By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Last month I talked about paying close attention to the way that you start your sentences when you communicate with prospective students. Specifically, I gave you two key phrases to avoid.
The same thing is important every time you ask questions. Depending on how you phrase questions you’re either going to get no answer, the “right” answer (Aka the answer the student thinks they should give you), or an insightful answer with context and information that allows you to help the student.
Bottom line – Vanilla questions produce vanilla answers. For example, the worst question you can ask a prospective student is, “Do you have any questions?” Asking that or something similar like, “What questions can I answer for you?” rarely ends in a productive conversation. Instead you typically get answers like, “Not right now,” or “I’m good.”
I can assure you that prospective students (regardless of stage) have questions and things they’d like to talk about EVERY single time. Fear of not knowing what to say and/or saying the wrong thing however is very real.
The good news is I’ve got the solution to this problem. You need to consistently be more intentional with the questions you ask students (as well as parents and family members). That goes for your upcoming admitted student events, spring college fairs and high school visits, during phone calls, and in your emails and text messages.
A good rule of thumb is to always start by defining what you hope to learn by asking your question. You should always have a goal in mind. If you’re not able to come up with one, don’t ask that question.
Here are a few other keys that will help you be more intentional and lead you to ask more effective questions:
- Use a more casual, less formal tone.
- Always make it about the other person. That happens when you use words like, “you,” “your” and “help.”
- Encourage them to give you feedback (both good and bad). This will lead to a more in-depth back-and-forth conversation.
- Avoid using complicated admissions and enrollment management jargon.
- Know when and how to use narrow versus use open-ended questions. Even though open-ended questions are generally very useful, being narrower in terms of the information you’re looking for when you ask a question is important…especially in the later stages of the college search process. For example, instead of asking your admitted students a question like, “What can I help you with right now?” ask them “Can you walk me through how you’re going to make your college decision.”
- In many situations be prepared to ask a follow-up question. These will help you drill down and get that all-important why or because, plus they show that you were listening and that you truly care.
If you find yourself struggling with being intentional when you ask questions, or if you could use some help turning a question into a better question, shoot me a quick email and we’ll talk about it together.
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