By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Students across the country are telling admissions counselors, “You’re one of my top choices” or “Yes, I’m still considering your school,” and it cements the idea that the student is being honest and up-front about what’s really going on behind the scenes.
Here’s the thing. I’ve seen a lot of cases where that good-hearted optimism leads to a greater level of complacency. The final result isn’t what the college hoped for, and a lot of people are left scratching their heads as to what went wrong.
Remember, you’re dealing with young people who like to please, often change their mind in an instant, and frequently make completely illogical, irrational decisions.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying that you don’t have a number of prospective students or admits who have you at or near the top of their college list right now. What I’m saying is, I’ve heard a lot of stories the past few years about assumptions being wrongly made, which then leads to the wrong recruiting approach being used.
My goal today is to help you avoid many of these situations. What I want you to do is make some worst-case scenario assumptions about your prospective students.
I want you to assume the following:
- Assume that you have a group of admitted students who are ready to commit/deposit once they receive their financial aid package from your school. My question for you is, do you know who they are? And do you also understand that some students will NOT be ready to decide the moment that package is delivered? Both are equally important.
- Assume that just about every single prospect is extremely stressed and feeling more than a little overwhelmed. According to our research, the majority of students become increasingly tired of the college search process the longer it goes on. They get tired of the phone calls, texts, and emails from colleges as well as the questions from family members (even though they can fake it pretty well). And they have little to no idea how to truly differentiate between colleges with the same profile (ex. small, private, Liberal Arts). If you assume that they’re stressed, it will lead you to change the language you use in your messaging and conversations and how long you delay moving them forward to whatever their next step is. Choose to not assume this, and it increases the risk for letting a prospect become so stressed that they lose focus on what you want them to do.
- Assume that most parents will vote to have their child stay close to home, go to the college that’s least expensive, or the one that has the biggest name recognition. Reverting to the “safe choice” is often what occurs when people are under stress. How are you making the parent(s) a valuable partner in this process, while at the same time discovering their fears and coming up with a plan to alleviate them? You need to clearly explain why your school is the smarter choice and then reiterate those things moving forward.
- Assume that each student has one or more questions they want to ask you but aren’t because they don’t want to sound stupid. During your conversations try and avoid just asking them if they, “have any questions,” and instead come up with specific, targeted questions about their process, timeline, wants, needs, fears, etc.
- Assume that it’s your job to create curiosity throughout the recruiting process. A core part of student recruitment, along with consistent contact and telling a great story, is to create curiosity. For example, how do you make students look forward to your next communication? The admissions counselors that assume they need to weave in curiosity to their overall recruiting message always seem to be the ones who hit their territory goal.
- Assume that each of your prospects will be putting themselves first.Very few are interested in hearing why you think they’d be crazy not to choose your school. Assume that they’re looking at everything from their perspective, not yours.
- Assume that in more cases than you want to admit, you have families that can afford to pay more for their child to be a student at your school. They just don’t understand why they should want to adjust their finances and pay more, and they’re not going to come out and tell you this. One of the questions that we asked graduating high school seniors in a survey we conducted with CollegeWeekLive last July was, “Did you choose the least expensive college?” Out of 548 responses, over 54% said no. Could you clearly explain your college’s value proposition and tie things in with a specific family if you had to?
- Assume that you need to continue to provide specific reasons why students should be excited to attend your college after they commit/deposit. Otherwise your chances for melt will increase significantly. Your committed students will still get communications from other colleges after they decide, and some of their undecided friends will still ask them to join them on a campus visit to another school. Make sure you have a separate track of communications for this group that reminds them why they made a great decision and what they have to look forward to when they get on campus.