By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
A few months ago I told you to avoid using the words, “I was just…” in your recruiting conversations. If you missed that article, it’s definitely worth three minutes of your time and you can access it right here.
The words you use matter, especially at this time of year (aka: decision-making time). So, today I’m going to address two questions that I want you to stop asking your undecided students, along with a better strategy for each.
First up is, “Do you have any questions?” That, or some version of that is asked hundreds of times throughout the college search process. Here’s the problem. You and I both know that students and their parents have questions they want to ask you every single time. Most times however they ask nothing, or they ask what I call safe, easy questions. They do this out of fear of saying the wrong thing.
Instead, I want you to ask your undecided students a more targeted question about a specific aspect of their decision-making process. Examples include, “How are you going to break a tie between two schools?” or “What’s going to be the most important thing in your final decision?”
What you need is context, and questions like those will produce it.
I also want you to stop asking, “Do you think you’re going to make a decision soon?” or a version of that. Ask that question and your answer will likely be, “I don’t know,” or “I’m not sure,” or “Maybe.” None of those are helpful.
Instead, I want you to ask about the student’s timeline, or ask what’s preventing them from making their college decision. Let me explain.
A lot of undecided students don’t have a concrete plan for how they’re going to make their final decision. Meaning, once they have all the information and financial aid packages for each of their finalists, then what?
You can help them by asking a question like, “Tell me how you’re going to make your final decision?” They’re likely to tell you one of two things.
You might hear back, “I’m not sure.” In this situation, start by first validating that it’s okay for the student to be unsure. Then I want you to encourage them to do what a lot of students in their position do, which is take your school and the other schools still on their list and write down four or five things that are most important in their college search. You could explain that for a lot of students it’s thing like the “feel” of campus, how people at that school (their admissions counselor, professors, current students, etc) have treated them throughout this process, the academic reputation of the school/outcomes (ability to get a job), and of course, the budget. Then have them see which school checks the most boxes, and of course make sure to have them tell you where your school ranks on that list, which may result in you having to ask more probing follow-up questions.
Or, the student may provide a more concrete answer to your question about how they’re going to decide and offer up what they see as their next step. In that case I want you to then ask, “And then what’s next?” As the student begins to tell you more, go ahead and repeatedly ask, “And then what?” each time the student finishes talking. Eventually that will allow you to get a handle on the real source of their decision and as well as their complete timeline.
Our clients, as well as others I’ve recommended take this approach, have found it reveals the undecided student’s current mindset, and it draws out vital information (ex. My parents and I don’t agree on which school is the right choice; We’re struggling to decide if it’s okay to choose a school that costs a little more; I have a lingering concern or objection that I was afraid to bring up; I picked another school and was afraid to tell you).
Questions like the ones we’ve talked about today should be asked on the phone or in-person (ex. Admitted Student Day event) whenever possible.
If you’re struggling to get your undecided students to answer their phone, there are a couple of options that I would recommend. First, make sure you’re setting up the call ahead of time (not cold calling) via text message, email, or with the help of their parents.
If that fails, create a short ad hoc email that summarizes what you would say on the phone, and end it with a call to action that asks for their answer to a specific question. Your subject line will be key. Two that have worked well for our clients in this situation are:
- Making your college decision is tough
- This is the last big college hurdle
One final note – Everything we’ve discussed today applies to student callers as well if your school utilizes them. I encourage you to incorporate this information into their training, or forward this article on to the person who oversees that group.
If you have a specific question about anything in this article, connect with me and let’s talk about it. This newsletter community means so much to me, and I’ll always make time for those who reach out and ask for help/advice.