Here’s someone who seems to understand college-bound teens, respects them, treats them like adults and assumes nothing when it comes to their understanding of the often bewildering process of choosing an undergraduate institution.
Catherine Sloan is a former enrollment officer at Washington State University who now works for student-coaching company InsideTrack. She offers one of the better collections of best-practice tips for engaging — and eventually recruiting — traditional-age students.
“The key to turning prospective students into enrolled students is to form early and meaningful connections,” she writes, “and to let them know you have their best outcomes in mind.” Here are some of her 13 suggestions:
Leverage a student’s own momentum. When students engage with you, make sure that next steps are easily available so they can “strike while the iron is hot,” says Sloan. “Everyone knows that an object in motion stays in motion; the same is true for 17- and 18-year old students.”
Early applicants are special; make them feel it. “The very fact that they applied early suggests they are proactive, organized and motivated,” Sloan writes. “Too often such students hear crickets until February; meanwhile, their once-warm feelings may cool and motivation may wane.”
Understand that students really are busy. Even the most responsible student will occasionally ignore a phone call, neglect to respond to your email or put off filing their FAFSA. “They also have enough people nagging and judging them, so the best kind of outreach is proactive, positive and nonjudgmental.” Sloan calls this approach being “decidedly non-parental.”
Strong customer service — starting immediately. “When students reach out for information and are unable to get clear answers, feel passed around or get lost in an automated phone system, not only do their needs in that moment often go unmet, but they are dissuaded from reaching out for support again in the future,” Sloan warns.
Treat them like adults. This means respect students the same way you would a busy, working professional, refrain from judgment, and respond to their requests and needs the way you would those of a colleague. “When a university takes the lead in modeling an attitude of respect, responsive communication and trust, students are more likely to reciprocate.”
Assume nothing. Sloan has noticed that even the children of highly educated parents may not understand the basics of higher education. So listen for clues that reveal potential gaps in understanding — such as the difference between an associate and bachelor’s degree. “Don’t let anything surprise you, and without any judgment, provide a clear and relevant explanation.”
A lot of her tips may seem nothing more than common sense, Sloan concedes, but she’s been around enough to know how easy it can be to forget or overlook them. And she has seen that the students notice.
Read more about our authors. Ray Ulmer, public relations director at TargetX, has been involved in higher education marketing for more than 25 years, including serving as executive director of communications at La Salle University and director of public relations at Drexel University. He has also worked in corporate marketing and advertising.