By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
My wife and I already know the answer before we even ask the question.
Every now and then we let our 9-year old daughter pick where we go out for dinner. There are a ton of nice restaurants within a 15-20 minute drive from our house. But, every time despite having all those options, she opts for one of two familiar choices – McDonald’s or Culver’s.
My daughter chooses ‘safe’ over the unknown. It doesn’t matter that what she usually orders (hamburger, Mac and cheese, or noodles with butter) is available at a bunch of other restaurants. In the end, she settles.
Prospective students do the same thing throughout their college search. They did last year, and they will again this year unless you help them make an uncomfortable decision.
Here are four core issues you’re going to have to find a way to take control of if you want prospective students to bypass their own McDonald’s or Culver’s:
- Understand the psychology behind their motivation for playing it safe. Most students begin their college search adventurous and seemingly open to anything, including what you’re telling them about your school. But, as many admissions counselors discover, it wanes as time goes on. Why? Because they, like most of us, gravitate to familiar and safe. That might result in the student choosing the school that’s the closest to home, the one that’s the least expensive, has the biggest name recognition, or some other traditionally safe-sounding reason. Sometimes, you benefit from being the safe choice. Many times, you don’t. What I want you to remember is this reasoning is common, and it can be overcome.
- It’s your responsibility to tell them how to think. Let me be clear on this. I’m not suggesting you trick students into choosing your school. You don’t have that power. However, you do have the tools needed to define why your college or university is going to be the better choice in the end. And you have complete control over how much passion and confidence you exude. You need to clearly lay out all the reasons that a student should take the risk and choose your school. If you don’t, who will? Telling your story effectively is one of the foundational ways you begin to change the hearts and minds of your prospects.
- Ask them to explain why they’re feeling ready to take a big risk. Another important part of an admissions counselors’ job is to understand why a prospective student is ready to take a risk. For example, you have an interested student from several states away who’s telling you that he/she is open to hearing/learning more about your school. The first thing I want you to ask them is, “So tell me why moving away from home and going far away to college seems like it might be the right decision for you?” If that student comes back with defined reasons as to why they’re looking at colleges out of their area, then you’ve got a strong start to that prospect’s recruitment. If on the other hand you get an answer like, “I don’t know, I just want to see what all my options are and look around a little,” I would argue you proceed with a lot of caution. That scenario can take the form of a lot of different conversations, but the main point I’m trying to make is this: If you sense your prospect is taking a risk or isn’t the typical student you usually see interested in your school, ask them early on to explain why they’re interested.
- Ask them to define their timeline. One of the most important aspects of getting a prospect to leave their safe zone and consider a riskier path is to have them define their timeline for how their process will move forward, and how they’ll make their final decision. I’ve talked about timeline at length before, but if you need a quick reminder or maybe this is your first time reading my newsletter and you want more strategies on how to do that effectively, read this article I wrote. Defining their timeline early in the process is a critical piece for making sure a student is ready to seriously consider your school.
As you start to have in-depth conversations with this next class of prospective students, make sure you’re looking for what your prospect’s safe options are, and make a plan to clearly and consistently justify why taking a serious look at your school is well worth the risk.
Have a great rest of the week!