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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 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 their school. However, some “solutions” are actually doing nothing to help schools recoup their lost numbers. From what kinds of marketing leads to the most matriculation to what kinds of technology will recruit the best students, myths are abound in the world of higher education 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. There are plenty more out there, but the following three are the biggest currently impacting college admissions and may actually be causing the deep decline in enrollment to drop even more.  

Myth #1 – Episodic Marketing Campaigns Materialize into More Matriculation

If your institution’s enrollment is coming up short compared to your competitors, 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 plan and solution. The decline in college enrollment was 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 in to the feature film halfway through. Instead, you want a marketing strategy that catches your audience by surprise every time they hear your school’s name, a campaign that keeps your institution frequently in their minds.

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, especially if the marketing campaign you’re paying for isn’t even targeting the right audiences. Get to know who your audience is first, before ever trying to embark upon any campaign strategy. If you don’t, you’ll find that nothing you try will have any effect.

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 and engagement issues, but we know that’s not true. We know that technology is no substitute for human interactions. 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, sit down for an interview, or even meet for an informal lunch.

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, videos, and more in an effort to start college planning and admissions conversations earlier. The planning portal would become students’ digital portfolios to use during the application process.

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

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 and get a sense of why students chose to cover a certain topic, what they felt their strong points were, where they think they could have improved, and more.

Another way you can merge both technical and human interactions is through online live chats with prospects and applicants. While some schools are using group chats with students to target students of different majors or interests, one-on-one chats are much better at establishing a personal connection.

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, private or public, 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 as a whole. 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, walking to the dorms, 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 your were promised and what you paid for. It’s happened to everyone. After ordering a meal from a menu in a restaurant or after ordering a product from a website online, 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 hard-earned money on.

The same happens in higher ed when marketing admissions 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 a 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 that 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 towards making a positive change. For example, in terms of diversity, NYU students addressed the campus’s issue 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.

While 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 they were caught in the lie, they were dropped from the Best Colleges report altogether. Instead of inflating their numbers, the school should have been honest all along and released a strategy on how it wants to improve the preparedness of its incoming students.

Ignoring the problems you have, or even worse, lying about them, will do more harm when it comes to enrollment than good. As we said in our blog posts for businesses, 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.

Filed Under: Enrollment Management

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