Published by The Chronicle of Higher Education
And yet it’s the conscious mind that considers a hefty tuition bill. In choosing a college, students use their heads and hearts alike. And that’s probably a good thing.
One could get lost chasing their often-fleeting desires and whims. "Ultimately, you need to find out what’s going to impact their actual behavior," says Craig Goebel, a principal at the Art & Science Group, a higher-education consulting firm. "An appealing communication doesn’t necessarily change your behavior."
Show Mr. Goebel pictures of an Audi and a Volkswagen, and he would find the former more appealing each time. But he chooses to buy Volkswagens because they’re less expensive.
Mr. Goebel and his colleagues rely on in-depth interviews with students to help clients choose which strategies to pursue. Often they require substantive changes — a new curriculum, perhaps — that will affect students’ experiences on a campus. The most meaningful moves go well beyond branding and communications strategies, he has found. Yet colleges often seek shortcuts.
"We hear it a lot: ‘If they only knew more about us, they would choose our school,’" Mr. Goebel says. "That’s dangerous to believe in."
No matter how many mind-reading innovations arise, students will surely remain somewhat mysterious. But trying to understand them better might just go hand in hand with a college’s willingness to understand itself.