Published on 2015/03/31

Transforming Admissions To Sell the Dream to Today’s Non-Traditional Students

The EvoLLLution | Transforming Admissions To Sell the Dream to Today’s Non-Traditional Students
By focusing on understanding, tracking and meeting customer demands, institutions can drive persistence, success and lifetime engagement with their students.

Simply, admissions owns the process of admitting students into a college or university.  But once you get below the surface, it’s not so simple. While some universities are famous for staving off the majority of applicants, the vast majority of admissions officers at colleges and universities today must do extensive recruiting to get students to apply and attend.

Ultimately, higher education is a non-tangible entity. This is to say that, while admissions is selling a product, it’s hard to nail down quite what that product is. At its core, admittance to the institution, but what else? In reality, admissions sells a dream.  This makes higher education a very different purchase to anything else students buy. In comparison to shopping at a grocery store, or eating at a restaurant, or shopping for clothing or buying a car, admissions is not a tangible thing. All these processes lead to immediate gratification, but what does college offer immediately? Ultimately, higher education offers a dream that can either be pleasant or a nightmare for students, depending on the service of the institution.

Many argue that colleges offer degrees and that’s a tangible outcome. But what good is the degree if the student does not put it to proper use?  Others will argue that college offers a lot of opportunities to network.  But so do a lot of cheaper options that exist in students’ local neighborhoods.  With so many obstacles in the way of getting people to attend school and stay, admissions teams have to think of creative ways to ensure the institution’s destiny.

The best way to do this is by developing the art of dream selling into the admissions process to keep the student motivated until they get their diploma and long after receiving it.

But how do you go about this? Again, it’s not as though we’re selling cars. When someone wants to buy a car, they do a great deal of research ahead of time, go to a car dealership, test drive several different cars and make judgments based on test driving each. Eventually, they drive off the lot with the car that suits them best, and only after an extensive process of qualifying for a loan and signing a lot of paperwork.  Admissions is not this cut and dried.  Potential students can’t try on programs to see if they fit before they decide on one—at least not without wasting money and time in the process.  They can’t test drive the program either. Instead of simply facilitating process of getting in, admissions teams of the future will have to become dream sculptors for students so that they can make the best decisions possible at the beginning of their college careers. This will ensure students stay motivated throughout their academic career and never experience buyer’s remorse, which can make it very difficult for student advisors to encourage students to persist through their program.

Selling a dream begins with actively listening to what a student wants to do and also examining what they have done.  It’s about getting to the heart of a student’s passion and motivating them to make the best decision based on all things they have shared, not just their want to be in a specific program.  As more adult and non-traditional students are making up a larger population at many universities, this makes the task a little easier.  These students are focused on outcomes and on making their education work for them. This will mean that admissions teams will have to be well aware of all the “products” (or programs) their institution offers and learn how to “cross-sell” when necessary.  In retail, you constantly see great salespeople actively involved in the purchasing decision, contributing their opinion and firmly controlling the sale to ensure that it isn’t a whimsical purchase, minimizing buyer remorse and, ultimately, returns.  We can take a note from that in the higher ed industry. If admissions teams are more hands-on with helping the potential student to uncover reasons for attending school and encouraging them to pick the best program option according to their needs, not just their wants, this could create a win for all parties involved and improve retention in the long-term.

What’s more, getting to know students to this degree at the start of the admissions process will create a richer experience for that student throughout their time enrolled, if institutions have the right systems in place. Using a CRM tool, for example, every staff and faculty member at the university will have a way to understand that student’s dream and ensure they are on-track to achieve it.

The notion of selling a dream has yet to be proven as an alternative method to be used in the admissions process but I think it could be really successful for us.  Who wouldn’t fall in love with an admissions team dedicated to offering good advice that leads to success?  If I met a financial advisor that helped me to get my finances organized eventually leading me to great wealth, wouldn’t I recommend that financial advisor to friends and family?  Likewise, if an admissions representative took the time to really discover an incoming student’s passion and directed that student in a path that makes the most sense with their goals, leading to not only graduation but even greater success after graduation, wouldn’t that student refer others to that institution?

In turn, these referrals will not only make that admissions officer look good but the college will also have a better reputation for success.  The future of admissions is incumbent upon thinking outside of the box and if much of the correct decisions can be made at the beginning that will make the student’s dream consistently a pleasant one instead of a nightmare.

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