10 Student Recruitment Tips for Department Chairs
Student recruitment is not the exclusive domain of admissions staff. There are many things that department chairs and faculty can do to promote their programs to potential major and minors. In an interview with Academic Leader, Victor Vallo, Jr., chair of the music department at Newberry College, offered the following recruitment techniques at the program level:
- Work with admissions staff. “Teamwork is very critical. Admission’s job is to recruit, but if they know the music department, biology department, or whatever department is interested in recruiting specific majors, I have found that admissions will take a very active role in tailoring their visits with [high school] counselors,” Vallo says.
Admissions staff can be very helpful in providing lists of prospective students and target high schools. They have access to PSAT and SAT lists that include demographic information and students’ interests. “You might be able to tap into that information and send out very inviting letters to these prospective students,” Vallo says. In addition, admissions staff have access to lists of students who have taken or are taking advanced placement high school courses. “Those are very critical because studies have shown that those kids go into their AP subject areas,” Vallo says.
- Use your website effectively. A department website can be a good way to promote your programs. Vallo recommends keeping the website attractive and up to date with a schedule of upcoming events such as open-house dates, lectures, performances, and other relevant but not necessarily department-specific events.
- Use an electronic inquiry form. Include an electronic inquiry form on the website to collect prospective students’ contact information, including name, address, email, phone number, and interests. By collecting this information, you and admissions staff can follow up with these students. “I’ve heard of kids who come here and say, ‘I contacted such-and-such college, but I never heard back from them. Then I heard from you, and that’s why I’m here.’ It’s a very powerful tool,” Vallo says.
- Work with high school teachers. Ask teachers whether any of their students seem interested in pursuing a degree that your department offers. Make arrangements to visit prospective students at college fair events at high schools.
- Get faculty to help recruit students. Faculty should be part of student recruitment efforts. Whenever possible, Vallo gives faculty lists of prospective students and asks faculty members, particularly directors of band, choir, and orchestra, to visit them. “Getting the faculty involved with recruiting is a very healthy thing because then you’re sharing the ownership of it,” Vallo says. “I’ve been at some [institutions] where the faculty don’t want to go out and recruit, and then their studio dries up. They say, ‘What happened? I have nobody to teach.’”
Faculty involvement can make a big difference in student recruitment. A student who gets to know a faculty member and his or her work may be more likely to want to study with that professor, Vallo says.
Vallo recommends offering release time to encourage faculty involvement in visits to prospective students.
- Ask current students to help with recruitment efforts. “College students themselves are often better recruiters than professors,” Vallo says. “They’re almost the same age, so there’s a better generational connection than there is between the faculty and high school students.”
Vallo recommends using this approach informally, letting your students speak for themselves rather than giving them talking points. “If it’s conversational and informal, I think it creates a very relaxed environment,” Vallo says.
Carefully select students to represent the department. They should be high-caliber, motivated, and enthusiastic students.
- Use department brochures. In an age of digital communication, printed material may seem a bit old-fashioned, but Vallo still thinks brochures and posters are effective recruitment tools. They are useful at college fair events and can be distributed to high school guidance counselors. Postage-paid, tear-off mailers are another way of collecting information on prospective students.
- Reply promptly and personally to interested students. Vallo recommends sending letters to prospective students. “If I send a letter, that piece of paper will probably wind up on the kitchen table or on somebody’s desk, and a parent might see it,” Vallo says.
Timeliness is important. “When a student expresses an interest, I get a letter out in a day or two,” Vallo says.
To streamline the process, Vallo uses an informal form letter that he customizes for each student, adding details about a particular program the student expressed interest in and anything that might have come up during a conversation or correspondence. He recommends signing each letter and typing the address on the envelope rather than using a label. “I try to be personal and approachable. We want them to feel welcome,” Vallo says.
- Invite prospective students to campus. Offer a variety of opportunity for visits. Summer is often the preferred time for campus visits, but work and vacations can create scheduling conflicts. Vallo invites prospective students to campus for January workshops that occur over long weekends. These visits give prospective students the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be at the college. They get to work with the professors and see the campus.
- Be willing to meet with prospective students/parents on short notice. Not all campus visits are planned. Admissions staff may surprise you with a prospective student and his or her parents who would like to meet with people in the department. “If students come over announced or unannounced, always make time to visit with them, even if it’s for five minutes. Give them what time you can, and then have one of the other professors take over if necessary. Taking the time out of your busy schedule for that one-on-one time to show interest in the parents and the child really makes a difference,” Vallo says.