By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
It’s that time of year again…you know, the time when students take to social media and share how stressed and confused they are about making a college decision. One student even joked on Twitter this past weekend, “I give up I think I’ll make my college decision based on who has the better snapchat filters”…at least I think she was joking.
I know, playing the waiting game isn’t much fun for you these days. You’ve spent months, or maybe more than a year putting time and effort into recruiting all your students. Now the question becomes will those students, many of whom have been bombarded with information and sales pitches from other colleges besides yours, ultimately pick one of those schools for a less than logical reason?
Hopefully at this point in the process you and your colleagues have a good feel for how your undecided students will make their college decision. I talked about that in last week’s newsletter, and if you’re a first time reader, you missed that article, or you just want a refresher, go ahead and click this link.
These “recruiting tie-breakers”, as Dan (Tudor) and I have come to call them, can be something insignificant to you as an admissions professional but important in the eyes of your prospect. With so many colleges and universities still looking and sounding the same, a lot of your prospects will break the tie in their minds by choosing something that appeals directly to them personally.
Before I jump into some things that will increase your school’s chances of winning those tiebreaker situations, I want to remind you what students continue to tell us when we do focus group research ahead of coming to a campus and leading a training workshop.
When asked to rate 15 different factors in terms of how they influenced a student to choose their college over the competition, the 2 most important factors continue to be:
- The “feel” of campus
- How the admissions staff treated me throughout the process
Now that you’re armed with that knowledge, here are two things that a large majority of students tell us they need if the recruiting tie is going to be broken in your favor:
- Emotional connections. As I’ve told you many times before, your prospects trust their feelings as they make their decision about your college or university. Those are the feelings you create through your recruitment communications, the recruiting relationship you develop (or don’t develop) with them and their family throughout the process, and the feelings they get when they visit your campus. How are you and your colleagues capturing their emotions and creating emotional connections between them and your campus community (students, professors, other staff)? Those emotional connections create a feeling of comfort, they create trust, and they offer a sense of acceptance and belonging which is what just about every single student is scared they won’t be able to find.
- A clear understanding of WHY your college is better than what they could get somewhere else. When I say “somewhere else”, that means everything from another 4-year institution, to a community college, to an alternate life course that doesn’t include college. If I asked you right now to make a clear case that what you offer at your school is far and away superior to those other options (outside of just saying you’re a cheaper option versus other colleges), could you? If not, that’s a major problem! Value can be communicated logically and emotionally, and you need to do both. I would also add that you won’t be able to present the same case to every single student. Sure, there will be common threads, but part of executing this point correctly is having a clear understanding of the wants, needs, and fears of your prospect and his or her family.
You may have noticed I didn’t mention affordability. That doesn’t mean price (or location as another example) isn’t important and won’t in some cases be the biggest tiebreaker for a student/family. But, and this is a big but, in a number of those cases where a family says they need you to increase your aid, they’re simply employing a negotiating tactic. I’m telling you, people are continuing to pay more when the value is there for them – Starbucks, Beats, Nike, Mercedes, Apple, and on and on I could go. Being able to sell the idea that your net price is higher than a competitor and that it’s actually worth the extra investment to be at your school is a recruiting skill that separates great recruiters from average recruiters.
Earlier in this article I touched on the focus group research we do with regards to factors that influence a prospect’s final decision. One of those 15 factors we list is affordability, and over the last two and half years its average finish on our surveys (regardless of a school’s location or public vs. private) is that 4-6 range.
Again, I’m not saying things like your location or price aren’t vital in the decision making process. Different students have different wants and needs. The real challenge for you is to create compelling reasons for a prospect to see clearly that you are his or her top choice before it gets to the tiebreakers.
If you found today’s article helpful, go ahead and forward it on to a colleague. That way both of you can grow and win!
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