by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Let’s get right down to business today!
You know that the parents of just about every single prospect and admit on your list will have substantial influence in their child’s final decision making process.
You also know that the cost of attending college continues to go up, not down.
Go ahead then and put yourself at your recruit’s kitchen table for a moment…because you and I both know these kinds of conversations happened across the country during the holiday break.
As a parent, would you let your 17 or 18-year old son or daughter pick a college using their own judgment and discretion? Hardly.
Not without talking to you, their parent, first.
You’ll understand then why it baffles me that many talented, smart college admissions recruiters still have not spoken to one or both of the parents of this next class of recruits.
As a serious recruiter trying to gain the trust of a family during the recruitment process, not making the same efforts to contact and develop a relationship with the parents as you do with a recruit is a losing strategy.
Easier said than done, I know.
The two most common questions I get from counselors and directors alike when helping an admissions team improve their parent interactions are, “Where do we start” and “What do we say to them?”
Talking with parents needs to happen as early as possible. In most cases your first opportunity to speak with them is probably going to take place over the phone.
To help get the ball rolling, let me suggest several questions and talking points that we’ve seen work well recently. In addition to establishing credibility, asking these kinds of questions will get parents to open up and allow you to determine just where your school stands at this point in the process:
- “What are you trying to get out of this whole college search process?”
- “What is it about our school that makes it a potential good fit for your son/daughter?”
- “What are you trying to get your son/daughter to focus on at this point?”
- “Have you crossed any specific schools, or types of schools, off your list at this point?”
- “What’s your biggest fear as a parent as you help your son/daughter look at colleges?”
- “What are two big questions that I could answer for you right now?”
- “Has your family talked about a timeline for when you would see him/her making a final decision?”
If these questions sound like things you’d ask a recruit, that’s not an accident. We find that most parents view themselves as equal partners in the decision making process. Furthermore, most kids not only want that to be the case but expect that to be the case.
Let me add one more thing about those seven questions. Any place that you see son/daughter or him/her I would encourage you to use their child’s first name.
Your goal in talking to the parents is simple but important: Establish the beginnings of a relationship, and let them reveal things to you instead of you selling things to them. If you do that, you’re going to notice an immediate change in the interest level of your recruit and their family.
Next, I want to give you some additional facts about parents that we’ve gathered from our research and focus groups:
- Parents want honest answers about how your school is different from the competition. The college brochures look the same, the websites look the same, and the message is largely the same. How are you different from your competition? I mean really different. The counselors who can communicate those real differences to parents will earn their trust.
- Parents value information on cost, ROI and safety. Your recruiting communications must clearly address each of these three “wants.”
- Consistency matters to parents. Once you make contact with parents it’s vitally important to know that they expect you to communicate with them in a consistent manner just like their son or daughter.
- Enthusiasm about their child goes a long way. Parents want to see you pay consistent, serious attention to their kids. The more passion you show will, over time, cement the idea that you want their son or daughter more than anyone else.
By this point I’m sure you can see why we place such an important emphasis on communicating with the parents as early as possible. You need to become okay with talking to your recruit’s parents, sometimes even in place of your recruit.
Sending parents an occasional email and talking to them during the campus visit is not a winning strategy. Take that approach, and you’ll be hard pressed to discover what the parents of your recruits are really thinking. Plus, you’ll probably become frustrated at the power you ultimately see those same parents having on their child’s final decision.
The last thing that I would recommend if you want to develop a winning communication strategy with parents is separate messaging. I’m talking about a recruiting com flow plan specifically designed for parents that goes beyond your phone calls and emails. Are you doing that now? You should be. We do it for our clients because it results in parents viewing them as the 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.
Want to learn more about the parent messaging we create for clients or maybe you’re curious about other strategies that we recommend to help colleges stand out in the minds of parents? Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org