The Two Most Important Lists for a College to Appear On

For private colleges and universities with primarily tuition-driven revenues, no lists are more important to land on than these two: the consideration set of colleges drawn up by high school sophomores and juniors, and the selection set of colleges drawn up by high school seniors. And during this time of year, enrollment managers and admissions counselors are multitasking to communicate with prospective students for two consecutive incoming classes at once in order to make it onto each of those lists.

So what type of messaging helps increase consideration and selection?

First, an institution must focus on its “sweet spot” programs/offerings—those that are both relevant and distinctive. Any signature academic areas or noteworthy strengths that make a college stand out in relation to its competitor institutions must also be things that are highly appreciated by the target audience as providing a path for achieving their goals beyond college.

Next, the institution must demonstrate added value. Only so many colleges have national prestige, but every college should be able to point to indicators of its quality and the successful outcomes its students and graduates experience. Those are elements, along with cost, that prospective students and their families factor into their value equation as they determine a college’s worth and their potential return on investment.

And finally, the messaging must be as clear and consistent as possible. Today’s college-bound students and their influencers have access to multiple sources of information other than the institution itself. As they seek an authentic sense of what the college is like, any efforts toward transparency that the institution can make in its messaging will also speak to the institution’s genuine brand identity.


What can matter more than price? Relevance.

In the most recent Innovation Imperative survey, 79 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds say colleges need to focus on integrating practical experiences such as internships into their education programs.

Advising and mentoring have lasting value

Gallup-Purdue Index polling indicates academic programs that provide “emotional support” are more likely to have alumni who experience workplace engagement and overall well-being later in life.

Translating the language of financial aid

Decoding financial aid-speak—by using plain English instead—can signal a college is approachable, helpful, and transparent. This Chronicle article includes before-and-after examples.


Lawlor Recommends

Colleges and universities are in the midst of an early harvest when it comes to students who are deciding which college to select, while also planting the seeds of future consideration among those who are just starting to look at colleges. But all of these families are hungry for the best value and looking closely at what they get for their investment.

So show them! Though the office may be closed for Thanksgiving break, your online channels are always open for displaying the menu of the feast you will serve up for them at your institution. This is the time to satisfy the marketplace’s appetite for a compelling value proposition. If you are doing that effectively, students and families—and your campus community—will be giving thanks.