By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
The past seven days feel like a blur, don’t they?
Since the middle of last week, I’ve been emailing, texting, tweeting, and talking back and forth with clients and other college admissions leaders about the coronavirus and how to manage their team and their recruitment communications during this new temporary normal.
That’s what we’re going to talk about in today’s article. I’m going to offer suggestions, strategies, and ideas on effectively managing your recruitment communications as well as some quick thoughts about working from home during this time period.
Let me start with this. Remember you’re dealing with prospective students, parents, and families who are just as sad, mad, scared, and/or frustrated as you are. What they need most from you as a college admissions/enrollment professional right now is what they’ve always needed – someone who can humanize, personalize, be authentic, be transparent, and try to help alleviate some fear and stress. Those five things are critical to any effective communications strategy regardless of the group of students you’re targeting or the medium of communication you’re utilizing.
It’s okay to not have all the answers, but remind them that you’re here to listen and that step-by-step you’ll walk them through what comes next. They’re paying attention to how colleges are reacting and responding during this crisis.
Here are a handful of recommendations (and a few reminders) that will help you adjust and manage your recruitment communications strategy in the current landscape:
- Get comfortable with scheduling more phone calls and video calls (Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc.).
- Be prepared, or prepare your team if you’re in a position of leadership, to answer common questions you’ll be asked (i.e. event and scholarship day alternatives, changes to any deadlines, timelines, and what happens to a financial aid package if say parents lose significant income between now and the presumed start of next school year).
- Develop email and texting language to reinforce a student’s admissions counselor is still their go to person. Humanize the situation, and be clear about the best way to contact each counselor as well as share any new contact information that may have resulted from working remotely.
- Consider having admissions counselors schedule 1-1 FaceTime and Skype calls with your top undecided, admitted seniors and transfers. Depending on the size of a territory, consider doing the same thing for deposited students. The purpose of those calls with undecided seniors should be to offer reassurance and to update them (as best as you can) on the current situation. Just be there for them right now. Ask them how they’re feeling about this whole situation and what you can do to help as it pertains to their college decision.
- For other groups of seniors, as well as juniors and transfers, create (or continue to send) short, personalized email campaigns specific to each group of students. Using text messaging as a way to alert them to those emails is also a smart strategy. Start by humanizing the situation and explaining what (if anything) has changed as it pertains to students in their position (ex. new apps without a decision, incompletes, and inquiries) and deadlines/timelines. Follow that message up with a consistent stream of personalized, “value add” messaging on various topics and how they make the student experience at your school different and/or better.
- Consider creating an ad hoc email or letter for parents and families that comes from the admissions leadership addressing how your college or university swiftly moved to protect your campus. Share your plan of action, and what you’ve done to protect current students and staff, and how you’re helping current students in particular adjust to this new temporary normal of online learning…all in a human, authentic voice without a push to deposit or apply as the call to action.
- As you adjust your event strategy and expand your virtual event options, follow the same rules that I’ve outlined in the past – build awareness, personalize (different events/conversations for different groups of students) and be authentic (versus forced/scripted). Multiple, shorter, personalized events are better than large, longer events.
- For your virtual events and information sessions, consider using Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and/or YouTube Live. The key will be making anything you do right now authentic, fun, low pressure, and helpful. Come up with a list of topics that can be narrated by a current student, alum, counselor, or faculty/staff member. These should be short (anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes) and might include some interactive audience Q&A afterwards. Topics could include making your college decision, living on campus, campus life, adjusting to being a college freshman or transfer, your location, community, academic environment, financial aid, resources on campus, and clubs and orgs. Again, whatever you choose to discuss, educate them, take away some of that fear of the unknown, and make it fun and easy to digest. You could even start a YouTube series (new playlist) and market it as something you’ll be doing one or more times each week.
- Consider creating or utilizing current Facebook groups for admitted and deposited seniors with the goal of using it as a way to connect with other students like them. In addition to having you and your staff reassure them, this allows them to connect and reassure each other. Same thing (different group) for parents and families.
- There’s also value in having current students record something about a specific topic on their cell phones and then sharing it on both an institutional social platform and their personal social platform if they’re willing. Connecting them to your campus community is extremely vital right now!
- As a leader, over communicate with your team during this time and get them to focus on this as an opportunity and not an inconvenience. A positive, forward-thinking mindset is imperative. I also want to encourage you to engage your staff. They may have additional ideas and creative approaches.
And now a few tips for working from home, which is something I’ve done for the past five years:
- Your mindset is extremely important. Find purpose in what you do daily, and enjoy the small wins.
- Be prepared to constantly adjust. You don’t have to settle in and have it all figured out on the first day or even in the first week. If you live with a significant other who’s also working home now, communicate expectations with that person every day. And if you have elementary or middle school children who are off from school, expect the occasional scream or loud noise during a phone call. Just laugh and apologize.
- Do your best to eliminate or minimize distractions. That means setting up a defined space to work from, even if that’s the dining room table. Don’t work from the couch or your bedroom. Without this, a lot of people find themselves doing a mix of work and chores, and/or taking extra-long breaks, midday naps, and binge watching tv shows.
- Write down your daily schedule and have a goal of consistently maintaining regular working hours. Plan out what you’ll be working on ahead of time, and make sure to include mental and/or physical breaks. For me, when I’m not traveling, I do my best to consistently break up most days in the office with a quick workout at the gym. If your gym is now temporarily closed (like mine is), consider a short walk or run outside.
- Along with that, create a new routine based on your new working environment (but be flexible). Test things out and figure out what allows you to be the most productive. As an example, some people have no problem wearing shorts or pajama pants and staying on task, while others need to dress for the office to maintain focus. Do what works for you. And if you need ideas, connect with others who are in the same boat, or just Google some.
- Drinks lots of water and don’t overindulge on the snacks because they’re more accessible.
- If you’re in a position of leadership, find new ways to keep your team connected and engaged. Loneliness and disconnect can be huge problems in remote work life.
Hope you’re hanging in there! If there’s something I might be able to help with, I’m here for you, so reach out and connect via email, text, or social media.
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