Well, no, not even close. But there is one significant development that’s happened recently that is common to both. If you’ve bought a car in the past five years or so, think back to how that process went. Did you step onto the dealership parking lot without having done any research? Or maybe you even knew the exact car you wanted and the price you knew you should be getting it for. Point being that in today’s world, a car salesman has to be prepared for the fact that anyone who walks onto their lot is much further along in the decision making process than they would have been several years back.
The same holds true for college admission. Think stealth applicants. The amount of information (good or bad) available today without having to communicate with a school directly is immense. And the level of empowerment students feel in researching, evaluating, and making decisions on their college options has evolved dramatically. Students think: Why talk to an admission representative when I can ask someone about his/her experience on Facebook? Why submit my information when everything I need to know is already on your site? Why look for other options when I’ve heard from or read about so many schools already that are a fit for me (search, outreach, online marketing, etc.)? So, by the time I step onto your campus for a visit… or, forget that… by the time I apply, I’ve already done all the homework I feel I need to do.
Is that a good thing? Is it necessarily a bad thing? I would argue that it’s both. But potentially the more important question that needs to be asked is: for every student that is visiting campus or applying after all of that, how many are not visiting or applying because of their own research and evaluation that you had no control over? And how do you address that?
The answer is simple in theory but more complicated in execution: be able to engage with them when they’re demonstrating some level of interest but have not identified themselves. And where does that start? Many would argue it starts online, or more specifically, on your website. I would tweak that answer some, and say it starts in their homes. Sitting on the couch with mom or dad for those first several college conversations, reviewing anything received in the mail already, pulling up Google to do some initial searching on what might make sense for them, checking Facebook and what people have to say, and looking at your website. What you can accomplish in moments like these is what will make the difference between larger numbers of identified prospective students versus stealth applicants, or the worst of all, stealth non-applicants. As we cruise towards the new year, now is the time to think about those first impressions with juniors (and even sophomores) and how you can control as much of their experience about your school as possible during these initial stages of the enrollment cycle.
Good luck, and if you are in the market for a new car, think like a prospective student, and do your research first!