The 3 Myths Every Admissions Director Believes

For prospective college students, there are plenty of myths about the college admissions process—about what extracurriculars they should put on their applications, what they should write in their essays, and the best ways they should apply for financial aid. But prospective students aren’t the only ones struggling to separate fact from fiction. Admissions directors themselves are also falling victim to the tall tales of the higher education admissions process.

It’s no secret that higher ed enrollment has been declining steadily for over five years, causing colleges around the nation to compete against each other for the top students. This has put a burden on admissions directors, who are responsible for doing everything they can to make prospects want to go to college students working at tabletheir school. However, some “solutions” are actually doing nothing to help schools recoup their lost numbers. From what kinds of marketing lead to the most matriculation to what kinds of technology will recruit the best students, myths are abound in the world of higher ed admissions.

There are plenty of articles helping prospective students wade through the myths and fables of the college admissions process, but very little is out there to assist the actual directors themselves. To help, we’ve taken the time to highlight three myths facing college admissions directors today. 

Myth #1 – Episodic Marketing Campaigns Materialize into More Matriculation

If your institution’s enrollment is coming up short, your first reaction may be to dive into the latest marketing trends, even if that means dumping a considerable amount of money and time into these new strategies for an immediate impact.

But an immediate impact is just that. These strategies result in short-term fixes for a problem that requires a long-term solution. The decline in college enrollment is something that happened so gradually, many schools didn’t even notice it until it was too late. The causes of the decline are varied—from shifting high school graduation rates to rising tuition price tags to a changing labor market. The myriad of causes are complex and a fix as simple as an episodic marketing strategy is simply not enough.

Like a film, episodic marketing campaigns rely on a beginning, a middle, and an end. However, this alienates a large group of audience members who, to keep with the analogy, may have tuned into the feature film late. You want a marketing strategy that catches your audience by surprise every time they hear your school’s name.

This involves using outlets as varied as the audiences you are trying to attract. Consider both social media and traditional media. Utilize both print materials and digital collateral. These methods do not have to be pricey, either. An expensive price tag doesn’t promise impressive results.

Myth #2 – New Technology Can Replace Human Interactions

This next myth is hard for even us to come to terms with. As developers of automated inbound marketing for higher education technology, we would like to think that technology can solve every school’s enrollment andempty desk chairs engagement issues, but we know that’s not true. What facts and stats you see in an enrollment database can never measure up to what you learn about a prospect when you get together for a meeting or sit down for an interview.

Colleges are turning to new technologies every single year in the hopes of using these latest advancements to increase enrollment. In 2016, about 80 public and private colleges started using an online planning portal that lets high schoolers freely upload papers, projects, and videos in an effort to start college planning and admissions conversations earlier. 

This new technology made college planning accessible for all, so it certainly isn’t worthless. The issues arise when colleges start to use technology alone as an admissions tool. A human element becomes lost behind the digital curtain of avatars, dashboards, and profiles. Instead, it’s better to merge the powers of both technology and human interaction.

For example, in the case of the college planning portal, admissions counselors would do best to read through a student’s work and then schedule a call, a Skype session, or a face-to-face interview in order to go over the papers and projects more thoroughly to get a sense of why students chose to cover a certain topic, where they think they could have improved, and more.

Myth #3 – A College or University Can Overcome Its Negative Public Perception by Simply Ignoring It

Whether a college or university is big or small, they all have a public perception they are trying to shake, whether that perception is about its student body, the quality of its education, or the campus environment. For example, many private colleges are oftentimes accused of not being diverse enough in terms of race or class.

While a lack of diversity is not an easy thing to address, some colleges ignore it altogether. Instead, they release marketing collateral showing a diverse group of students studying in the library or eating in the cafeteria. While these publications and pamphlets are the school’s way of saying “We have a diverse student body, despite everything the public says,” they actually create a false misrepresentation of the school, promising one thing and delivering another.

There is nothing worse than not getting what you were promised. It’s happened to everyone. After ordering a meal in a restaurant or after ordering a product from a website, we’ve all gotten something we hadn’t expected, something we weren’t promised, and something that we wished we would have never spent our money on.

The same happens in higher ed when marketing materials print one thing, but the campus delivers another. Unlike diners or shoppers, however, students who find that they’ve been deceived won’t simply leave a bad review on Yelp or Amazon. They’ll drop out of your school altogether.

College retention rates in the United States are extremely low. Over one-third of college students transfer from the school at which they initially applied. Wrong expectations created by marketing campaigns are probably one of the reasons this statistic has reached the height it has. This exodus creates a large gap in the student body, one that admissions directors must fill, therefore putting themselves right back where they started: empty classrooms, vacant dorms, and unoccupied stadiums with no prospects to fill them.  

Instead, it’s important for colleges to simply address the issues they are having. If your campus isn’t diverse, don’t try to lie and say it is. Instead, simply be open and honest. Acknowledging a problem and coming to terms with the public’s perception of you is the first step toward making a positive change. For example, NYU students addressed the campus’s lack of diversity in a 2011 blog post and its College of Nursing released a statement expressing its commitment to diversity in 2016. Ivy League Cornell University has an entire section of its website about understanding and advocating for campus diversity.

student walking through libraryWhile NYU and Cornell are open, the alternative that other schools may choose—hiding the truth—can have damaging effects. Several years ago, George Washington University was caught in a major admissions lie. For years, the school had falsely reported on the high school grades of its incoming students. They said that nearly 80% of incoming freshmen had been in their high school’s top 10 percent in order to get a boost in the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges list. A better ranking on the list leads to more interest in the school and creates a public perception of the school as a prestigious institution where only the top students attend. However, the school was falsely promoting something it wasn’t and when it was caught in the lie, it was dropped from the Best Colleges report altogether.

Ignoring the problems you have, or even worse, lying about them, will do more harm than good. In business, transparency is key when it comes to growth and improvement. The same can be said for higher ed.

Finding the Facts through the Fiction  

The myths above will never give you the solutions you need to boost your enrollment. It’s up to you to discover your audience, gauge the sentiment of your current students, and put what you learn to use. We understand that only a few paragraphs ago we told you that new technology isn’t an effective marketing strategy. And it’s not. But it can help, which is why we created ReachBright.

With its sentiment tracking, its automated tagging, and its customizable communications, ReachBright has the ability to see what your prospects are interested in. It will help you define your audience so that you’re not relying on expensive campaigns and ineffective new technology. It will help you discover what others really think of your school so that you can address their perceptions. We know that the software won’t magically help your school recoup the enrollment numbers it may have lost in recent years. That will take work. ReachBright’s goal is to just make that work a little easier.