By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Colin Cowherd is one of my favorite radio/TV personalities. If you’ve ever watched or listened to “The Herd” you know that Cowherd is very transparent. He isn’t afraid to share his thoughts on sports, politics and business regardless of how unpopular they might be. I respect him because of that.
Just recently, Al Michaels the legendary announcer was a guest on the show. One of the topics Cowherd questioned Michaels about was his knowledge and comfort level with the ever-changing NFL rulebook. Long story short, Michaels responded by saying that the rulebook, which is written by lawyers, has way too much confusing language in it. He went on to add that most of the rulebook is so convoluted that you can read it multiple times and still not be sure, for example, what constitutes a catch.
So, what can the conversation between Cowherd and Michaels about the NFL rulebook teach admissions recruiters? Keep reading because I’m about to tell you.
Not enough college admissions departments appreciate the need for using the right language in their recruiting communications to teenage prospects. I’ve reviewed letters that use the same small font, wording and letterhead from 20 years ago. I’ve reviewed emails from counselors that bounce from subject to subject without any kind of connection. Yep, stuff like this is happening all across the country, all the time.
This should be a strong warning to all college admissions departments and force some serious reflection on how their individual letters, emails, social media posts, and even the questions their counselors ask recruits on the phone are constructed. Oh, and if your school has an admissions marketing team, that doesn’t get you off the hook. Winning teams constantly collaborate, evaluate, and aren’t afraid to make changes.
Today I want to help you make sure that your recruiting communications are clear, effective and successful. Here are 6 tips:
- Understand your audience. If you want to appeal to your current group of recruits, which aren’t one in the same, I encourage you to “put yourself in their shoes.” Understanding your audience helps you to determine how you should arrange your information and what kind of details will be important for a specific segment of your group. It also influences the tone of the text.
- Less is always better. The worst thing you can do, especially with new inquiries, is try and explain everything about your college or university in those early letters, emails, and even during a phone call…if you want a response that is. The tendency for many of us when we write and speak is to use not only more words but as many big words as possible. Our research with your students clearly shows that today’s teenagers are most apt to respond out of curiosity instead of information. When you’re trying to explain something, less really is more. Again, use short, logical, fact-based repetitive messages where you leave room for their curiosity to take over. That’s a winning strategy.
- Word choices matter. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to revise your letters and emails to ensure your prospects read them, it’s all about word choices. While many of you might immediately add more descriptive adjectives ex. “We’ve got a really beautiful new student union!” I’m going to recommend a different approach: Verbs. Verbs are action, while adjectives are descriptive. Action beats description every time in the minds of your prospects. Verbs also give your prospects a positive feeling and do a much better job of giving them clear ideas as to why they should want to be a part of your school’s student body.
- Tone matters. When we have a face-to-face conversation with someone we use the other person’s body language, tone and facial expressions to assess how he or she feels. Letters and emails don’t allow for such a determination, and that means we can’t tell when the other person misunderstands something. In addition to your word choices, which I just covered, both punctuation and capitalization matter. As an example, exclamation points can be used to express excitement. They can also easily be misinterpreted. Ask yourself, “Is there a chance that your message could be misunderstood without visual cues?”
- One topic per paragraph. Limiting paragraphs to one idea or topic is essential for clarity. When you do the opposite, it’s not only confusing but, also in many cases, downright overwhelming to your prospects (and their parents).
- Be clear about what you want them to do next. First, narrow it down to just one thing. Make it simple like “can you send me an email and tell me how this sounds,” versus complicated and rambling. When you ask for a laundry list, you’re complicating things. The rambling email is often unstructured and unclear as to what the sender is really after. In the early and middle stages of the recruitment process your goal should be to get and keep a back-and-forth conversation going, and let the relationship (and their interest) build from there.
Every admissions team wants a competitive edge when it comes to building relationships with their prospects. The best place to start? Well, you can have us help create your letters and emails of course. However, if you were going to tackle that project in-house, I’d recommend a full review of your recruiting communications. You can make small changes today that can lead to big results this spring.
Tudor Collegiate Strategies works with admissions departments big and small, at public and private institutions around the country. We give them research-based strategies and custom designed recruiting communications that gets results. Want to know more? Just send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org