found that it makes for a more memorable experience for everybody involved.
- They think there’s a lack of overall guidance for parents during the process. This is especially true in the latter stages after the campus visit and after the financial aid award letter has been delivered. Many parents feel there are gaps in communication, and rightfully so, as many admissions counselors tell us they pull back a little and the communication flow slows down because they don’t want the prospect and his or her parents to feel pressured. Meanwhile, the parents are searching for guidance, unsure of what the next step is at a crucial stage.
I’ve just given you four of the most common frustrations parents have during the college search process. Now, what are you going to do with this information?
At a time when parents are looking for a school that respects their opinion and input and sees them as a valued partner in the college decision-making process of their son or daughter, I implore you to take action…and so do your prospects.
If you want to learn more about the parent messaging we create for clients simply email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org