By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
May 1 has come and gone. Whatever that particular date meant in your office, I’m guessing that you’re still dealing with a bunch of undecided, admitted seniors. Today I’m going to offer you some advice on how to proceed with that group of students.
First though, I want to share this. Last week on Twitter I did an informal poll, asking what percentage of readers’ incoming class typically enrolls after May 1. Granted the sample size was small, but 29% said they enroll more than 30% of their class post-May 1, and another 32% said it’s between 20-30%. I mention these numbers because over the last few years, I’m hearing more stories about students being slow to decide.
If you’re wondering why this is, the answer, in many cases students tell us, is fear. Specifically fear of making the wrong decision. Right up there alongside that is fear of not being able to afford the school that they want to choose. My recommendation is for admissions counselors to ask about fear in their current conversations. Whether it’s in an email, a text, or during a phone call, a targeted question needs to be asked that gets the student, or their parents, to verbalize their fear or concern. Then the goal should be to come up with and offer a solution to help alleviate it. Just yesterday a counselor took this advice and got engagement from a handful of his undecideds thanks to a targeted, personalized email. A couple of students told him they had chosen other schools, but a few others revealed the why behind their delay, and wanted to talk next steps.
Let me back up a minute. I know the biggest challenge at this point can be to actually get ahold of these undecided students. Here are some recommendations.
Both phone calls and texting can be quick and efficient, but in a lot of cases it will be hit or miss. As I’ve mentioned in this newsletter before, instead of cold calling, always try setting up any phone call ahead of time via a quick text or email. In that text or email, make sure to explain why you need to talk to the student or parent.
If that strategy results in nothing but unanswered calls and voicemails, another option is to try and connect with the student’s parents. A number of counselors have reported favorable results in reaching mom or dad, particularly if they’ve connected with them at some point earlier in the process. Otherwise you’ll have to cold call them. If you do end up leaving a message it should be short and straight to the point. Create some urgency by saying you have something important to discuss that’s related to their child’s decision, and that you haven’t been able to reach them and it’s getting late in the process.
The third and final strategy that we’ve found to be effective with clients, especially with counselors who have a large number of undecideds, is a short, personalized email with a unique subject line. A few subject lines that have worked well include, “Making your decision is hard;” “What’s keeping you from doing this?” and “Don’t leave me hanging!”
Here are some additional guidelines that I recommend you follow when craft that email:
- The email should come from the admissions counselor.
- Avoid using fancy headers, multiple embedded links, and bolded text.
- The tone should be conversational and the language should be relatable and to the point. As an example, you could affirm that making a college decision is hard, there’s still time, and you’re there to help. You could also touch on how you made your college decision, or even mention a couple factors that a lot of students use to help them break a tie between schools.
- Your call to action shouldn’t be just sending them to your deposit portal. I’m not saying that won’t work, but it takes away from the personalization aspect and in many cases pushes them to take an action that they’re still not ready to do. Instead, use a question for your CTA like, “What’s preventing you from making a decision?” or “What’s preventing you from choosing us?” Then ask them to reply back or message you with their answer. There’s also value in including a sentence telling them that it’s okay to let you know if they’ve chosen another school.
Your goal right now with any undecided admits should be to find out what’s preventing them from making a decision, or to have them tell you they’ve made a decision to go elsewhere. Test these strategies out and see how they work for you.
P.S. If you create an ad hoc email and you want a second opinion, I’m willing to offer quick feedback. Just shoot me an email.