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Beware Marketing Glitz from the Office of Admission

Last night I was researching colleges for one of my clients and had a look at High Point University in High Point, NC. I previously knew nothing about.

The website is impressive. It was clearly constructed by masters of marketing and public relations. The president, Nido Qubein, is a fantastic businessman and public speaker, and he clearly is a motivator and visionary. And undoubtedly his leadership is having an impact: new classroom buildings, new schools, new residence halls, and impeccable grounds.
Nido Qubein

But what struck me most is that this university has learned that marketing and PR make a huge difference. The school has a “Director of Wow.” I’m not kidding. This person’s job is to make everyone on campus feel great, take pride in the school and its people, and generally make people happy. (Perhaps he worked for Disney World before coming to HPU?).

This link will take you to a page of videos produced by the university. The first one, “Prepare to be WOWed,” is a good example of masterful marketing. It’s professional, the messages are clear, and the viewer comes away with a feeling that High Point is perhaps the most wonderful college on earth.

Have a look.

Impressive, right?

But think about it. Just because a college is great at marketing does not mean it is a great college. The video says almost nothing about academics, about professional placement, about the kind of kids who go there, about its athletics, extracurriculars, learning centers, or just about anything really useful for a college-bound student to know.

The video sells a feeling. A sentiment. An idea that you will be loved. That you will be nurtured. That you will be pampered, even.

While it’s true that every college does have a personality, and in a sense, each is trying to sell that “feeling” of love for one’s school, this glitzy marketing video–and other techniques used on the website–do not convince me that High Point University will be a good fit for every student. Nor does it convince me that there is substance underneath the veneer of good feelings.

To be clear, I’m not knocking HPU. I’m still learning about it, and it may be a great place for certain kinds of students who want a certain kind of educational atmosphere and educational programming.

And I’m not even knocking the fact that colleges and universities are becoming better at marketing themselves. They are taking lessons from Nido Qubein and other masterful marketers as they sell their services. And why not? Like any other business or service provider, institutions of higher ed need to convince consumers that they are worthy of your educational dollar.

But caveat emptor: buyer beware. videos like this–and many others that colleges are now creating to help sell their services–should be viewed with caution and a dose of skepticism. Don’t be snowed by the glitz and glamour. Remind yourself that they are selling, and that you must do some due diligence before letting yourself be hooked. Dig beneath the marketing veneer.

For example, what are faculty saying about the quality of education at HPU? What do they say about the quality of the students, the learning atmosphere, the value of the education that is provided? What do the data tell us?

In order to decide whether the school is right for a particular student, we need to look beyond the feel-good videos. We need to dig into the data, talk to students (ones that are not managed by the admissions office!), and to faculty. This sort of research takes time and effort, but it’s well worth it if you plan to invest tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars into an institution.

Fortunately there are professionals out there who can help you find the right fit.

Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consultant and Healthy Skeptic

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