The Worth Claim: How to “Sell” Your College’s Value

illustration of an article

Whether we like it or not, admissions counselors are increasingly thought of as a college’s sales force. Yet I don’t completely understand why many of my colleagues in admissions bristle at the idea of being a “salesperson.” After all, we are charged with generating awareness, building and managing relationships, and “closing the deal” with interested students. Furthermore, we are regularly asked to introduce our college’s new programs, processes and ideas.

Why should we run from this comparison?

Why Being Seen as a Sales Force is an Opportunity

In my experience, the involvement of the sales team often comes too late in the process of developing programs, resulting in less-than-optimal messaging and differentiations at the point of sale. Using the “sales force” comparison presents an opportunity to help other campus stakeholders understand what we need from them in order to be the best sales team we can be.

I recommend:

  • Redefining the admissions team as an effective “sales force” with integrity and expertise.
  • Leveraging this “sales force” status to become involved early in the development of new programs.

Redefine admissions as a “sales force.”
Perhaps the reason so many of my colleagues resist being compared to salespersons is the assumption that, driven by their eagerness to sell, salespeople don’t always speak the truth. We need to redefine the admissions “sales force” as a group with the integrity and insight to bring welcome changes to the college’s enrollment. Who else can better match the right student with the right college?

I always marvel at how much admissions counselors know about the ideas, emotions, and actions of prospective students and their parents. And because of their externally focused work, admissions staff members are uniquely positioned to assist in developing messaging that is authentic and compelling to students and parents.

Like a professional salesperson, an admissions counselor is constantly gathering data about what the competition is doing and saying. Through active listening during phone calls with prospective students, conversations with guidance counselors and parents, and standing at college fairs, admissions staff members gather useful data that can be used to help a college successfully position new programs and efforts.

Leverage your “salesperson” status to become involved early in the development of new academic or co-curricular programs.
However, admissions counselors have not always proven effective in providing guidance to campus partners, to help them think through important questions about launching and positioning new programs. Too often, admissions’ default position is “we learned about the program too late” or “another college is already doing that.”

That is not a proactive approach. As admissions counselors, we can and should do better in providing framework that helps campus partners think about their messaging as they develop new programs.

Over the course of the past year (for example, see my July 2013 paper on the worth claim and my Huffington Post article from October 2013), I’ve worked to develop the idea of what I call a “worth claim,” which I think can provide that helpful framework. The worth claim may not be the perfect solution for admissions counselors who are looking for the right message, but it can provide a good starting point for needed discussions with campus partners.

The Worth Claim: Letting the New Program Stand Out

The worth claim is different from a simple value proposition; it focuses on developing the understanding that what is offered is worth more than something similar offered elsewhere. This is a particularly compelling idea in higher education, where good practices often are replicated.

Using the worth claim framework’s four essential elements, you can make new programs stand out in the marketplace. These elements are:

  • Bold symbols.
  • A base built on advantages and reinforced by evidence.
  • Anticipatory thinking, because worth is only fully comprehended through future success.
  • Emotion and attendance to the primary needs of deciding students.

These are the elements that equip an admissions counselor to highlight the distinctions, value and worth of new programs introduced by the college. The absence or a lack of clarity about these same qualities limits the admissions counselor in his or her job.

An Example of the Worth Claim in Action

Here’s an example.

Worth claim: A student will develop and gain the skills employers want most.

  • Symbols and language: Alignment between student learning outcomes and surveys of the skills employers want in new employees. College catalog listing skills associated with each course offered. Evidence that skills are clearly developed more effectively.
  • Anticipatory action: The college can clearly map what skills are developed, how, when and in which classes. Possession of these skills prepares graduates more effectively for a job. Recruitment messages emphasize that curriculum and learning outcomes focus on what matters most.
  • Emotion: Skills developed during college are directly tied to what employers want—graduates and their education are valued by others.

(For another example, see my September 2013 article.)

Looking Ahead

When you next learn that a new academic or co-curricular program, process, or idea is in development, why not try suggesting these criteria? Why not bring up the framework of a “worth claim” to open discussion about how to tell the story of this new program?