How is YOUR summer vacation?

Summer is a bizarre time for admissions offices. While many members of the campus community are away and others are conducting or taking condensed summer courses, admissions offices are often at their busiest. Those that work with or run orientation have those programs throughout the season, and transfer and non degree applications at many schools remain busy up until the time classes start for the fall semester – but all of those efforts deal with students entering institutions in the upcoming fall.

The majority of our attention at this point is focused on future students. Most of us are deep in the midst of recruiting the Fall 2010 entering class, many are already communicating with prospective Fall 2011 students, and a few are even reaching out to those expected to enroll in 2012 or later. This leads to a slew of planning activities – designing and re-designing publications (paper and electronic), mailings (again, paper and electronic), deciding event dates and travel schedules for fall high school visits and college fairs, and of course buying names. In case you missed it, your name is for sale. For those of you who took the SAT or ACT (or early variations) and checked the little box (which said something like, “Check here to get really amazing information on scholarships and colleges,” but which should say, “Check here to flood your email with messages from colleges and universities.”), we can buy your name from the College Board or ACT. Some of you may have filled out one of the many surveys in schools or online, or signed up for something, or maybe your parents filled out a form about sixteen years ago when they were buying you diapers – in any of those cases, we can buy your name. I’m NOT suggesting that this is a bad thing. To the contrary, I think one of the best ways to find out about all the many many (many many) options available to you is to have your name in all those prospective student databases so you are more likely to hear from a wider variety of schools. All those names, however, create a lot of work for those of us trying to get your attention.

This creates a wonderful cottage industry in getting your attention. Realizing that colleges are unlikely to be able to afford advertising on “The Hills,” or probably even product placement on the show (although that would be SO worth it if I could get one of the cast members to go through the Mason recruitment and admissions process!), a number of companies try to offer vehicles that they claim will get your attention. I can advertise in dozens of magazines, newsletters, and websites where presumably you will go for college admissions information (by way of disclosure, Fastweb is one of those options – and the best one, since they clearly have the best information, but I may be a wee bit biased). As a result, I wade through hours of presentations trying to decide whether Facebook advertising is worth the money or whether placement at the top of a guide to using your school’s student information system would be a better use of our very few dollars.

Of course, there’s a ton of routine business to conduct as well, and many admissions offices have special projects in the summer (like our AMAZING Washington Journalism and Media Conference!). So while you’re lounging by the pool, my colleagues from across the country are very busy trying to figure out how to convince you to pick their school – isn’t it nice to know you’re on their mind? No? Kinda creepy? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Be seeing you.


10 Responses

  1. A preface: I am a recent high school graduate who will be entering college in the fall. I just wanted to say that your blog was invaluable during the frenzied college application period, even if only for helping me keep my head about testing and essays and such. You have so much great information in here, and it is presented in a humorous and accessible way that helps out those floundering in a sea of unclear (and frankly suspect) admissions advice. So, thank you.

    Anyway, on to my comment.

    I actually really liked getting all the mail. It was rather exciting, as I never receive any post otherwise. I think the ones that made the best impression on me were the letters where it seemed like the school had put actual effort into recruiting the student. Like, from one university I received a magazine/pamphlet very tastefully and artistically put together and on very nice paper… and it actually included useful information, which honestly surprised me. Another school that very definitely piqued my interest (until I found out average January temperatures were around 21 degrees) sent me an extremely funny come-to-our-school letter. It advertised things like “150 days of sunlight a year!,” “5216 lbs of student! (That’s more than 2 tons!),” and “Indoor plumbing!,” all with such gusto that the humor was obvious. I know humor is finicky, but that letter absolutely charmed my socks off.

    I admit, I really didn’t care for any other form of recruitment (anything on the internet is immediately under suspicion, and I don’t really read any magazines). It is very nice, however, when the school’s website is a) not atrocious looking and b) organized so that people can find things.

    Of course, now is the time I reveal that I chose a state school that had not reached out to me in the slightest, thereby rendering much of my previous comment invalid. Oh well. *runs away*

  2. Also, I must ask: Is advertising on Facebook really all that successful?

    • You’ve described our frustration beautifully!! Unfortunately for the way your tuition dollars are spent, many admissions offices spend a lot of time and energy figuring out what students “like”, which often has very little to do with what motivates students to select a particular institution.
      We’re still in the early stages of testing Facebook advertising, and advertising on the web is changing rapidly. I suspect, as with most advertising, it will depend on how well the message can be targted to the audience. In other words, a broad ad saying “Mason is great” likely won’t produce much response (however true it might be), but a series of ads that are tailored to your academic and extracurricular interests might have a better chance. Imagine, for instance, that you’re a premed student interested in psychology and you had a facebook ad when you login in noting, “Students from have a chance to study and do research in one of the top three neuroscience programs in the country BEFORE going to graduate or medical school! Check out that incredible opportunity, and thousands of others, at“.

  3. I’m thinking if you send a Mason hoodie to one of stars of the show right after Mason wins something big again, you’ll probably get some awesome product placement…but I may be naiive.

    • not to mention all the D.C. based shows – you’d think we could at least get a consistent mention on NCIS and Bones. At least on the old JAG show one of the lawyers would often mention his Mason law degree!

  4. Good idea southlakesmom after using facebook for awhile you don’t look at the ads much but product placement is always awesome.

    As for mailing advertisments I liked Mason’s more than the other colleges mail mainly because it gave lots of information and reasons to go thier and was more colorful, organized and detailed. Mason also didn’t send too much mail like some colleges where I just “autotrashed” thier mail.

    Orientation was great as well! Your speaches to your admitted students are always good. (Way better than all the information sessions that follow :p) The food is always good. The people are always cool. GO MASON 🙂

  5. We actually just had a big marketing meeting at the training for my job in which all of us high school kids brainstormed our butts off and flooded our marketing guru with a huge amount of ideas about what we like-and even more on what we really, really hate. In the end, our biggest thing was- high school kids are suckers for anything (and I mean absolutely anything) free. Pencils, pens, lanyards, you name- if its free, it will be taken.

    PS- Mason is my #1 choice- even above UVA. Just a little ego booster for you.

    • Awesome. I guess I better get you lanyard!
      It’s funny but if you do focus groups you will find with EVERY group that FREE is good. Sears and Roebock identified that years and years ago in their analysis of reponses to catalog sales – but somehow that is news to many. At the same time, no matter how much free stuff one offers, millenials are a notoriously fickle group. Personally, I don’t think you can buy brand loyalty with giveaways – at the center you just have to have the best product for the best price (like Mason, of course). At the same time, I’ll keep giving away some swag…just in case.

  6. Dean Flagel:
    Do you get a summer vacation? Did you do anything fun?

    • this IS fun!! Whoop!

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