College Recruiting from the Teen Perspective (Part One)

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend the 16th annual Stamats Integrated Marketing Conference in Chicago. Over the three-day conference, I sat in on both round table discussions and presentations led by higher education professionals. Surprisingly the event that resonated the most, wasn’t done by a professional, but by recent high school students. I’m referring to the Stamats TeensTALK, a panel discussion with 19 college-bound students who would be attending four-year private, public, and community colleges next year.

By providing these students with such a forum, they were able to give us an authentic look into the college admissions process. As moderator Eric Sickler put it, “there’s nothing better than to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.” Their responses highlighted certain themes that should considered when next thinking of how to recruit a student. Below, I have pointed out such themes.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The college search timeline was different for each of the students. One student indicated that she began looking during her freshman year when she would incorporate campus visits in with her family road trips. For others, they began “looking” during their freshman/sophomore year, but didn’t start “hunting” for schools until their junior year. Overall, the search process did not become a serious consideration of theirs until their junior year when testing began.

When applying to schools, students applied to a mix of school types. Only a few of the students decided to either apply to only four-year private or four-year public schools. When asked about who considered applying to only community colleges, the panel unanimously responded no. Students begin looking at colleges and considering their choices at various points in their life for various reasons. Standardizing the recruitment process is not the key as every prospective student is unique and on their own timetable.

Personalize It.

All the students seemed to agree that enjoyed receiving personalized items during the admissions process. The effort you put into contacting students from the start can make or break whether they decide to apply or enroll at your school. And you know what, it’s that simple. One student remembered attending a college fair and meeting a recruiter who sent her a hand written letter. Another student received a Christmas card from Drake University wishing her a happy holiday. Taking the extra effort to personalize an email, letter, card, or other item makes every bit of difference to a prospective student.

Who Plays a Role?

According to the students on the panel, tour guides play an important role in the decision making process. If a guide truly knows the school and is able to describe what makes that campus special, you’ve got a student’s attention. Outside of tours, information sessions where students are able to meet with the deans of their school are a large selling point for prospective students. The ability to meet with current students and ask questions during these sessions matter more than you might think. Each student is looking for answers and sometimes the only person who can provide those candid opinions are those who relate most to them – currently enrolled students.

When it comes to college recruiting, you must remember that the student is an individual, not just a number in your pool of applicants. Schools that made the cut were those that made students feel special throughout the whole admissions process. Next time you interact with a prospective student, reflect back when you were an admit.

If you were not able to attend the conference, I highly recommend you watch the recorded session done by Higher Ed Live. Make sure to read Part Two of our TeensTALK recap.