By Ethan Penland, Director of Admissions Services
3 minute read
I recently tried a new group activity with one of our college partners that I want to share with you. The goal of the activity was to create open-ended questions that warranted different answers.
We started out with nearly 50-60% of the questions the team designed being closed-ended questions (yes or no answers). In the next round of the activity, the groups got down to around 20-25% of them being closed-ended questions. Finally, by the last round only 5-10% of the questions were closed-ended.
Afterwards I met with each of the staff individually, and many agreed that creating open-ended questions is much easier in person when you’re getting immediate feedback, but thinking of open-ended questions to start conversations, especially when it’s through email or text and the person is not in front of you, is a different experience.
I lead with this because at Tudor Collegiate Strategies we fully believe in the power and influence of direct and intentional questioning. When done correctly, the end result is valuable information that helps you discover different challenges, fears, motivation, passions, stories, and desires of the students you hope to enroll.
Think about the emails you typically send – Do they end with, “Do you have any questions?” Where you may feel you’re being helpful to a student by posing a question such as this, what you’re really doing is limiting your ability to discover more about a student. For the record, this very common practice in not only admissions or enrollment management, but it occurs frequently in all customer-focused industries. But there are ways to make the switch!
Here are three things that will help you learn how to better support your students through their responses:
- Tie the question back to the main topic. What we tend to see are questions that are not relevant to the main message of the communication. Think about it, if you’re a student getting an email about applying to a school, would you think it would be odd for someone to ask you a question about visiting campus?
- Different types of questions give you different answers. This is something completely overlooked, in general, but it’s probably the most important advice I can offer. Asking direct and intentional questions is one thing, it is another to mix up those questions in ways that give you different types of answers. There are two types of questions you can ask when asking direct and indirect questions. There are questions you ask to see what the student does or does not know, and questions you ask to see what you do and do not know. What we tend to do is default to questions we know answers to (answers that tend to be supported by facts). There’s absolutely a place and time for those, but if we only ask this type of question we may not be able to unlock new information that only the student knows. That’s why it is so important to ask questions that, usually, only the other person can answer. For example, asking the question, “What’s holding you back from applying?” can only be answered by the student – not the person asking the question. But, depending on the answer they share, we can discover how we can help them.
- Ask questions that will actually help you help them. Don’t ask an open-ended question just to ask a question. That is counterintuitive to the reason why we ask. Instead, your question should have intentionality. Anytime you ask a question, consider the following – Why you are asking it? How are you going to use that information? What information are you hoping to offer the student based on the information they give you?
Based on your answers it should give you insight as to whether your question is going to start a conversation with the student, but also will it give you the information you need to best support the student.
Asking direct and intentional questions is a strategy that should be used at every single step of the way in the college search process – in-person, virtual, or through communication outreach. Those questions will not only create meaningful engagement, but they will give you real, authentic insight that allows you to discover so much more about who your students are and how you can best guide them.
If you found this article helpful, pass it along to another colleague. Also, feel free to connect with me if you would like to discuss this topic further! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter!