It’s Decision Time for 1,000,000 College-Bound Seniors – How Can Schools Win?

It’s Decision Time for 1,000,000 College-Bound Seniors – How Can Schools Win?

Before May 1st, an estimated one million high school seniors will reach the end of their “College Decision Journey” and will make their final college decision.

Here’s how I reached that figure. There are about 3.2 million high school seniors in the US, and about 60% of them enroll in a four year college, netting to almost 2 million.  Since over half of this group have already decided and enrolled, a reasonable estimate is that another half, approximately one million, are still undecided and will decide before May 1st.  And, even if the student is on a ‘wait list,’ the family will need to make a deposit to hold a place, since the student’s chances are only one in five to make it off a wait list according to the Wall Street Journal.

By now, these seniors have found out which colleges accepted them. These young adults have attended their Accepted Student Days, classes and overnights and have (hopefully!) gathered much of the information they need to make this important decision.

Even though the decision is ultimately the student’s, Mom continues to play an active role in her child’s college choice, right up through the final decision-making period.

She actively consults with her child on their thoughts and the reasoning behind their decision, serving as a sounding board. She also helps evaluate the financial impact of the choices

Mom is proactive in planning and funding visits to the colleges for Accepted Student Days. She will also want to visit the campuses being considered and to attend parent programming. And, once she is on campus, her focus will be more specific now that her child is admitted, for example, residential life takes on a greater emphasis, as we’ll see below:

Mom’s role as a decision and a purchaser influencer for her young adult’s life is common, as I mentioned in a previous article, “The Missing Market: Moms of Older Children Matter:”

“Our research found that for certain topics, mom’s influence remains strong even in the young adult years of 18-29 and that today's young adults are in frequent contact with their moms on a wide range of topics.” 

Purdue has an effective marketing strategy for reaching out to parents—especially moms.  Teri Lucie Thompson, Chief Marketing Officer of Purdue, and co-author of “Tuning into Mom” recognized the need to allocate more marketing resources and messages to parents.  The parent e-newsletter has open rates of 50% and has increased its distribution by 94%.  Of the 1300 fans of the Purdue Parents and Families Facebook page, 80% are female. The Facebook page provides engaging, up-to-date content and gives Mom a convenient outlet to learn and ask questions. Here’s an example of how two moms choose to interact with Purdue:

Franklin & Marshall college provides a stream of direct mail communication to both the senior and to his or her parents, including a letter from a parent of a sophomore focusing on how well they have adjusted and are enjoying the F&M experience.  At Franklin & Marshall’s Admitted Student Day on April 20th, parents who attended were invited to a “Franklin & Marshall Parent Experience” break out session, while their student was invited to the “Franklin & Marshall Student Experience.”   The rest of the day included focus on meeting professors, the college house residential system, a tour of downtown Lancaster and research opportunities. All of these activities were designed to address parent and student questions about life at F&M.

Here are three other suggestions I have for colleges to win with accepted students:

  1. Financial Aid.  While this is an obvious focus for parents and students, there is room for creative thinking. Academic scholarships can help sway a student and his family towards a particular school, even if the dollar amount isn’t very high. Offering an academic scholarship sends the message that a college really wants a student, and that can be motivational.
  2. Residential Life. Mom wants to know how her child will adjust to campus living. Some colleges, like Franklin & Marshall, offer “College House” systems instead of dorms, and this system can differentiate a college. What's involved: all students are assigned to a lifelong college house (this gives an immediate community), students elect leaders in the house who organize and hold social events, a faculty member who spends significant time in the house, focusing on integrating academic and residential life and RAs who live with the freshmen and reinforce rules, adjudicate roommate issues and answer everyday questions.
  3. Social Groups beyond Residential, including Greek Life and others. Colleges shouldn’t be surprised that the social experience is important to Mom, just as it is the student. Different colleges have different approaches, such at allowing freshmen to pledge or not, and colleges need to clearly explain and emphasize how their Greek life and other social groups operate for freshmen and beyond. This is to address Mom’s (and student’s) concerns about how their whole experience will be socially beyond the more structured freshman experience

Along with Purdue and Franklin & Marshall, I’d love to hear how other colleges are working to win Mom and her high school senior. Leave a comment or send me an email.

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    Michal Clements

    Michal is co-author of Tuning Into Mom and an experienced consultant. Michal develops winning growth strategies and detailed go to market plans for some of the world’s outstanding organizations including McDonald’s, Gatorade, Abbott, Barilla, Tylenol, Clorox, Key Bank, Eagle Ottawa, Quaker and the Baker Demonstration School.

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