You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

For those admissions professionals who have been in the field for a while, industry standards such as travel season (visiting high schools and attending college fairs) are viewed as a rite of passage. We all have fond (or not-so-fond) memories of scouring the earth to meet prospective students, collect information and rack up hotel points. We are road warriors, which binds this community together, because we all have stories from the road.

For the veterans in the field, we often lament about the times when high school visits were super busy. Or when college fairs were extremely exhausting. Or when contact cards were so easy to come by because students would fill them out willingly. For those who are still working in admissions and enrollment today, you have seen the shift. High school visits are hit or miss. College fairs can be busy (for top-tier schools or colleges with selective admissions), but also hit or miss for midtier or small private colleges. And contact cards? Forget it. Most offices could do away with this expense.

What’s the change? Are students different than they were in past decades? There is a lot to unpack here. But for the sake of brevity, let’s focus on how the internet and social media have shifted the way in which people shop for colleges. Consider the fact that Google, YouTube, Facebook and Reddit are four of the five top sites with the most traffic. On each of these sites, a lot of information can be gathered. From information directly from universities and colleges to people’s opinions about certain degrees/careers or universities/colleges (e.g., Reddit, YouTube, Facebook, etc.).

If it is true that people spend 4.5 hours, on average, on their phone, then it is very reasonable to accept that people are gathering information about colleges and universities in ways that are more direct. But we all do this? Right? Therefore, most of us will read reviews from other people before making a purchase on Amazon. We live in a society where people want to bypass marketing and advertising because no one wants to be sold something. We are, for the most part, logical and reasonable consumers. Today, the same idea can be applied to people shopping for the place where they will choose to pursue a college degree. Due to the costs of money and time that are required to earn a college degree, students (and their families) have become more logical and reasonable about choosing to enroll in any university or college.

Why is this important? It is important because many admissions or enrollment offices still operate in a way that reflects a pre-internet society. I have been in the field for at least a decade. Attending a college fair in 2022 felt so archaic. Especially given the fact that such activities usually have a low return on investment. We are in a time when most people are connected to the internet all day and every day. We live in a time when artificial intelligence can be used to set up chat bots or marketing strategies to connect people with the right message at the right time based on their website behaviors. Yet admission and enrollment offices insist on spending money to send professionals all over the U.S. (excluding international recruitment) to engage in activities that may or may not be worth it?

The ease with which information is shared today makes me think that universities and colleges are more accessible (in terms of communication and information sharing) than ever before. This reality makes me think a lot about the shift from admissions counselors/recruiters being marketers/salespeople to customer service professionals. I think this is an important discussion to have, because it shifts the way in which we operate. Leveraging technology (e.g., digital marketing, content, client relation management software, websites) along with professionals who can personally connect with people as they go through the college decision process can meet the needs of people as they are working through the process. Such a service is meaningful. But such a service can be lost when offices are trying to manually copy (through high school visits, college fairs, etc.) what is accomplished through technology. Universities and colleges, for the most part, have the tools to spread their message and market their brand.

Using such tools (e.g., websites, email communications, mailers, digital marketing, etc.) usually points prospective students to a variety of calls to action. One being visiting campus. In admissions and enrollment, we know that when a student visits campus, their likelihood of enrolling increases by some number of percentage points. And on the road, this is a directive that any admissions or enrollment representative will give to a prospective student—“Come visit us on campus some time.” This is one of the actions that we hope prospective students take.

In the years that I have served as an admissions counselor or enrollment recruiter, I have seen where colleges and universities can up the ante regarding customer service practices. Practices that ensure that prospective students (or their guardians) reach someone that can assist them with their questions—larger universities are notorious about giving the people the runaround in such a scenario. Practices that make prospective students or their families feel like that any college or university is up-to-date regarding their interactions with the institution through the admissions process (this can be done through tying prospective student–facing offices and services together with a CRM)—small colleges are generally good at doing this.

This is also one of the reasons why artificial intelligence has been gaining steam within higher education. If you have not yet played around with ChatGPT yet, you should. For those who are unfamiliar, ChatGPT is an open chat bot. Such a feature has been successfully used at colleges and universities over the last several years to provide around-the-clock services for prospective and current students who may be up at 2:00 a.m. needing an answer to a question or needing help. There is a lot more potential here regarding the college search process.

With colleges and universities already having customer service–type of operations, with professionals such as admissions counselors and recruiters, there could be a shift where these operations prioritize customer service over sending admissions counselor or recruiters across thousands of miles to engage in activities replicated through other means that are more of the 21st century.

I realize skeptics of this kind of thinking will point out that traveling brings colleges and universities to people who may not otherwise have access to such information. To that point, I point to the fact that follow-through from such interactions is generally low on behalf of the prospective students. I have met many people in this work through college fairs, for example. And despite best efforts (e.g., being engaging and personal while tabling a fair or following up promptly after the event), the return on investment of time and resources to attend these events is generally low. Skeptics will also point out a correlation between visibility in high schools and enrollment. And this is potentially a valid point. However, with most high schools having college and career-readiness counselors, most colleges and universities have some sort of visibility. Am I saying to abandon such a partnership with high schools? No. I do believe in targeted visits to try to guard against showing up to a high school to not meet with any students—which happens. And, of course, targeted visits are somewhat difficult given that number of variables at play vying for students’ and counselors’ attention. I have concluded that there is not really a best time to visit a high school to meet with students.

But this is how I think about my time serving students—and trying to be intentional. Is it better for me to be on campus to meet with a prospective student as compared to traveling to a high school to maybe meet with students who might be interested? And this is exactly why I feel there should be a change in how admission and enrollment offices should be operating. Too often are admissions and recruiting offices charged to sell as compared to serve. Undoubtedly, their functions will always be tied to promotional efforts. But serving students and families gets lost in the continual chase of numbers—which is understandable.

I am excited to see technology continue to develop and be integrated in how admissions and enrollment offices outreach to prospective students. It seems that if technology becomes savvier and people change the way that they learn about college options, that admission and enrollment offices can adapt to best utilize their time and resources. I think this shift in the industry will yield more personal communication and service for prospective students going through the admissions process.

Next Story

Written By

Found In

More from Views