The game-changing recruiting tool to find academic talent

Originally published to University Business - February 8, 2021

CEO Casey Welch discusses how students are using Tallo to build their portfolios and how colleges and universities can and should be connecting with them.        

“If somebody’s 7-feet tall and in ninth grade and can dunk a basketball, everybody knows where he or she is. What about the welder, the technician, the nurse, the engineer?” – Casey Welch, CEO and co-founder of Tallo

Finding a star athlete isn’t much of a challenge for college recruiters. If they want top talent – short of attending a well-publicized game – they can go to Rivals.com to see their profiles, watch game film and get the stats they need.

But finding academic standouts, that’s an entirely different ballgame, especially during a pandemic. Kicking aside the more traditional outreach to students – high school fairs and college visits – admissions counselors have had to pivot to the virtual landscape to make those connections.

That has presented new challenges, and Welch wonders: Why can’t college academic recruiters do what football coaches Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban do and get on a more personal level with students? Why can’t they recruit future STEM stars with more targeted efforts? Why can’t they build those same pipelines?

Some are already doing that through Tallo, the site Welch created along with partners eight years ago to address the very real need of giving students a platform to showcase their talents while connecting them with higher ed institutions and businesses.

Tallo isn’t just for students. Admissions professionals can build a brand there and find students that match their criteria by viewing portfolios, seeing what subjects interest them and even seeing which way they are leaning. If that lean is to a rival institution, they might want to reach out and direct message them. They can also get a slew of resources there, including a new survey unveiled on college recruitment in 2020 from 30 higher education admissions experts.

“When we started, people always told us it was like a Rivals.com or LinkedIn for the next generation,” said Welch, a former All-Academic placekicker at Purdue  University who was also a leader in Citi’s Global Server-based Computing Group. “You think about those people in rural areas, or urban or underserved areas. They don’t have a network. They’re behind the eight ball already. So, we said, let’s bring them a network.”

Eight years later, that network now includes 1.3 million students, from all backgrounds and from all 50 states including many that use the Ping by Tallo app. Colleges looking for a specific audience can “micro-target” those potential recruits. Those looking for more diverse pools of talent can look at the more than a quarter million students of color that use the app. The beauty is, they can track their development and their accomplishments earlier, without leaving the office or their homes.

That’s been key for Cari Brooks, Director of Student Services at Clemson University, who said: “We’ve turned this crisis into an opportunity to meet prospective students where they already were – online – and where they expect us to be.”

University Business sat down with Welch and asked him to share more insight on the popular app, what students are looking for from universities and how higher education recruiters should be targeting and reaching out to them:

How does the process work for colleges and universities looking to connect to students through Tallo?

Colleges can come onto Tallo and say, ‘Show me all the students within 30 miles of this area with these career interests, that want to go into these majors.’ They populate on a heat map. Colleges can then send them a direct message that pops up on their phone that says, ‘Hi Casey, this is Clemson and we’re really interested in you, we’d love for you to apply, or we’d love to talk to you more.’ And then you have that first connection that drives them into their systems. It’s micro-targeting. If you really want to get this generation, you can’t just do a spray-and-play method.

In the last two years, we’ve brought on over a million students across the country (600,000 last year), so about two thirds of the high schools across the country and 4,000 different colleges. And a really diverse representation. Of the 1.3 million, over 330,000 are Black and Hispanic. It gives a great opportunity to showcase those students that a lot of times aren’t seen. For the colleges that want to be able to connect to let them know they have these opportunities, we wanted to make that easier.

What is the advantage of Tallo for students?

It is absolutely free for students. They can get on anytime, anywhere. We work with educators, schools, even parents. For students, traditionally, it was all about highlighting your GPA and your test score. Now, they are building their profiles, they’re uploading videos and documents. They’re showing the work they do in the classroom. They’re showing everything that can set them apart. When they build their profile, it matches them with $20 billion in financial aid so they can click and find scholarships. It can help with career guidance. It can help connect them to different universities and corporate partners as they progress through it. It’s not a platform that they time out in. They can take it from high school to college and into their professional careers.

That’s interesting. So, they have a track record of roles and accomplishments that follows them but starting a much younger age.

By the time they graduate from college, they can say, this is what I did in high school and these were all my college accomplishments. A lot of times colleges will say, forget about everything you did in high school. Only put your work experience in there. Work experience is getting tougher to get, especially during the pandemic. Now, these students can show that they were an Eagle Scout in high school, and involved in volunteer opportunities. Then they went to college, and they were still involved in volunteer opportunities, and community service. You get a much fuller picture of them.

What happened when the COVID-19 pandemic hit? Were admissions professionals caught off guard? How did your college clients react?

A lot of colleges do the same thing for recruitment every year. When that March timeframe hit, they all shut down and had no means to communicate with students because they were previously going to career fairs and showing up on campuses. For our clients using Tallo, fortunately they were able to still make those connections. It didn’t change anything. It actually brought more users on our platform.

