It’s September and college open house season is upon us. Recruiters and admissions counselors have become road warriors attending numerous college fairs to meet as many prospective students as possible, while enrollment operations directors hold their breath as new admissions systems and processes go live in time for application season.

On the receiving end of the college recruitment experience are the prospective students and parents whose electronic and print mailboxes are filling to capacity with college recruitment communications, all vying for placement on the consideration short list. The white knuckling begins in anticipation of what is likely to be an arduous college decision process.

Fortunately, this process is getting easier thanks to financial aid tools and calculators, scores of college planning web sites, and the U.S. Department of Education’s new College Scorecard – all aimed at helping prospective students narrow the field of options to find the right match.  

At Hobsons, we help institutions make purposeful connections with students throughout the decision lifecycle. Connections are made “purposeful” when schools communicate relevant, authentic, and meaningful information to the right audience at the appropriate time. This isn’t a new concept. But do colleges have a clear picture of what it means? Are they executing on it?

To take a quick measure of student and parent perceptions of outbound college communications, we posted an open-ended question on College Confidential, asking what they like and dislike about how colleges communicate with them. We collected the responses and ranked the most frequently mentioned among them.

What they like: 

What they’d like to see more of:

What they DON'T like:

Here are three key takeaways for admissions offices to keep in mind when communicating with prospective students: 

1. Be authentic. Students know marketing jargon when they see it. Value statements that repeat themselves from school to school, with the claims all made by the president or the dean, are not as credible as when voiced from an actual student. Allow your brand ambassadors to tell your story – think alums, current students, and employers. 

2. Be personal. No one wants to feel like a number, especially not the Generation Z set. Good personalization efforts are achieved through: 

  • Being strategic about the channels and messages you use. (Seattle University has one of the best examples of personalization in college communications I’ve seen recently.)
  • Effective branding and design that enable your institution to stand out.
  • Live interactions with staff, faculty, and current students. How are prospective students remembering their campus visits, phone calls, and chat sessions with your institution?  

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment with sending branded “fun flare” to select segments of your population. This is a stressful time for students. Even the smallest diversion from process and to-dos will be remembered, (not to mention photographed and shared)!  

3. Be inviting. Many schools tell us that if they can get prospective students to visit campus, they are much more likely to enroll. Students want to engage and experience campus life. Let them know about opportunities where they can connect directly with your institution – whether through an online chat session with a current student or faculty member, an open house, family visit, or program-specific information session. And don’t forget that informing students about important scholarship or financial aid deadlines is a relevant and meaningful communication opportunity.

Today’s students are savvy consumers who expect institutions to deliver an engaging customer experience. Schools that are purposeful and authentic in their communications deliver on those expectations, and are best positioned to win the attention and enrollment preferences of their target audiences.

Learn more about how Hobsons can you help you optimize your institution’s communications with prospective students.


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