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Today’s students don’t just search for schools. They shop for them, and most shoppers probably wouldn’t make a purchase based on the advice of an “admissions counselor”.

What these students need are sales associates. In order to meet the demands of prospective students, admissions teams must adopt the same skills as salespeople who close deals over the phone and online. If your admissions team can’t close, a great deal of your marketing efforts could go to waste.

In today’s episode, we’ll cover:

  • How the role of admissions staff has changed as of late
  • What to look for when hiring for admissions
  • Preparing your staff for a vastly different selling process

This week, I spoke to Jennifer Blair, Enrollment Specialist for Hack Reactor at Galvanize. With over 20 years of experience in the higher ed enrollment space, Jennifer knows what can make or break an admissions team. She believes that enrollment issues can often be attributed to admissions teams not having the resources or training to handle their newly extensive responsibilities. Before developing sales strategies, admissions teams must examine a number of data points to better understand the task in front of them.

Are Your Prospects Receiving The Attention They Deserve?

To determine if an admissions team is undersized or inefficient, consider what goes into the total conversion process. How many points of touch does the average prospective student need before sending an application? How many hours of work does the staff member usually have to put in to make this happen? Once you have those numbers down, you can examine the number of applications per staff member and number of new students per staff member.

Jennifer says that admissions teams frequently make the mistake of thinking that once an accepted student sends their first deposit, the student no longer requires any more outreach or information. But admissions officers must now be involved in the entire student lifecycle to prevent the student from re-thinking their decision or transferring later on. Prospective students are also more likely to convert when they only have to speak to one person throughout the enrollment process, Jennifer added.

The New Standards For Enrollment Officers

Since the job of enrollment officers has gotten so much harder, the hiring process should be more rigorous. To determine if a candidate is the right fit, Jennifer suggests looking for five paramount qualities that she calls her “Fast Five.” At the very top is autonomy: Has candidate exhibited the ability to make decisions on their own and conquer adversity? Have they studied abroad, volunteered, interned, etc.? Next is communication, both written and verbal. Enrollment officers must be able to evoke kindness and compassion through all forms of communication.

Maintaining an air of comfort is especially difficult when approaching sensitive topics, like financial aid. If an enrollment officer
has personal experience with financial struggles (quality number 3), prospective students in a similar situation will feel a connection to the school. Number four is competitive drive, or the candidate’s experience with sports, music, and other competitive endeavors. By far the most important quality, however, is number five: Does the enrollment officer truly believe in the school’s mission? Jennifer says prospective students can spot a lack of authenticity a mile away, so enrollment officers must speak from the heart.

How To Teach Enrollment Officers To Sell

“You play like you practice” reflects Jennifer’s view on training admissions staff. Telling new staff members to read a script and role play with each other won’t prepare them for conversations with today’s students. Instead, they must hone on their ability to tailor their pitches to each student’s individual characteristics. After all, people tend to like people who are much like themselves. Enrollment officers must therefore take their time building a rapport with each student, which typically starts with asking personal questions, rather than just telling the student about their school.

Since it’s often difficult for enrollment officers to critique themselves, Jennifer recommends placing a mirror on their desks so they can see how they look when they speak to prospective students. Like an expert salesperson, enrollment officers must ensure that they are always selling, not telling. A great way to see if they are doing is recording themselves, Jennifer says, and paying close attention to their first impression.

Marketing Isn’t Just Up To The Marketing Team

In the world of sales, the aforementioned skills are viewed as “common sense.” But not to enrollment officers, who are essentially doing a completely different job than what they’re used to. If schools want to grow their enrollments, they must accept that their marketing team is not the only department that needs to evolve. This overarching goal will remain out of reach until all of its components are in sync.

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