By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
3 minute read
In eight years of studying how students make their college decisions, and how to influence those decisions, we’ve seen two opinions that are becoming harder and harder to change when it comes to a student’s mindset.
I’m talking about the major they’re interested in and the location of a school – not just how close it is to their home, but more so the actual town and area that surrounds a campus.
In other words, if your college or university doesn’t offer the exact major the student interested in, and/or they don’t want to go to college in the type of area where your campus is located, it’s going to be a significant challenge for you to yield that student. Not impossible, but students tell us the odds are against you.
Combine this with the fact that a lot of students are nervous about telling you when your school doesn’t seem like a good fit, and it’s crucial for you to try and uncover these potential problems early on.
Most times they’ll bring up the issue with a major they feel strongly about. If, for example, they’re dead set on being a mechanical engineer and your school only offers pre-engineering, students identify that quickly as something that isn’t going to work for them.
I do, however, encourage you to ask students to tell you about their dream job or what they’re hoping to do with a particular degree. Be very direct with your questions because, while some have a concrete vision, we continue to find that many are looking at majors because their parents/family encouraged them to or because it’s a fast growing industry that is in demand.
Location is a little different. Almost every student has come up with some vision for the kind of town and area they want their future college to be in. And when your school doesn’t completely match with their vision, we see most of them not wanting to tip you off that they actually have some concerns. They just apply and proceed like it’s not that big a deal.
And that’s why location becomes one of those unspoken objections that admissions counselors find themselves fighting against at the end of the process.
You were always “on their list,” but deep down there was never really a good chance they were going to commit or deposit. Counselors eventually hear things like, “You were just too far away” or “I just can’t imagine myself being happy in such a small town.”
Here are a couple of quick tips that will help you figure out what you might be up against earlier on:
- I want you to assume that every inquiry or prospect is going to have some kind of unspoken objection or question about where your school is located. In your messaging or during a visit, ask them a question like, “Tell me about your perfect college location…what does it have and what does it look like in your mind?” Or, “Why does our location seem like it would be a good fit for you?”
- The ones that will be most likely to have an objection will be students from several states away and students who have grown up in an opposite environment than you offer – They’re from a warm state and don’t own a winter jacket, and your campus is in a cold state where snow is on the ground for multiple months. Or they grew up in a city, and your college is in a small town that’s 30 minutes away from a midsize or large city.
- Your goal is to see if they have a clear answer that’s been thought out or at least discussed with their parents, family, and/or friends.
- For those who stumble over the words or offer a very generalized answer, that should be a red flag. I’m not saying you have no shot at persuading them, but proceed with caution and be sure to come up with a plan for figuring out if your campus is actually high on their list or just another name on their list. That plan should definitely include some very targeted follow-up questions about their wants, needs, and possibly why they’re looking at a school that’s in a different part of the country or is in a different setting than what they’ve grown up with.
Don’t ever assume there’s nothing there. Ask direct and intentional questions, listen, assess, and then move forward accordingly.
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And if you found this article helpful, I encourage you to forward it to someone else on your campus who could also benefit from reading it.