Admissions officers have been visiting high schools since the last ice age, so it’s no wonder that the whole routine can seem downright dated. Some experts say the time has come to ditch this ritual, or, at least, to reimagine its possibilities.
This past weekend, I heard many thoughts about this subject at the College Board’s Western Regional Forum in San Francisco. During an intriguing session on the evolution of the high-school visit, Andrea Frangi, assistant director of admissions at Seattle University, said that road-running admissions officers must keep more than one presentation in their back pocket.
After all, there isn’t always time for the well-rehearsed 30- to 45-minute group session. Sometimes, admissions reps just get to set up a table in the lunchroom. So, they should know how to give an effective 10-minute talk between classes, how to talk to just one or two students at a time, and how to run more general presentations about applying to college, Ms. Frangi said.
Moreover, in this era of over-polished sameness, specifics can be refreshing. “Make sure your admissions counselors are stating one or two things that are unique about your school,” Ms. Frangi said. (Hint: Touting your college’s small class sizes or super-cool climbing wall doesn’t count.)
Ms. Frangi offered other suggestions for how colleges could enhance recruitment visits. Instead of asking students to fill out inquiry cards, she said, have them enter their information on an iPad (as you might have heard, students are drawn to gadgets). Why tell them about things happening on campus, she asked, when you can pull up content on the college’s Web site right then and there? And, because low-tech outreach matters, too, why not bring young alumni along to talk to students?
Megan Diefenbach, a college counselor at Holy Names Academy, in Seattle, urged admissions reps to present “regionally specific” data and anecdotes to prospective applicants. She praised an admissions officer from a Texas college who had come with a handout listing the top five reasons students in the Northwest had chosen to attend the institution.
Above all, experts agreed that admissions reps must recognize that building relationships with counselors is crucial. A recent survey of 600 students at Holy Names found that 72 percent of students learned about visits through their counselor, in one way or another; just 15 percent said they learned about visits through college-generated outreach.
All the more reason that colleges should make sure their contact lists are up to date. Ms. Diefenbach said her office often receives college mailings directed to people who haven’t worked there in years. That can’t be effective marketing, can it?