By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Around this time each year I get asked by admissions counselors and leaders what the best yield strategy is. I would argue there are a number of different things that you can do at various stages to increase your chances of getting a student to deposit or commit.
One of those things is storytelling. Everyone on your campus has a story, and everything can be a story. Facts tell, stories sell.
Storytelling is powerful for a number of reasons. Stories help people to visualize, and they’re a key ingredient to achieving emotional engagement, which is a critical component in any decision-making process.
Telling a story can also help to alleviate different fears, including fear of the unknown. Plus, it’s not a budget item and you don’t need to have a certain number of years of experience to use it effectively.
There’s one more reason why storytelling is your best yield strategy that I’ll get to in just a minute.
The problem I continue to see when I lead various staff training workshops, is that most admissions counselors are relying solely on their own personal story or stories. The thing is, not every one of those works in every situation.
One of biggest things prospective students at all stages struggle with during their college search is the ability to differentiate between colleges and universities who sound and look the same. As an example, if your school is one of a handful of small private colleges on a student’s list, each college is talking about small class sizes, professors who care, a welcoming community, traditions, experiential learning, study abroad, clubs and organizations, etc. How are those students supposed to figure out why those things at your school help to create a better student experience than at school B or C?
The answer is storytelling. When done effectively it will help you differentiate the various parts of your college’s student experience.
Let me give you two examples of storytelling that schools we’ve partnered with have executed successfully with admitted students. The first one was used with students who were struggling to understand why they should pay more.
One particular counselor who is an alum of the school was in a similar situation during her college search and ultimately chose to pay more. She talks with her admitted students and families about how the process of taking out loans worked for her, how much debt she graduated with, how much she’s currently paying back each month, how long it will take her to pay off her loans, and most of all, she communicates what made her student experience amazing and how she isn’t struggling to survive post-graduation.
By sharing her own personal story she’s able to help connect the dots for students and families who are wondering how the whole process works, and if taking out additional loans is manageable, and/or if paying more for college is worth the investment. That kind of storytelling can be extremely powerful and helpful.
Here’s another example. If you’re promoting an admitted student day event and you’re trying to increase numbers, consider this strategy. Instead of sending out multiple generic emails, texts, and postcards, track down one of your freshman students who came to one of those ASD’s last year and have them share how doing so helped them make their college decision.
Take that quote and craft a short, personalized email. Explain that you understand most admitted students struggle to figure out how they’re going to make their college decision, and that like this freshman, many end up relying on the feel of campus and the feelings they had during interactions with various students, staff, etc. Add in that you thought sharing this freshman’s story might help them understand why coming (or coming back) to campus for this event would be worthwhile.
A key to executing any storytelling strategy is your ability to connect the dots for the other person. They need to be able to relate to what you’re sharing with them.
Now let me expand a little on a problem I alluded to earlier – having just your own personal story. If you’re looking for additional stories to tell, the best source is your current students. Other sources include your school’s faculty, staff, and alumni.
My challenge to you is go and seek out more stories. Set aside specific time in your schedule to do this every single week. That can include sending emails, having phone calls, and meeting up on campus with current students. Ask them to share their experiences – both the good and the challenges.
One final point – I want you to be strategic about the stories you’re trying to gather. Think about the different groups of students you’re working in your territory, and the different situations and objections you run into. If, for example, you have a large population of first-generation students, try and talk with other first-gens who are current students at your school and went through something similar. Or, if you’re trying to help parents overcome the “too far from home” objection, talk about the different resources that are in place for new students, and tell the story of how you (or even a colleague) helped other parents overcome that exact same concern.
When you effectively tell stories it will create a connection that makes it easier for the other person to take action.
It’s a proven fact that most young people are more receptive to stories than they are to data or hard facts. It’s why just rattling off a bunch of numbers and general facts about your school is rarely what seals the deal and gets them to deposit. Those things don’t help your students to empathize and visualize. Stories do.
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