Saturday, March 16, 2013

How to Recruit Prospective College Students

Having just returned from taking my daughter Carolyn to visit six colleges this week, and having gone through eighteen official visits with my two older children so far, I fancy myself something of an expert on the subject.  In case you are interested in opening up your own university and trying to recruit students, here is the tried and true formula that is endorsed by every school we have seen:

First, you need a recent graduate of your school, preferably in his or her mid-20s, who cannot get a real job and so has hung around the old alma mater as an assistant admissions counselor, which means he or she reads a few thousand essays of 18-year-olds who want to come to this school and also that he or she gives the one-hour presentation about your school.  This assistant counselor should be good-looking but should make an obvious attempt to be just a little bit nerdy in order to appear academic - a sweater and glasses are required, and some other dweeby touch (like maybe a checked shirt with a striped tie) will complete the look.  One terribly corny joke is required.

Once you have this assistant admissions counselor picked out, you need to teach him/her the script:  "Here at ______ U, we are happy to welcome you and are glad you are taking the time to visit.  Let me say at the outset that if you are looking for a place that is just like all the others, then _________ U is not for you.  We are unique.  For example, we actually value undergraduate research, and we have set aside millions of dollars that is just waiting for you if you come to school here.  Our run-of-the-mill undergraduates have, in the last year or so, discovered the cure for fibromyalgia, redesigned Pringles cans, and developed prosthetic limbs for amphibians.  We know that our campus is where you will want to spend all your time, so naturally 100% of our students study abroad for a semester.  While we only have a few classes with over 300 students in them, we promise that every professor will know your name by the third minute of class.  Our campus is not too big but not too small, and it is located in the perfect rural/urban/suburban town/city, not too far from the action but not too close to distractions.  All our students were in the top 3% of their high school class, but we do not really think your high school grades are an important part of the admissions process.  Similarly, we do not overvalue standardized tests, and all of our students just happen to have made a 2300 on the SAT.  97% of our students are on need-blind, merit-based scholarships, but make sure to fill out the FAFSA and all financial aid information just in case."

Next, after this admissions counselor has finished, you next need very attractive and articulate undergraduates to lead campus tours.  There should be nothing remotely nerdy about these students, who should emit health and love for ___________ U in every breath.  Their script is also easy to learn:  "I love it here at __________ U.  I have to spend about 5 hours studying for every ten minutes in class, and that of course leaves time for my fraternity/sorority, my seven service organizations, my four intramural teams, the religious activity of my choice (which of course is completely optional but easily available here at ______ U), and my frequent dinners in the homes of my teachers.  The faculty here at _______ U have really been great to me, emailing me weekly just to check up on my grandmother's health, lending me a puppy when I am lonely, and giving me their spare household appliances.  Greek life at ___________ U is very unusual, since unlike most schools, we delay rush until the second semester and actually have friends who are in other clubs... at least, most people know people who are in other sororities, and I know of two people who spoke to unaffiliated sophomores last year.  We are a very safe campus, but just in case, we have emergency phones every fifteen feet on campus, and our university police force is made up entirely of Navy SEALs.  We offer a ride service on weekend nights for students who are... ahem... too sleepy to get themselves home.  Now, as we tour campus, I think those are academic buildings over there, but let me take you to each of our nineteen dining facilities, our all-you-can-eat Chick Fil-A, all three Starbucks, and our smoothie counter.  Fortunately, we have a great workout center that is larger than the administration building and library put together.  Here at ____________ U, we really focus on our studies."

Make sure that you have dozens of glossy fliers in plastic bags to hand out to the students.  They all say the same thing, so don't worry too much about which ones you give to which students. 

After so many meetings, I am glad my kids have such clear decisions to make.

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