Time to Rethink College Communications

My son Will, now a freshman in college, was in the cross-hairs of every Admissions Director from Claremont, California to Waterville, Maine.  After he took the PSATs, he received a virtual avalanche of college recruiting communications including viewbooks, brochures, fact-sheets, emails, postcards, letters.

In many ways, he was a dream prospect for colleges.  He was in the top 10% of his class and scored high on standardized tests.  He also played sports and was active in school clubs.  He’s a smart, self-directed kid who will thrive in college and his family can afford to pay full price.

Naturally, he was excited about college and wanted to make the right choice.

He had a problem, though, and his problem is your problem.

After looking at the first few emails and brochures that came to him, he trashed 99% of them.

Will received over 800 viewbooks, search pieces, and postcards and over 3,600 emails from colleges! He has looked at precisely 4 of these. Colleges spent millions of dollars with absolutely no increase in interest.

The first time I saw Will “sorting” his mail over our recycling bin, I asked him why he didn’t read what colleges sent.

“They’re all the same,” he said. “‘Our school this’ and ‘our school that.’ Everything looks perfect, nothing looks or sounds real. And there’s way too much to read.”

And this sentiment comes from a kid who likes to read books!

“I have enough reading to do every night, mom. I don’t need another homework assignment.”

I took a look at the materials and agreed, he was right. They all felt the same. Good looking kids, stately buildings and lots of blah, blah, blah.  When I went up to his room and asked what he wanted from schools, I got an earful.

7 Key Takeaways for Recruitment Communications

Here are 7 key takeaways for colleges and universities about how to make recruitment communications more appealing to Gen Z:

  1. “Show me what real students are like—better yet, let them do the talking.”
  2. “I want to look not read. Send me videos, pictures. I’ll read the headlines, but not much else; don’t bother with all that text.”
  3. “If you want to send me stuff in the mail, make it look and feel different. Put it in a box. Make it bigger. Have things fold out, or slide open.”
  4. “Laptops are for homework. Everything I care about comes through my phone. Send me a text. Have your website work like an app.”
  5. “Let me connect with real students through Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.”
  6. “I like video games, so design a game where I play and learn about your school.”
  7. “Virtual Reality is cool. But don’t take me on a boring campus tour—I want to see where kids are hanging out, catch an interesting class, and go to games.”

Institutions need to think very carefully about how they are investing their communications budgets.  If dream students like Will are ignoring 99% of what you send, is the avalanche of brochures, viewbooks, etc., really the most effective way to inspire their interest?

Seeing the consequences played out every day, with my own child, drove the importance of asking this question home like nothing else could.

Want to be in the 1% Will gets excited about? Take what Will says seriously. Schools that speak to Gen Z on their terms are making their enrollment numbers.

Learn More

You can find more insights and ideas to use at your school at EdwardsCo…

Posted on March 25, 2018 in Creative Execution, Higher Education, Ideas and insights, Recruiting

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