By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
A lot of assumptions are getting made right now. For example, many admissions counselors believe that when an admitted student tells them their college or university is on the short list, that means they can be more relaxed with their communication. Wrong assumption.
Remember, you’re dealing with young people who often change their mind in an instant, frequently make completely illogical, irrational decisions, and are scared to say the wrong thing.
Making the wrong assumptions can lead to the wrong recruiting/communication approach being used. It’s extremely important that you lead the conversation and ask intentional questions at every stage of the college search process.
Having said that, let’s talk about a few important facts and truths around how your admitted students are feeling right now:
- They’re feeling stressed and more than a little overwhelmed. The majority of students become increasingly tired of the college search process the longer it goes on. They get tired of the emails, phone calls, and text messages from colleges and universities, as well as the questions from family members and friends. There’s value in asking them how they’re feeling about things and what the hardest or most confusing part of the process is right now.
- They’re scared of making the wrong decision. According to students this remains their number one fear during the college search. One way to help alleviate this fear is to take away some of the unknowns by connecting with them your current students (specifically freshmen). Social media is a great medium to do this – more specifically Instagram takeovers or Instagram Live with students leading a Q&A chat session straight from their dorm room.
- When they do think about their decision, emotions play an important role. Emotion almost always outweighs logic and facts. Students use the words feel, felt, and feelings time after time in our ongoing survey research when we ask about various decisions. How are you generating positive emotions at this stage?
- They’re struggling to differentiate between the colleges and universities on their short list. Outside of cost, if the final three schools on their list are all small, private, Liberal Arts colleges with similar profiles, what makes one better than the other? It’s important that address this and tell them how you’re different and why you’re better in various recruiting communications and during your events.
- You have a handful who have received their financial aid packages and are ready to make a decision…if you’ll just ask them. Do you know who these students are? If you’re not sure, I would advise you to set up a quick call with any students you think might fit the profile, and then ask them specific questions about their timeline and how/when they’re going to make their decision. During that discussion be listening closely for signs that they may be ready to deposit/commit. That includes asking about things like roommate selection, the process of choosing classes, or even direct questions or comments around cost – wondering what extra fees aren’t included in your financial aid package, or wondering how various loans work. This means they’re actively trying to figure out how they can afford to go to your school. Admits and families who aren’t serious will rarely bring up cost. Those who are will almost always bring it up.
- You have some families who can afford to pay more but are struggling to figure out if it’s worth it, and the parent(s) also want to know what that extra amount gets them. Identifying these families as early as possible is key. They’re usually the ones that when you have the “cost/paying for college talk” tell you that the parents will be paying everything, or say something like, “Whatever the best fit is for Jeremy, we’ll find a way to make it work.” Once you’ve identified those students/families, it’s vital to clearly define and reiterate parts of your school’s value proposition to them during future conversations. And be prepared to also not only acknowledge that you’re more expensive, but provide examples and stories around why some of your current students chose to pay more.
- If you don’t talk to the parent(s) and ask them how they’re feeling, many will encourage their son or daughter to stay close to home, go to the college that’s least expensive, or pick the school with the biggest name. When questions are left unanswered or parents don’t feel like a valued partner in this process, many revert to encouraging their child make the “safe,” easier choice.
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