By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Whenever we partner with a college or university, I head to campus to lead a recruiting workshop for their admissions team. As you might imagine, that work is currently being done virtually/online. Part of that typically involves me meeting one-on-one with every single staff member.
Even though I’ve briefly met each person the day before and we’ve now completed a comprehensive training together, during that workshop the majority of the team tends to remain relatively quiet. That’s because they don’t know me (or if they can trust me yet), and their boss and/or their bosses’ boss is in the room and they don’t want to say the wrong thing.
I learned early on that most people don’t want to be the one to start the conversation.
Because of those things, I start most of those individual meetings the exact same way. In a nutshell I look each person in the eye and say, “You don’t really know me, and I don’t really know you. I feel like there are a lot of different things I can help you with, but I need you to help me understand where you’re at in your career, your goals, what you’re working through, where you need help or are looking for new ideas, and just overall how you’re feeling about everything.” After that, most people dive right in and start sharing, but for some I have to follow that up by asking them a very direct question.
Does all of this sound familiar when it comes to communicating with prospective students, parents, or your staff if you’re in a position of leadership? It should, because as an admissions counselor or as a leader, you should expect to have to lead the conversation.
Having that mindset is one of the most important points I drive home when I lead training workshops. Leading the conversation at every stage is a core part of your job. Here’s why.
One of the key pieces of data we’ve uncovered from our focus group surveys with students around the country is that most of them have no idea what they’re supposed to ask during the college search process, or how they’re supposed to ask it.
Along with that, most students and parents don’t have a clear understanding of the different parts that make up the college admissions process. And complicating things even further is the fact that not every college and university has the exact same processes and requirements.
Without your guidance and help, a lot of students will wait to take action, or in some cases never take action, on key things like doing a virtual or on-campus visit, applying, and completing the FAFSA.
To be clear, leading the conversation isn’t something that applies only during face-to-face or in person conversations (i.e. during a college fair, high school visit, or virtual/on-campus visit). It’s essential regardless of the medium you use – email, phone call, text messaging, letter, or because of COVID-19, video chat. Also, this applies to both one-on-one and group conversations.
If you decide to wait for the conversation to come to you, you’re going to be disappointed a majority of the time. Fear of saying the wrong thing, saying something you’ll perceive as dumb, or doing the wrong thing is 100% real. It’s one of the biggest reasons students and parents don’t engage with you. Same thing if you’re in a position of leadership. Open door policies are very popular these days, yet a large majority of leaders tell me that most of their team members never take them up on it. You have to go to them.
At its core, leading the conversation involves creating comfort, recognizing where the other person is at or the situation that they’re dealing with, and then asking effective questions. I’m talking about very specific questions that result in students and parents giving you their opinion or explanation about something. That means your questions can’t be too broad. They need to be easy enough for the other person to answer without having to ponder or second guess.
Having that information will allow you to figure out what you need to tell, explain, or show them to get them to want to take the next step in the process with your school.
Besides being intentional with the questions you ask, leading the conversation also involves explaining the why behind something and sharing relatable stories about your campus community (i.e. current students, professors, other staff, and alumni).
And leading the conversation doesn’t stop once a student has committed/deposited. Your job then is to lead the conversation about why they should be excited about their decision and what they have to look forward to as a student at your school.
Two topics you and your admissions colleagues should be ready to lead the conversation around right now are the possibility of paying the same tuition amount for online classes this fall and how your college or university and its professors will provide an effective learning environment if the fall has to begin with online classes.
It’s important for you to lead these discussions now as families are starting to talk about these things more and more so that you can be a part of the active conversation rather than trying to undo the results of that conversation in a month or two.
Show them that you care, you want to talk to them, and that you’re not afraid to address topics that you know students, parents, and families are wondering about.
Remember, students and families are looking to you as the expert from start to finish.
Taking this approach will also lead to students telling you earlier on that your school isn’t a good fit for them. That’s okay because it allows you to focus more of your time on students who have genuine interest versus spinning your wheels cold calling and cold emailing.
Is there somebody else in your office or another office you collaborate with that could benefit from reading this article? If so, please forward it on to them.
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