Over the past 25 years, I’ve been a prospective college student, a student, a young alum, a not-so-young alum, a donor, the daughter-in-law of a university faculty member, and the wife of a college staff member. My professional life has also revolved primarily around higher education, including enrollment marketing, for the past seven years or so. I think it’s safe to say that I’m fairly immersed in higher education. Every single day I spend at least some of my time thinking about how colleges and universities can get their messages out to the world.
I’ve become accustomed to thinking about higher ed communications from a professional point of view. I think about key audiences, tactics, user experience, and the admissions funnel. My time as a prospective student was a long time ago (longer than I’d like to admit!), and I’ve been doing this job for many more years than I spent browsing college catalogs. I bet the same is true for you as well.
I think it’s important, from time to time, to try to take ourselves out of the mindset of higher ed professionals or consultants and look at a college with wide eyes again. A prospective student isn’t a target audience or a data point in next year’s class profile. He’s a teenager, making a big life decision and leaving home for the first time. She’s chasing a dream, and looking for the perfect place to take the first step. It’s an unforgettable time for any young adult.
We need to remember that each prospect is motivated in a unique way. Each makes decisions based on a very personal set of parameters. We can (and must) make decisions about how to allocate resources, of course. (SEO? New viewbook? Redesigned website?) In making these decisions, we’re anticipating and meeting prospect needs. If we do our jobs very well, we’re meeting needs that exist today and will exist as expectations and technology evolve. But at the end of the day, that teenager is running the show and that’s as it should be.
It brings me a measure of joy to remember that when we work on enrollment marketing, we’re participating in a life-changing moment for these prospective students. When we’re successful, we connect the right student with the right institution and create a relationship that will have a wonderful impact on the future of each. That is a challenge and a privilege, not to be taken for granted.