Walking the Quads With My Son
Higher ed recruiting tips from a father’s perspective.
I just returned from visiting four campuses with my son, Andrew, a high school junior. In many ways, these campuses had more similarities than differences: they are all private liberal arts colleges within driving distance of Philadelphia. But in other ways, the differences are large and influential.
Our first visit on this trip was to Ursinus College, and the friendliness and knowledge of the admissions staff blew Andrew away. He had a one-on-one interview with an admissions counselor who had obviously read the materials he sent, suggesting to him the possibility of a scholarship named in honor of J.D. Salinger, whose college experience ended after a single semester at Ursinus. Then a one-on-one campus tour designed to meet Andrew’s interests further strengthened his attraction.
The next college visit—the institution shall remain nameless—was a total flop. The attitude at the admissions office—from how we were greeted to the calisthenics necessary to find out how to get on the campus wifi system—suggested that “you’ll be lucky if we admit you” rather than “we’ll be lucky if you choose to come here.” The tour did nothing to change that perception, to the point that Andrew left the tour before its conclusion with no intention of applying.
Day two, we started at Dickinson College, arriving ten minutes late for the tour. But Dickinson was on it. An admissions counselor took Andrew to catch up with the group that had left a few minutes before, while I settled into a comfortable waiting room chair and into a soothing cup of coffee. Again, the responsiveness of the admissions staff was key—they went out of their way to make sure that we had the experience we’d come for—and we were lucky enough to sit in the waiting room for a half hour and talk with unoccupied tour guides after Andrew returned from the tour. And as at Ursinus, the tour guides were willing to talk about their college choice experience, honestly discussing the other colleges they had considered and what had swayed them in making their final choice. They weren’t selling, they were engaging, and taking our questions seriously.
The second college on day two was Gettysburg, which may have drawn the short stick because it was the fourth college tour in two days. They were very friendly and welcoming, and the tour hit all the highlights; but the information session after the tour suffered in comparison to the one-on-ones we’d had at Dickinson and Ursinus. When speaking to a group, it’s hard to individualize your message; and the experience of these two days taught us that it’s all about personalization. Your prospect does not see him or herself as part of a group—each is an individual, wanting an experience directly tailored to individual needs, interests, and desires. The Gettysburg folks overall did well, and Andrew’s interest in history might direct him to the school where minie balls are part of the landscape.
However, in the end it’s about engaging the prospect in a real conversation. Individual attention is what gets you past the liberal arts “category” promise, and wins the consideration you need.