By Jeremy Tiers, Senior Director of Admissions Services
4 minute read
While every student experiences the college search process differently, there is something that’s universal, and it’s not a new phenomenon either. It’s actually been around for years, and it’s not vanishing anytime soon.
I’m talking about fear.
Almost every prospective student is scared, nervous, or worried about something during their college search. For many it’s actually multiple things according to our ongoing survey research.
In our recent national survey that we conducted in partnership with Niche, 97% of more than 20,000 high school seniors reported that they had fears about the college search.
This marks the third year in a row that more than 92% of students we’ve surveyed reported having similar feelings.
I’ll share the different fears here in a minute, but first I have a couple of questions for you.
When students show interest in your school and you’re starting to build a relationship with them, do you consistently ask what they’re scared or worried about? You should.
During your campus visit information sessions, your open houses, your admitted student days, your high school visits, or even virtually during a webinar, do you ever address the different fears that prospective students, and/or your new current students, deal with (and offer helpful tips to deal with them)? You should.
I continue to find that the majority of admissions counselors and enrollment marketers don’t make fear a talking point unless a prospective student (or parent) brings it up. That needs to change.
If you’re looking for a way to build trust, increase engagement, and stand out from your competitors, asking prospective students about their fears, worries, and concerns will do all those things.
The top two student fears have remained the same over the past 8-10 years. Students are worried they won’t be able to afford the college they want, and they’re scared of making the wrong decision.
The fastest rising fear we’ve seen over the past few years is fear of not being emotionally and socially prepared for college.
Other fears that students consistently bring up include:
- Fear of making mistakes on their application
- Fear of not knowing what they want to study (or do for a future career)
- Fear of not being admitted
- Fear of talking to you on the phone
- Fear of saying the wrong thing (or something that sounds dumb)
- Fear of telling you “No” or “I’m not interested”
- Fear of moving away from home
- Fear of taking on more responsibilities
- Fear of failure (failing themselves and/or their family)
The easiest way to discover how students are feeling is by asking a direct, intentional question like, “Jeremy, when you think about your college search, what are some of the things that you worry about?”
You can ask a question like that (or something similar) as the call to action in an email, in person when a student visits campus, on the phone, or even during a 1-on-1 chat at a high school visit or college fair.
Let me also add that this shouldn’t be your icebreaker or the first thing that comes up when you meet a student. You need to develop some trust and rapport first before asking such an emotional and deep question.
The next step after students share how they feel is to thank them and in some cases validate that it’s okay to feel that way (i.e. they’re not weird).
The final piece is helping alleviate their fear and/or putting their mind at ease. Storytelling continues to be one of the most effective ways to do that.
Be prepared to provide students with one or more concrete examples of people who felt the same way (maybe you during your college search or other students you’ve worked with before), and explain how they overcame (or how you or someone at your college or university helped them overcome) a similar fear or concern. It’s critical that you connect the dots for them and don’t just offer a vanilla statement about having resources on campus if they need them. Students want and need more context and details from you.
Talking about fear in a way that feels helpful and feels like you’re being sympathetic to a student’s situation is always a smart strategy.
And don’t forget about parents either. They have fears as well about things like safety and cost.
Got a question about something in this article? Go ahead and reply back or email me here.
And if you found this article helpful, I encourage you to forward it to someone else on your campus who could also benefit from reading it.