Fit, fit, fit: if your student doesn’t have it, they’re not going to stay. And, like a single dissatisfied dog can send a whole neighborhood howling, there’s a chance that unhappy transfer-out or stop-out students will bring along other ambivalent souls.
“Every admissions officer needs to look at every contact/touch with a student as a touch with a future graduate,” said Julia Ross, a professional tutor and admissions coach based in Virginia.
Based on her experience working with high school students seeking college admission, Ross has a number of recommendations for improving admission and retention rates -- all of which revolve around the central premise that students stay where they feel they belong.
1. Know your institution inside out. Like a server at a fine dining restaurant, your admissions staff should know not only what region the butter is from, but also the color of the cow that gave the milk. That is, admissions officers need to understand what makes your institution unique. They need to understand the culture, assets, and resources at the school as well as anyone. And, Ross notes, a robust training and vetting program for student tour guides is also a huge plus. One sour tour guide can spoil a whole lot of potential recruits.
2. Know your target market. Once your institutional brand is crystal clear [link], discover what kinds of students are seeking those particular qualities, and find a way to communicate that message to them. For example, a more highly rated school might draw students based on reputation, even though your institution actually has more diverse course offerings in a particular, less well-known field. That fact may be a hook for a subset of students who are looking for you and just don’t know it yet.
“A lot of colleges have more ‘fit’ than they realize,” Ross said. It’s a matter of mythbusting and re-messaging.
3. Don’t oversell. An unhappy student is a former student, and it’s two or three times as expensive to bring in transfer students than to retain students in the first place, Ross said.
“If you have an applicant that doesn’t match you, yet you recruit them to fill your quota, you’re going to lose that student,” Ross said. “Almost 60 percent of students leave the college where they start -- whether they drop or transfer -- and that number is even higher for African American and Hispanic populations.”
4. Invite contact. Many people -- even college-educated parents -- hesitate to contact institutions. Make it easy and welcoming. Encourage visits, demystify tuition (share merit and scholarship information), and get parents involved. As much as possible, get professors involved too.
Ross will share these and many more insights from her work with college-preparing students and admissions offices across the country in her engaging session at AACRAO SEM 2019 in Dallas. Learn more and register now.