Admissions: The Challenges of Connecting With Students

As the flow of information becomes increasingly instantaneous, college admission counselors must consider the best means to contact prospective students. There is not a "one-size fits all" approach. While some colleges have found that texting is a good way to reach students, others are using email or direct mail with good success. The challenge for admissions officers around the country is determining which means of communication will elicit a response, but more importantly, a positive response.

According to a recent survey by University Research Partners, most students noted that texting has replaced voice calling as the most frequently used feature of the mobile phone. Moreover, more than half of participants said they would be willing to receive a text message from colleges if the message includes a deadline reminder, receipt, or response to a specific question.

To Text or Not To Text?
Colleges and universities do struggle with making the decision to text students. Jefferson Blackburn-Smith, vice president for enrollment management at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, noted that his office has begun sending out short text messages in special circumstances.

"We only use text messages to deliver very concise and specific messages, such as reminders of deadlines, or weather alerts," said Blackburn-Smith.

Others, such as Lebanon Valley College, have decided against sending out text messages to students. Jennifer Teisher, assistant director of admissions at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., says admissions officers weigh privacy concerns versus communicating effectively but it's a catch 22. "Many students don't like talking on the phone and they will avoid personal phone calls."

You've Got Mail
For years, email has been a way that admissions offices communicate with prospective students. However, now that is having mixed returns.

Kathleen Greer-Rossman, vice president of enrollment management at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Ala. says that email is much less effective than it used to be although BSC hasn't abandoned this practice.

Despite the drawbacks, Otterbein still considers email correspondence valuable in their communication efforts.

"We are seeing a consistent open rate of 9-12 percent with spikes as high as 20 percent based on the message," Blackburn-Smith said. "In my mind, the biggest drawback of email is that the parents won't see that message. But we've actually seen a movement towards students using their parents' email for the college search process, which I hope, is true and could account for some of the increased open rate. Email is definitely still a viable option."

The Power of the Parents
Regardless of the medium, the key to successful correspondence with prospective students, is keeping parents informed as well. Although an increasing amount of businesses is conducted online, John Chopka, vice president for enrollment management at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., still believes that mailing hard copy information is the best way to get your message across.

"While we would love to implement a more robust electronic communication flow, we find that the only guarantee we have that parents will see the information is if it is sent via good old snail mail," Chopka said. "Most of our key messages are sent to the home so we know students and parents are seeing that information."

Admissions folks from BSC also report that they are putting more financial resources into direct mail as well.

All four schools are also working to improve their presence in social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube so students have another means of retrieving important information where they are already spending time. However, most interaction comes after students initiate the conversation.