You want stories that people will remember. That’ll stick in their heads and leave a lasting impact, a memory of how they felt when they read it.
Most of all, you want stories that you couldn’t just swap out the name to make them sound like they came from any school in the country.
Good quotes don’t describe why your university is a great place. They don’t just talk about engaging classes or friendly professors or a vibrant student life. They show you something that happened to a real person that implicitly illustrates those things for the reader.
A sophomore’s walk to register for classes that ended in a spontaneous change of major and a completely unexpected career she fell in love with. A non-traditional student’s unlikely journey from a job at the local hardware store to your school, which led to discovering a passion for early childhood education.
Almost everybody has a story like this in them somewhere. But how do you get them to share it with you?
For Pete’s sake, don’t say “could you write us a quote about diversity to use on our website?” Not everyone thinks like a writer, and they probably won’t have your audience in mind when they tell you they “had so many unforgettable experiences and would recommend this college to absolutely anybody.” Tell them exactly what you want and frame your questions in a way that encourages a candid, believable response.
Here are some things to try:
Getting the Good Stuff
- Start with guidelines for your interviewees. Tell them the sort of things you’re looking for (bullet points only, casual tone, specific story about themselves, etc.).
- Describe a problem and how it was solved. Ask for details that cover the before, during, and after.
- Be specific. How did a program help them succeed? What exactly did they learn? Why did they make that choice? Ask follow-up questions until you get a specific story that doesn’t tell you what the program did, it illustrates it for you without directly saying it. Phone calls are better than email for follow-up.
- If your questions and instructions are friendly and informal, their answers will be, too.
- No more than six or seven questions, or you’ll lose them.
Fixing It Up
- Only use words an interviewee would actually speak—contractions, slang, quirks, and all. (Fixing truly offensive grammar is ok, though. Just be gentle.)
- Beware of quotes submitted in writing—edit them back to speech-like language to make them flow better and sound authentic.
- Remove anything that comes across as wooden or generic. Practice aloud to test.
- Don’t just use what they give you. Take all of their answers and craft them into a sentence that tells the story. Splice in real details about the person’s life or personality to make their comments more powerful.
- Send your edits back to the person quoted for review.
Good Questions to Ask
- Tell me something about our school that makes it different from others.
- What’s something that happened to you at our school that made you realize what you wanted to do when you left here?
- Of all the experiences you’ve had here, what’s your favorite, and why?
- If someone were considering coming here, what advice would you give them?
- What was the best classroom assignment you ever got, and what was unique about it?
- Quick! Name three things you learned during your time here, in class or out.
These are real university testimonials spotted in the wild, with names changed for anonymity. We tweaked them with more natural language and details pulled from context clues and other parts of their marketing materials.
I am proud of what I was able to accomplish through the distance learning program. I encourage others to avail themselves of this fantastic program.
The athletics department at State College is committed to helping our student-athletes succeed in the classroom and in the community as well as in athletics. Our coaches, staff, and administrators are educators who are committed to developing the mind and character of our student-athletes, challenging them to think critically, act responsibly, and serve the greater community. Student-athletes at SC will graduate with confidence and a passion for lifelong learning, prepared to be effective leaders as they work to improve their lives and the lives of others.
It’s a really great school. It’s small enough that I believe that it can be a really welcoming place for students, and it’s not so overwhelming and daunting as some major universities.
You can get involved in clubs and student government, and there are lots of things to do here. I would say definitely choose State. It’s awesome.
I’m a new dad with a full-time job and a 35-minute commute. Distance learning at State U helped me get a degree so I can build a better life for my family and the kids I work with every day.
Our athletes don’t just excel on the field, we also push them to do well in the classroom and be active in their communities. As educators, our staff cares about our student-athletes’ character, and we challenge them to always act responsibly. SC athletes find confidence and passion in their sports, and they graduate knowing how to take that passion and give it back to the community, to share that feeling with others.
Everyone here knows my name, and I know theirs. My friends at other schools talk about meeting people who sit near them in classes of 200 or 300, but here classes are small and I know everyone in my major. It makes me feel like I’ve been welcomed into this really close family who cares whether I do well.
I’m in the dance club, and I deejay at the student radio station. Lots of people go snowboarding and skiing on weekends. There’s always something fun going on that you can do with your friends.
Just remember to keep professors’ “pedagogical paradigm” language in check, give students an idea about what kind of information you’re looking for, and keep things informal. You want people to share the passion and excitement they truly feel for your school—sometimes they just need a little help communicating it.