My daughter is a high school junior, and we took her to visit a college for the first time yesterday.
Statistics, research, and all the data we accumulate for college coaches and admissions departments is important, of course. But as we always teach, these decisions are about feelings. And perceptions. Or misconceptions.
And all of those things are defined, on purpose or by accident, by the individuals leading a visit and the tour of campus.
Now, let me just say, the college staff was organized, friendly, knowledgeable, and generally put on a terrific day. Still, it was interesting to listen to other parents and kids going through the visit, as well as the comments from the prospective students on the visit. And there were several good reminders of what anyone showcasing a college should be doing to effectively reach this generation of teenager – and their parents:
Parents are running the show. We have a pretty long article history of outlining our research and advice when it comes to incorporating the parents of your recruit into the process. That was on full display as I walked around campus with other families. Parents were leading discussions, prompting their kids with the right questions to ask, and generally handling all of the tougher topics related to choosing a campus. And, as our focus group testing has shown in the last several years, the kids were fine with that happening; they were looking for their parents to provide direction and help them make decisions about whether or not that particular school would be a good fit for them. So, as we continually ask, how are you incorporating the parents into the recruiting conversation, and giving them a lead role in the decision-making process?
The more crowded the visit, the less effective the emotional connection. Let me say first that large group visits on big recruiting weekends are sometimes unavoidable. One of your recruits in a large group on your campus versus no recruit on your campus? No contest, get the recruit there. However, I was reminded again how hard it is to emotionally connect to a place (or to a coach, or a new group of friends on campus) in a large recruiting visit or tour group. There were parts of the visit that were crowded, difficult to hear the guide, or see everything there was to see. And it didn’t prompt many in-depth, personal questions from those of us attending (most families don’t want to interrupt the flow of the tour with the questions they really want to ask, based on our research). Again, that’s no fault of the organizers, it was just a byproduct of the numbers in attendance. My recommendation? Aim for as many one-on-one visits as possible. They have the highest closing percentage rates, and give your recruits the best overall emotional connections that you need them to experience.
Go deep with your questions. Speaking of parents and your visiting prospects not wanting to answer your questions in big groups during a tour: It’s up to you to take your upper-tier prospects aside at some point during the visit, and ask them questions. Deep, probing questions. It was striking to hear, towards the end of the tour and visit day, how many parents were talking with each other about the questions they had that they needed to investigate further – even though they had college representatives standing ten feet away. Why? It wasn’t the right setting. Had they been taken aside privately and asked questions about their experience, what hurdles they saw as a part of the process, and other decision related issues. Unless you focus on 1) creating a private, one-on-one setting, and 2) asking questions that require deep answers, don’t expect to take most recruiting experiences to the next level. They need you to lead them.
Talk about money as soon as possible. One of the most interesting observations of the day came in the general recruiting fair, where all of the different college departments had tables set up in order to answer questions. The table with the least amount of traffic? The college’s financial services table. Wait, you may ask, “if parents are so gung-ho on talking about money, why wasn’t that the most popular table at the fair?” Simple. Parents want to talk about their specific situations, privately, over an extended period of time. For athletes, they want that to be with their coach as often as possible – at least to kick off the conversation as a transition to speaking with someone else in financial aid (assuming you’re a non-Division I that isn’t offering a full athletic scholarship). The point is, parents are looking for financial definitions sooner, rather than later. Don’t disappoint.
Nothing is universal when it comes to how every single visiting recruit coming to campus is going to react to how your visit actually is produced. But there are some definite general rules we see being effective over and over again in the work that we do with our clients around the country. Use these four proven concepts as a starting point for re-evaluating how you execute your recruiting visits, and what needs to change to accommodate this new generation of prospective families visiting your campus.
Our staff works with college athletic departments, as well as admissions staffs, to help them communicate their recruiting message more effectively. We work with hundreds of programs around the nation, and have for the last decade. If you’re a coach or athletic director, contact Dan Tudor at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you’re an admissions professional contact Jeremy Tiers at email@example.com.