Our daughter is in the final stages of her college search and selection process.
She has participated in virtual events, on campus events, Zoom calls, email exchanges, and other communications with a number of colleges and universities. As she is narrowing her list, our family is now visiting a few of these wonderful institutions for “admitted student events.” Each of these schools are producing the kinds of educational and co-educational experiences she is seeking. But, some of these institutions are missing opportunities when it comes to showcasing fully their distinctiveness.
Throughout this search process, all of the institutions to which she applied have used their events, their materials, their communications to tell her (and us) about what makes them special and distinctive. They have sent her printed pieces full of stats and pictures of fresh-faced undergrads highlighting innovative projects with professors and other interesting experiences of their students. Their events have featured presentations from admissions officers, current student panels, student-led tours, etc.
Some institutions, though, have found ways to communicate more personally with our daughter. They have made it a point to put our daughter in smaller, less formalized settings, with current students, with professors, with admissions officers, with study-abroad professionals, with co-curricular leaders, etc. And, in these moments, the focus of the communication flow is not about them telling her but, rather, about them asking her.
During these occasions, they have started by asking simple yet captivating questions like, “tell me about you. . .” and “what are you interested in?” and, “what experiences are you wanting to have over the next 4 years?” And, then, they frame their programs, activities, and opportunities based on her responses.
Most all of the institutions our daughter is considering offer similar programs, use similar language to describe themselves, and have similar statistics around students, cost, outcomes, and rankings. Objectively, they aren’t that distinctive from one another. They all serve similar students and do similar things in similar ways.
But, if you were to ask my daughter which institutions stand out to her or which she finds most distinctive, she can easily list her top choices.
Interestingly, the same institutions that have consistently asked about her, her interests, and her aspirations – and let her know they have listened – are the ones at the top of her list.
Our daughter’s college search process has been a real and important reminder for me about how our approach to advancement work – both in admissions and development – matters.
People won’t become more interested in our institutions because we tell our story better. People will become more interested in our institutions because we ask about and listen to their stories better.