7 Steps for Effectively Engaging Families in the College Search Process
by Kim Reid, Eduventures Principal Analyst at Encoura & Brittany Leiva, Communications Director at Encoura | Mar 14, 2023
Engaging the families of your prospective students is a crucial component of supporting them through their college searches. When asked, only 3% of parents/guardians reported having little involvement in their students’ postsecondary education planning. However, while parents/guardians and students are committed to searching for colleges together and can agree on many essential points, they also have important differences that drive their decision-making. As a result, it is essential that you separate your communications and resources between family members to best serve each group the information and support they most desire.
Follow these 7 steps to set up a winning family engagement strategy that gives students and parents/guardians the information they each want on the channels they need:
- Focus parent/guardian content on topics that matter most to them: return on investment (ROI), career preparation, financial aid, reputation of programs, and health/safety. While students have more diverse Mindsets, Prospective Parent Mindsets reveal a strong emphasis on career pathways in the college search. When weighing in on their students’ final college choices, parents/guardians care most about the cost and reputation of your institution. Since students have also needed information about financial aid, career prep, and more, repurpose any student materials you already have about these topics for parent messaging.
- Engage parents/guardians as early as possible. By ninth grade, nearly half of students’ parents/guardians aren’t only exploring colleges, but actively considering where their students may end up applying. Many even begin as early as 7th grade! Don’t wait until your prospective students have already applied or visited campus to start connecting with their families.
- Create parent/guardian-specific “request for information” forms and web pages on your website to be able to send targeted outreach rather than having to reach them through their students
- Personalize the parent/guardian experience on campus with parent/guardian-specific information or separate tracks for parents/guardians and students during tours and events (including virtual ones!).
- Send emails directly to parents/guardians with the information that matters most to them (e.g. ROI, career prep, financial aid, safety) while focusing student emails on what their college expectations are. If separate emails aren’t possible for your team yet, add parent/guardian-specific links to students’ emails to direct parents/guardians to their pages of your website while still focusing the email on the student.
- Mail separate college collateral pieces to students and parents/guardians to engage each person. Like with email, if separate mailings are not possible, add a parent/guardian mention on the student piece that tells family members where you have information prepared specifically for them.
- Train your admissions counselors on how to separately engage each family member. Whether they’re connecting in person, on the phone, or by text, counselors should address topics with parents that are top of mind for them while engaging students on subjects that they care most about.
Family engagement is no longer just an option. In order to enroll your best class as an enrollment leader, you must commit the time and resources to thoughtfully producing and delivering information that individually recruits the parents/guardians in tandem with recruiting your prospective students. When each family member is supported, they are set up for success during their family conversations about college to collaboratively choose your institution as the best next step for their students’ educational journey.