You can put away the countdown clock and stop checking your deposit portal every fifteen minutes. ‘National College Decision Day’ has come and gone.
If you haven’t taken a deep breath and exhaled yet, please do it at some point today. Your numbers are what they are right now. Take a few minutes to reflect before diving back in.
I hope you and your colleagues hit your May 1 goal. Regardless of whether the answer is yes or no, we both know that the reality is the work with this group of students isn’t done until the first day of classes this fall.
When it comes to students that you missed out on, there are typically many reasons why. I’ll get into some of those here in a minute…and not offering the best financial aid package is rarely the sole cause. If you read my newsletter each week or you’ve had me on campus to work with your admissions team, you know that our ongoing research reveals one solid fact that every college admission and enrollment professional should be aware of when it comes to developing a recruitment strategy: Your prospects are trusting their feelings as they make their decision about your school.
That’s 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 during that all-important campus visit. How are you and your colleagues capturing their emotions and creating emotional connections between that student 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.
Not proving that your school is the emotional choice that “feels” right to them remains one of the bigger reasons why a student decides to enroll elsewhere. Here are eight other possibilities that you need to consider:
- You’re not asking the right kinds of questions throughout the process. I’ll say it again because this bears repeating. If you’re just sitting back convinced that prospective students will ask you questions when they have them because you’ve told them something like, “I’m here to help, call or email me if you have any questions,” you’re going to be disappointed 99 times out of 100. Your prospects are nervous or in many cases scared to have a conversation with you, especially in the early stages of their college search process, because they don’t know you. If you want that to change, then start asking more effective questions. If you need help developing a list of questions, then email me…every admissions office in the country should have a list of effective questions to ask at various stages of the recruitment process. And that list should be updated constantly. The better the questions, the greater chance you have of connecting with your prospect and understanding their mindset.
- You didn’t answer “why” or “how” during the campus visit and/or admitted student day. A lot of colleges do a great job of showcasing what their school offers during the campus visit or admitted student day event. Where they fall short is they fail to tie it all together for a specific prospect. Just saying your school is a strong community that has professors who care and people that will help prepare them for life after college isn’t enough anymore. You need to explain why what you’re talking about or what you’re showing a particular student matters to them. And you need to explain how specific things are different at your school compared to your competition. When you answer “why” and “how”, it allows your prospect to visualize which is a key ingredient in creating those all-important feelings.
- Your admissions team and campus visit staff aren’t aligned together. There’s been a lot of discussion over the past few years about admissions offices needing to be aligned with both financial aid and marketing. Let me add one more group to that equation – your campus visit staff, specifically your tour guides. Do they understand their role in student recruitment and just how important it is? Are they being given the information they need about visiting students and families that allows them to make connections and help the admissions counselors keep the process moving forward?
- Your recruitment communications only inform when they need to inform AND engage. This is a conversation that I’ve been having a lot lately with VPEM’s, admission directors, and people that work in marketing and communications on college campuses. You need to have a serious discussion about every single student recruitment communication your school sends and ask what the goal of each is. Informing and storytelling is important, but it’s only part of an effective recruitment strategy. You should want to know what each person receiving that email, letter, or postcard from your school thinks about the information in it. When you’re on a phone call with a student or parent, how much real engagement are you creating? Creating engagement and accumulating information allows you to develop the best strategy to recruit them (and get the student to visit campus, apply, etc). It also gives your admissions team a better understanding of each student’s interest level in your school.
- Your recruitment communications slow down or have gaps at various stages of the process (ex. after a student gets admitted). Consistency is vital for a number of different reasons. Consistency gives your prospect and their parents a predictable flow of information. Prospective students take your consistency to mean that your school is more serious about them. Consistency prompts a response. And consistency builds trust and loyalty, which are two things that many students tell us factor into their final decisions when they find themselves struggling to differentiate between multiple colleges.
- Your admission counselors and staff don’t demonstrate more passion than your competitors. I consider passion to be one of the most underrated tools in student recruitment. If you want to know why, click here to read that article. Your prospects are using emotion to make their decision, and we’ve seen plenty of cases where the admissions counselor who shows more passion and emotion connects the best with that student. A passionate counselor takes the time to understand the wants and needs of everyone involved in the decision-making process. Doing this creates a more enjoyable experience and generates excitement and other feelings that today’s student relies on to make their final decision. And passion isn’t a budget related item that a competitor has more of (unless you let them).
- You didn’t engage the parents enough (or at all). They remain the biggest outside influencer according to all of our ongoing research with students. That means if you don’t communicate consistently with them you leave open the possibility of unanswered questions or objections. And by doing that you significantly decrease your school’s chances of securing their child’s commitment. You need to make the time to craft messaging specifically for parents, and you need to ask them the right kind of questions about their child’s decision-making process.
- You don’t understand how to “close the deal.” It’s rarely a one-time conversation. You have to build to this point. You have to keep asking the right questions. You have to keep gauging the prospect’s interest. You have to seek out and effectively handle objections. And you have to get those “little yeses” I’ve talked about before. No matter how good of a position you think you’re in with a student, you should never just sit back and wait. Colleges that are increasing their enrollment understand that it’s about creating and cultivating a relationship with their prospect and those around them. If you do that consistently in such a way that creates engagement and trust, you’ll know when it’s time to ask for their commitment because it’s the next logical step in the process.
If you weren’t happy with your May 1 results, or even if you were for that matter, you need to take inventory of yourself and the processes in place in your office. Don’t wait until later this summer when you hope to do staff training because now’s not “an ideal time.” I can tell from experience that there’s never an ideal time to discuss change. Start the process now so you can begin executing the solution well in advance of the next recruiting cycle, which we both know has already started in many cases.
And if you do need help with training this summer for your admissions team or your campus visit staff, I’m happy to partner with you in that process. Here’s more information about how I can help.