By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
As your admissions team navigates through college fairs and high school visits, I’m sure everyone has been accumulating plenty of new names to add to your database. Once those leads are inputted, now what? How are you going to get those students excited enough to visit campus or start filling out your application?
That early impression, specifically the first one you make with name buys or new inquiries, or the initial follow-up you have with new students after a college fair or school visit, is something you don’t get a second chance to make. How are you going to build excitement or build on the excitement you’ve generated and begin creating those feelings that convince students to take the next step in the process with your school?
Our ongoing focus group research continues to show that students are looking to see who contacts them consistently early in their college search process. And, just to be clear, I’m not talking about sending a bunch of marketing materials to them over those first few weeks. I’m talking about personalized, helpful, and easy to digest communications that clearly show them they’re important and that you understand this process is about them. In their minds, this is a strong indicator of just how serious you and your school are about them.
Here are some ideas that I urge you to consider if you want to make all those new names count:
- Deliver that first communication right away. There needs to be a clear strategy in place as to how those new names will make their way into your CRM quickly, even when you’re on the road. If that’s something you’re struggling with, or if the strategy in your office isn’t clear, I encourage you to talk to your supervisor immediately. Sending a prospective student that first communication in a timely fashion is extremely important. I’ve previously discussed who the first contact piece should come from and what kind of communication that first one should be. If you missed that article or you need a quick refresher, click this link.
- Limit the selling. This one isn’t a new idea, but rather a reminder. Take it easy on all of the info, numbers, and statistics about your school. Our research shows that most students aren’t interested in being “sold” on your school right away. In fact, you can’t realistically do that in a first email, letter, or phone call, so don’t try. The goal of your first contact or two should be to get the student to engage with you, to find out as much as possible about the students’ wants and needs, and to learn how they see themselves going through the college search process.
- Tell them what you like about them (be specific). It might surprise you, but this is one of the top things that prospective students want to know right away. It’s also something that your competition probably isn’t doing, so you’ll stand out. Why do you think your school is a good fit for them? How will your school help them transition smoothly both academically and socially? And how can your school help prepare them for success after graduation? Those are some of the questions that you need to answer early on.
- Plan to stay consistent. Make sure you’re communicating foundational, logical facts every six to nine days through a variety of communication methods. That’s what our ongoing focus group research says most students want in terms of frequency. Our research also indicates that when a prospective student sees ongoing, regular contact from you, not only do they engage with the messaging on a more regular basis, but they also make the judgment that your school has a greater interest in them and values them more.
- Address that other 4-letter F word. I would argue that fear drives just about every decision that students make during their college search. One of their biggest fears is making the wrong decision…there are others. I want you to create a discussion around this topic and then help them come up with a plan to alleviate their fear. Do that, and you’ll win their trust and in turn gain a major advantage on your competition who doesn’t believe this topic is important or doesn’t know how to address it.
- Come up with a list of better questions. Knowing that prospective students are nervous or in many cases scared to have a conversation with you, especially early on, the kinds of questions you ask are extremely important. Questions like “What are you looking for in a college?” are fine, but they’re also probably going to get you a vanilla, untrue answer much of the time. Instead, ask them to walk you through how they’re going to make their college decision, or ask them what are two or three must-haves that they need to see in their future college. The better the questions, the greater chance you have of connecting with your prospect, understanding their mindset, and ultimately coming up with a strategy to successfully recruit them.
- Create curiosity. We frequently remind our clients about the importance of crafting emails or ending a phone call with unanswered questions, especially early in the process. You want to create curiosity and prompt them to want more interaction from you…something that makes them want to go to the next step in their communication with you. (Hint: Creating curiosity is done by giving less information, not more).
- Start a conversation with their parents immediately. Establish early contact with the parents, and through consistent communication, work to establish that same emotional connection with them. Make it clear that your goal is to help make this entire process easier for their family. If you do, what you’ll find is they’re happy to provide you with useful information, and more importantly, they will look at you as the person that respects their opinion and input and is treating them as a valued partner.
As I said earlier, communication with new prospects and inquiries (and parents) should result in one thing at the start of the recruiting process – a response. I want you to do everything you can during the early stages to create an environment where students feel comfortable enough to communicate back and forth with you.
If you’d like to talk about this article further, or if feel like you’re off to a slow start with this next class, I’m happy to help. Reply back and let’s start a conversation.