4 min read

Make It Personal

Communicating with prospective students is an essential task for admissions departments and enrollment teams. However, it can be difficult to determine how students respond to outreach.

Dr. Jacquelyn D. Elliott, President at enrollmentFUEL®, conducted focus groups with high school juniors and seniors. The discussions revealed a desire for:

  • In-depth personalization and contact with people—not institutions
  • Academic information over details about the college experience
  • In-person tours over virtual visits


"Quit Selling the Experience."

All students want individually tailored communication—personalization that goes beyond using their names. Students are dissatisfied with generic messaging and the volume of emails they receive.

Students also want details on academics and job preparation. As one student said, “Quit selling the experience. Start selling an education. Focus on the academics.”

Text messages get mixed reactions. Most juniors delete texts from unknown numbers. A small number of juniors and seniors said texts are acceptable, but only after they apply.

Preference for social media use and communication vary:

  • Juniors prefer Instagram and TikTok, while seniors prefer Instagram and email.
  • Nearly all parents use Facebook.

All students are enthusiastic about live chats with college counselors. Students want someone to make time to talk to them and look for an unscripted personal touch.


"I'm So Tired of Anything Virtual."

Most students felt COVID-19 hasn’t affected their college search. Some juniors are frustrated by the lack of visits from college representatives, and some seniors focused more on local colleges and universities.

100% of students have a strong preference for in-person tours over virtual visits. As a junior put it: “Are you kidding? You have to tour to know what you’re getting into.”

Money, distance, and work are the main factors keeping students from visiting schools. Students will limit visits to their top choices later in the process.

Neither juniors or seniors felt their high school counselors have been helpful in their search. Only a small number of seniors received help—and those students had to seek out their counselors proactively.

Most students felt that the move to test-optional has helped. Juniors feel confident about applying to more schools. A small number of seniors felt that the change harmed them because of the time and money they invested to get a good score.

"I Don't Want to Grow Up This Fast."

Must-haves varied widely, ranging from updated facilities to a robust event calendar to free parking. Academic offerings are the most important factor, while activities, service opportunities, and sports play a role. Instructional delivery is likely to influence decision-making:

  • Most juniors prefer in-person instruction over hybrid or fully-online learning.
  • Most seniors want in-person courses in their major, and online options for general education classes.

Seniors feel the decision of where to attend college is theirs; parents influence the process (especially around finances), but largely act as guides. When asked why seniors are waiting to make a deposit, three themes emerged:

  • Students wonder, as one senior said, “What if I am making the wrong decision? I just feel better waiting because I know I still have time to change my mind.”
  • A similar number of students said making a deposit feels like a step into adulthood they’re not yet prepared for.
  • A small percentage of seniors are waiting to get financial aid offers to increase perceived bargaining power.

Cost is a major consideration. Juniors overwhelmingly favored in-state options, while seniors were more evenly split; cost was a factor for both groups. Most students are unaware of the tuition discount and scholarship opportunities schools provide.


When designing student communications, trends from the focus groups are clear. Students:

  • Want truly personalized communication and connections with real people
  • Prefer to visit campus in-person, but limit visits to later in the process
  • Would rather learn about academic offerings than the college experience
  • Need more information about financial aid options