We saw some colleges that were being really proactive at the end of 2019, going into 2020 and saying we need to diversify our strategies. A lot of colleges were getting applicants, but they wanted help with diversity and different outcomes. But they didn’t do anything different. Those were a lot of the clients we worked with. When COVID hit, it threw a five-year accelerant on virtual platforms and virtual connections. They had to make sure that it was not only a piece of their strategy for right now but a fundamental part of the strategy going forward. Now they know they are all susceptible to this risk if another pandemic or something else happens.

It sounds like the pandemic really changed the recruiting game.

Just like recruiting in sports, you want to go into their homes, you want to go into their schools, you want to get them on your campus. Now you have to do a more exceptional job and get creative. It’s not a nice to have anymore, virtual recruiting is a must have for colleges to continue to get the numbers that they want and the type of talent that they want.

Are all recruiters in the virtual space created equal?

There are so many universities that aren’t Florida State or Miami. But for some of them, it puts them on more of a level playing field. College recruiting hasn’t evolved a whole lot in the last 30 years. They always had students come to them. Competition is there now, and competition is also, ‘should they even go to higher ed?’ Students are really making sure they are getting their ROI. One of the greatest parts about college has always been the on-campus experience. So, when you don’t have that experience, you need to rely on your outcomes data.

How can institutions make a difference in connecting with students virtually?

This generation was always virtual. If colleges are going into Tallo, this is where they live. They are really comfortable in this setting. It’s not always comfortable for them to walk up to a booth and talk to a college. It can be very overwhelming. But students are comfortable in virtual settings. Even though the colleges and companies aren’t comfortable, they’re getting used to it. They’re learning how.

What are students looking for right now from colleges and universities?

Students are focused on return on investment. [With COVID] if I’m going to forego the sporting events and living on campus, how can I make sure I’m going to a university that has a program that aligns to a career that can help me to get a job? Students want to know from colleges about campus safety and how they are going to support virtual? High schools for them are also in person one week, virtual the next, then hybrid. So, a college that can articulate that plan is extremely important.

And then what are you doing as a university to support diversity and inclusion? That’s a great way to really connect with this generation, because it is so important to them. What is your plan? Not just what is your curriculum? It’s very different than 12 to 14 months ago, when a lot of their decisions were those traditional aspects – Where did their parents go to school? What football team do they like?

Can students see through some of the more transparent pitches of universities?

Their insincerity radars are through the roof. We did a survey, and 87% of colleges agree that their college is actively working to end structural racism, and 70% said that they’ve implemented higher education standards around inclusion. It’s not enough to just talk about that. The good part is a lot of these colleges are doing it now because they know they have to.

My advice to colleges is show that plan. Use that plan as a recruiting tool. If it’s what you’re doing, and you can back it up, share that with the students so that they understand that this university is going to stand behind the same values they have. And not just saying ‘diversity and inclusion is an important part of our culture.’ Every university says that. What’s important is over the last six months, we have laid out this plan and this is what we’re doing. And we want you to be part of that solution.

What is the biggest challenge facing students right now?

We hear from colleges that a lot of these students and families have been impacted financially. Maybe 12 months ago, their families had a nest egg, or they had a method to being able to pay but were impacted by the pandemic. It’s important for colleges to talk about financial aid packages. When they come onto Tallo, a lot of students are coming to find these opportunities because that’s the way that they’re going to pay for college.

One of the best ways to reach students by recruiting is …

Connecting with them on a personal level. Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney and others understand what’s important to them. They see the value in that. And that’s why athletes commit … and commit early. That’s why they go to Purdue over Ohio State. Because there’s a connection made. It’s not just a numbers game. You treat them like a number, they’re not going to go.

Students almost seem to the have the upper hand now in the process now. Is that true?

Kids used to just be a test score. [Colleges would say] we’re not going to talk to you unless you have this test score. That’s out the door right now. Many of the schools are test optional. So, then it comes down to looking at other attributes. And that’s where platforms like Tallo come in. They can see: here are the schools he’s considering; here are his activities; here are the organizations he’s part of. So, when you do reach out to them, you know more about them. We did a Gen Z  survey, and 60% of students expected a college or company to know who they were. So, they’re saying, we are in demand. Let’s make a connection. It doesn’t have to be Nick Saban showing up on your doorstep. But it can be, ‘hey, we see you’re involved in this organization’ – this one little connection point – and take it a step further. It has paid off for our college clients.

What is the parents’ role in all of this? Is it still vital for colleges and universities to connect with them?

I think it’s critical. The biggest interest with parents is, what’s the plan for my students? If this happens again [the pandemic, going remote], what are you going to do? We were dealing with students that were basically mid-semester in New York, and everybody said, get out of your dorms. Go home. We’ll ship your stuff. We’ll figure that out later. When you think about parents, that message has to be a lot about campus safety and how you’re going to keep them in the loop about what’s going on. Talk about a plan. Talk about what you’re going to do. Talk about how you’re going to keep them in the loop.

To learn more about Tallo, visit tallo.com

KEYWORDS: Tallo

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