A Conversational Approach to Your Academic Offerings

Photo by John Smith

Prospective students have questions about college. Lots of them. And they want to know all sorts of great and wonderful things about your institution. But they aren’t likely to come right out and ask you.

Research from Ruffalo Noel Levitz shows that most prospective students are hesitant to ask anyone from your admissions team a question about college. While, on average, 70% of high school juniors find answers to their college questions by looking online, only 7% will call your admissions office, and even less ( 3.5% ) will ask their high school counselor.

To mitigate this reticence, institutions invest time and resources into developing beautiful, eye-catching websites that end up being chock-full of what is essentially static information, in the hopes that any question a student might have can be readily answered by visiting that institution’s .edu page. (Or, worst-case scenario, the student can find a contact page or info@ email address to send their bevy of queries.)

This information is static because a student can only receive it. They can’t interact with it, or play with it, or shake it to see what falls out. In a perfect world, a prospect would seek out information by contacting someone from your admissions team to have a nice, long chat about everything your institution can offer them. In return, your institution would learn a great deal about the prospect, too.

It’s clear that, when it comes to communicating about your institution, this kind of two-way conversation with a prospect is certainly the preferred method of gathering and exchanging information, because the interaction is much more dynamic. However, when a prospective student visits your website, it’s very likely that they are a lone wolf, operating without anyone to guide them or provide input, resolved to clicking through links and reading whatever is available, while leaving very little information behind.

As students are researching your institution via your website, the types of questions they have will vary greatly in topic and scope — and the types of answers you can offer will vary just as much. Some questions can be answered simply and easily. (Where are you located? Who’s your mascot?). Some questions take more time or require more information. (How much do you cost? Am I likely to be accepted into your institution?).

But there is a particular question — and it is perhaps one of the most pressing questions a prospective student will ask — that falls somewhere in the middle: Do you have my major?

On the surface, this is a yes-or-no question:

  • Do you offer engineering as a major? Yes.
  • Do you offer nursing as a major? No.
  • Do you offer business as a major? Yes.
  • Do you offer basket weaving as a major? No.

But this actually requires more than a simple one-word reply. This make-or-break question begs a series of follow-ups. To give the most accurate response, you would likely want to know:

  • Why is the student interested in that major?
  • What does the student want to do for a career or post-graduation?
  • Is that major actually the right fit for them?

And much more.

Considering the fact that students will search your website for answers to their questions, the fact that, “Do you have my major?” is one of their top 3 questions and the fact that the best way to answer such a question is through dynamic interaction, it’s important for you to assess the manner in which your academic offerings are presented on your site.

Engage Students With Your Academic Offering Information

Don’t just give students basic facts and quick answers. In spite of the beautiful photography or tantalizing pull quotes you may have decorating your site, if your content comes across as dull or didactic, students may not see what your institution is truly offering them — pathways toward opportunities, experiences and, most importantly, careers or graduate school. Whatever you have, whatever you’re providing, make sure you’re presenting it in a way that gives students ideas, inspiration and insight. Do so in a way where, in lieu of an actual dialogue with someone from your admissions team, a student can feel like they are engaging in a conversation, opposed to a one-sided information download. This is relatively simple to achieve. You can do this through leading prompts on a search query (i.e., “What are you interested in?” “What would you like to study?”). Have multiple student profiles or testimonials on your abstract pages that prospects can explore (even better if these profiles are presented as student journeys). Have video content where professors or other faculty talk about a particular major and answer common questions that a student might have.

And don’t forget, a two-way conversation is the ideal, a consideration RHB took into account when developing The Major Key (you can learn more about The Major Key and the inspiration for it’s development in this article). One of the benefits of The Major Key system is that, while a student is learning about an institution’s academic offerings, the institution can learn about the student. The system’s built-in analytics tracks student search behavior and organizes the data, so when students are telling the institution what they want, the institution can actually “hear” them (or more accurately, “see” them, via the data visualizer that The Major Key provides).

For students who have questions about going to college, about your institution or about your academic offerings, nothing beats an actual conversation. But if they aren’t able to engage in a dialogue with your institution on the phone or face-to-face, make sure you provide them an alternate form of interaction that will leave them enlightened by your information, not inundated by it.


This post previously appeared on rhb.com.

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