Empathy, active listening, and developing strong rapport have never been more important in higher ed. While we have always been proponents of relationship-building with prospective adult students, this type of admissions recruiting can truly set an institution apart during challenging times.


We find ourselves in a world of uncertainty with overwhelming news to take in on a daily basis. In a matter of just a few days, our new normal turned into anything but, causing all of us to pivot our interactions with each other, our daily routines, our future goals, and more. Most of us are experiencing a bit of anxiety, worry, and even fear about what the future holds – including our nation’s prospective adult learners who were already facing challenges in completing their education prior to COVID-19. These new feelings of worry and anxiety are very real and create an immediate need for admissions communication that is helpful, empathetic, and genuine. To that end, we have a few recommendations to help you ensure your admissions team members are effectively communicating with prospective adult students:

Humans first. “We are all in this together.” We are seeing this statement in the media and marketing messages on a daily basis. Why? Because we are experiencing a health and economic challenge of unprecedented nature, and it is impacting every one of us. Your admissions staff should be a source of inspiration and positivity for your prospective adult students. Communication should focus on compassion first and admissions second. Admissions counselors should listen, relate, empathize, and encourage.

Be a resource. Asking “how can I help?” sounds simple, but may open up a line of communication that leads to better rapport with prospective students and a memorable interaction. Not only is it important for admissions professionals to be a resource about your institution, but perhaps they can be a resource regarding the community, whether that’s knowledge about various community resources or human service organizations.

Be patient. A lot has happened since March 2020. We are all reeling from the overwhelming responsibilities involved with shifting almost every aspect of our lives. With so much on our minds, it’s understandable that we may have forgotten a few details. Your prospective students are no different. While your admissions staff may have already explained the steps involved with your admissions process, it is likely your prospective students may need gentle reminders and a review. Be patient with them and take the time to review and outline admissions steps, even if that means going back to the beginning.

Make it easy. Not only should your admissions process be easy, but your admissions staff should make it easy for your prospective students to follow. Adult learners are busy juggling multiple responsibilities, now more than ever, so it is important that your admissions process is streamlined. Admissions professionals should guide students through the process with timely reminders and support.

Understand the need. Every prospective adult learner has a goal that has inspired him or her to complete a degree. That goal is the result of an important underlying need that must be uncovered and understood by an admissions professional. Without having a full understanding of that need, it may be challenging to adequately assist the student and coach and motivating him or her through that potential enrollment obstacle. For those prospects already in the pipeline, we recommend circling back to their needs as they may have changed since the pandemic began. Understanding the need is the most important part of the nontraditional admissions process and one that is often undervalued and overlooked by admissions professionals.

Check in and check often. Just like you are checking on friends and family, check on your prospective students, too. As we mentioned in our first recommendation, not all communication from admissions has to be about next steps or start dates. Don’t let too much time pass without reaching out to your prospects – ensure your admissions staff schedules weekly reminders to check in with prospective students. Checking in can involve a note of encouragement or a simple “Hello, how are you doing?” Remember, humans first.

The takeaway. For seasoned admissions professionals who’ve had recruiting and admissions training plus regular professional development, these recommendations likely come as no surprise and have been in practice for years. But, for those who may be “order takers,” meaning they respond to requests for information, answer questions, and wait for an application, these best practices may be more challenging to implement. As you look for ways to ensure you are best serving your prospective adult student population during this pandemic and beyond, we strongly encourage you to make sure your admissions team members are acting as true recruiters who demonstrate genuine compassion and concern for students, rather than order takers.

While there are inherent characteristics an admissions professional must have in order to effectively recruit students, both in a period of normalcy and one of uncertainty like we are experiencing now, it is equally as important to learn and consistently practice a proven recruiting process that teaches an admissions professional how to successfully perform the roles of counselor, guide, consultant, motivator, and more. If your institution could use some help with admissions training, or any of Rivetica’s higher ed solutions, we’ll be here.

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