Colleges: are your FAQ’s frequently-asked?

How often do you find an answer to your question on a company’s online FAQ section? For me, that answer is, “Almost never.” Instead of saying to the visitor, “Here are ten things many people who show up here want to know,” most FAQ sections read like they should be titled, “Here’s a bunch of stuff we want to say (whether or not you might be interested).”

College admissions offices, as you prepare for yet another admissions season, here are a few suggestions to launch, or improve, the FAQ section of your site:

1. Identify the “Frequently asked.”
The easiest but most important step is to identify which questions are, in fact, “frequently asked.” Take a poll. Ask every member on the staff to submit the top three questions they consistently find themselves answering in terms of frequency. Include questions that come in by email, phone, and in person when giving presentations. Pick the 10 or 15 that come up over and over again. Those are your FAQs.

2. Find the best person to answer each one.
For each question, find the best person to answer it. It might be the staffer who’s the most knowledgeable (even if that person doesn’t work in the admissions office), the best writer in the office, or just the one who most wants to take it on.

3. Give good answers.
Empower your answer-providers to tell the truth, in clear, honest, helpful language. No wishy-washy double speak. The best way to find that voice when answering the question? Pretend it’s Grandma asking.

4. Consider a “Top Ten Things We Wish Applicants Knew” list
A great FAQ section takes care of those questions that people actually ask. Now, what questions do you wish were more frequently asked? What ten things could you share with applicants that would make their process smoother and your job easier?

For example:

1. Please don’t send us more than two letters of rec. We’ll only read two of them no matter how many you send. If you send four, we’ll still read just two, and you won’t get to decide which two we’ll read.

2. Your decision whether or not to interview during a campus visit has absolutely no influence on your admissions chances. It’s just a time for you to ask questions and learn more about our school (colleges call these “informative interviews”). If you’ve got questions, we’d love to chat! But if not, no hard feelings. Really , we won’t penalize you for skipping it.

Address real questions and concerns in an honest, clear, informative way. Then do the same thing with the information that you know will help your audience. It will make the process less stressful for applicants, and easier for your staff that typically fields the questions. And most importantly, you’ll be setting a tone that the admissions office is run by real people who genuinely want to do right by students.