Five Things to Think About as You Hit the Road This Fall

With fall more or less upon us, it’s time to consider your strategy for recruitment this year. You’ve likely spent some time assessing what you did last year, namely: what worked? What didn’t? You’ve also likely gone through the obvious considerations, the things you must always be mindful of, like: make sure you’re in touch with counselors, schedule appropriate amounts of time, prioritize your visits by the quality of the feeder high school, and so on. But to ensure you’re as prepared as you can be, here are a few new things to think about:

1. The alumni stories you seek are all on LinkedIn.

Students like to see outcomes. Parents love to see outcomes. It’s a great selling tool. Having successful alumni proves the efficacy of your “product”. The problem is, outcomes aren’t always easy to find on campus. So use what professionals use: LinkedIn. LinkedIn can be a great resource to help you identify alumni by industry, fields of study and location. So the next time you’re in front of a family, you can readily describe where graduates from your business program are employed or what history students are doing with their degrees.

2. Mine your data for graduates from the high schools that you’re visiting.

While alumni serve as aspirations for prospects, seeing a long list of fellow [insert high school mascot name here]’s attending your college or university allows those prospects to more easily “see themselves” as being a future [insert your institution’s mascot name here]. When visiting a high school, particularly one that offers an abundance of the type of student you are looking for, be sure to check your data to see how many graduates have or will be attending your institution. Names and stories are best but even a headcount might be enough to give a prospect the right amount of familiarity they are looking for.

3. Think about where you’ll interview prospects.

The right setting can really make a difference in an interview, so make sure you pick a cool spot. And that doesn’t have to mean hip (hep) or trendy. The setting should translate your institutional personality. So don’t just choose a Starbucks (they’re just utility). Find a local spot that matches the tone you’d like to set. Check Yelp. Better yet, call the alumni office to see if you can secure an impressive boardroom of a nearby alum. Get creative, but show that you’re in control of the setting.

4. Do your homework.

One satisfying quality I hear from great recruiters who build great classes is the use of “my student” in reference to prospects during the process. This phrase indicates a personal investment in the students they wish to attend their institution. You’ll want to be surgical in your preparation—pull the files of the students that you’ll be meeting with, and get into the details. Use your available intelligence (CRM, modeling, etc.) to inform how you counsel. If these meeting are with inquiries, know what you need to know before going to the meeting. Be creative if you don’t have a full profile for individuals. What can be discerned from the region or the high school? What can you learn that paints a picture of the mindset of the student?  Your preparation should give you enough intuition about what the student wants or needs (or doesn’t want or need).

5. Sales, counseling and getting to “no” early.

The aim of this preparation (toeing thin ice here) is to enable you to move effortlessly from “counseling” to “selling”. One common attribute of enrollment teams that aren’t achieving their goals isn’t that they aren’t counseling or serving students and families well, it’s that they fail to connect the service of counseling to the experience they’re charged with selling. In higher ed, we hold sales at arms length because we perceive that the activities are in conflict. They aren’t. They are embedded within each other.

The conversion points within the recruitment process are varied and we’ve discussed them elsewhere in this blog. There’s a sense that when we utter the word “closing” we mean getting a deposit. But there’s one early conversion that is either overlooked or willfully ignored: getting a prospect to say “no,” or, you deciding to end the conversation early. Expert sales consultant Blair Enns puts it this way in his piece The Tao of No:

“An early no is always preferable to a late no. As soon as we uncover an opportunity, our job, as counterintuitive as it may seem, is to try to kill it. If there is a reason why an engagement might not make sense we want to find it early, before either party over-invests.”

Get to “no” sooner so that you can invest your energy in finding more yeses.

Assuming you’ve done the necessary work on your end, if you find that even your best laid plans for recruitment still aren’t helping you achieve the goals you desire for your institution, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Outside expertise may be the thing you need to reinvigorate your enrollment efforts. We’ve had the pleasure of working with more than 125 colleges and universities in our 26-year history, and we’ve seen firsthand the benefits of a third-party perspective when it comes to fine tuning an institution’s recruitment.

So as you prepare to hit the road this year, think on these five ideas. Some of this might be intuitive for you, but if you aren’t careful, you run the risk of overlooking the basics, or at least taking them for granted. Your competition will certainly be mindful of their approach to recruitment, so don’t skip out on the due diligence necessary for ensuring recruitment of the best class possible.



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Sam Waterson

Sam is President at RHB.