Field Notes: 4 recruitment ideas from high school counselors

April 26, 2019
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • Admissions and Recruitment
  • Communication
  • Competencies
  • Event Management
  • Meetings, Workshops, and Trainings
  • Student Recruitment
  • field notes

"Field Notes" is an occasional Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at

by Becky Tankersley, MEd, Communications Manager, Strategy and Enrollment Planning, Georgia Institute of Technology

When it comes to marketing your institution, it’s not only what you know, but who you know that matters. One of the most valuable allies we have are our friends on "the other side of the desk:” the high school counselor community. These educators serve as a valuable asset to bridge the gap between college admission counselors and high school students.

During the 2019 AACRAO Annual Meeting, we were fortunate to have four high school counselors volunteer their time to share their insights on what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to how colleges recruit high school students. This group of counselors included a public high school counselor, an independent educational consultant, and two private school counselors, all located in the greater Los Angeles area.

During the panel discussion, the audience was given a chance to ask these professionals firsthand about our recruitment efforts. Four overarching themes emerged from these questions, and they provide valuable insight into how we can effectively recruit the class of 2020 and beyond.

Prioritize the high school visit. While traditional college fairs can serve a purpose, counselors overwhelmingly preferred high school visits as a way to have meaningful conversations with students. Not only does a high school visit provide more time for students to learn about your school and programs, it also allows the school counselor to learn about your school as well. If you’re trying to break into a new market, there may only be a small number of students who sign up to speak with you. However, even if no one signs up, take the opportunity to talk to the high school counselor about what makes your school stand out. As the counselor learns more about your institution and programs, they can begin identifying students they believe could be a good fit for what your school offers.

Share a story, not statistics. To make the most of the high school visit, come prepared with stories about your current students and educational outcomes. Counselors confirmed that the majority of viewbooks and brochures they receive look the same, and students aren’t interested in simply reading statistics. Instead, they want to hear success stories of your current students, describing benefits such as internships, study abroad opportunities, and job placements. (Tip: if possible, identify a graduate from that particular high school that attends your institution, and share what they’re doing now). Students identify with stories—come prepared to share your institution’s story!

Make it personal. Students start receiving mail from colleges as early as 10th grade. How can we, as recruiters, make our materials stand out in the mailbox, or inbox? Personalization! In today’s economy, consumers have grown accustomed to personalized attention, whether it’s their first name on a mailer or an email tailored to a specific interest. If you meet a student who shows interest in a particular program of study, do more than send a generic “nice to meet you” message. Take the opportunity to connect them with the program they’re interested in, giving the student the chance to take the next step into the enrollment funnel.

First impressions count. Campus tours (and tour guides) make a difference! Counselors noted that after their students make campus visits, they often remember the tour guide’s name first, rather than the name of the school itself. The campus visit proves time and time again to be a deal breaker (or maker!) in the decision process for high school students. Be sure to invest time and training into your tour guide team so they can put their best foot forward when it comes time to step on campus.

As the May 1 National Deposit deadline approaches, we eagerly await the completion of another recruitment cycle and prepare to welcome the Class of 2019 to campus. The summer months offer a brief respite from yield season, but they also offer an opportunity to refresh our marketing practices and prepare to recruit next year’s class. Utilizing the best practices listed above to connect with students, and counselors, will help your office start the next recruitment season off on the right foot.