By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
It doesn’t matter where we go, when our family goes out to eat, 99% of the time my daughter (she’s 10) gets one of four things – PB&J, Mac ‘N’ Cheese, a plain hamburger, or plain spaghetti. And just to be clear, it’s got to be blue box Kraft Mac ‘N’ Cheese…the homemade kind is no good.
Why is that? I can tell you it’s not for lack of trying on mine and my wife’s part. Slowly but surely we’re getting her to expand her palate.
But for now she’s going to keep choosing “safe” over something that’s less familiar.
A lot of prospective students do the same thing throughout their college search. They choose the safe option, which can mean the cheapest school, the school with the biggest name, or the one that’s closest to home. They did last year and they will again this year unless you help them understand why it’s okay to think differently.
It starts by comprehending the psychology behind their motivation for playing it safe. Many students begin their college search adventurous and seemingly open to anything, including colleges that cost more, as well as schools that are farther away from home, maybe even out-of-state. But, as many admissions counselors discover, that changes as time goes on. Why? Because they like most of us, gravitate to familiar and safe when they’re just not sure or they feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes your college will benefit from being the safe choice. Many times, you don’t. What I want you to keep in mind is, this reasoning is common and it isn’t impossible to overcome.
For that to happen, it’s your responsibility to tell a student (and quite possibly their parents) how to think. That takes time.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting you bend the truth or mislead students into choosing your school. Instead, you need to define why your college or university is going to be the better choice for them in the end. That involves getting to know your students and consistently communicating all the different reasons that they should take the risk and, for example, choose to pay more or choose to go to a college farther away from home
Storytelling is one of the foundational ways you begin to change the hearts and minds of prospective students. By sharing your own personal story or one that’s relatable and clearly explains the why, you can help connect the dots for students and families who are debating playing it safe.
And remember, you have complete control over how much passion and confidence you exude when you communicate those stories. Without that passion and confidence it’s going to be a lot harder for the student or parent to change their mindset.
As you start to have more in-depth conversations with different groups of students in the coming days and weeks, make sure you’re trying to figure out if they’re debating making the safe choice. If they are, you need to lead a conversation around why taking a serious look, or applying, or ultimately choosing your school is well worth the risk.
Otherwise most of the time they’ll end up doing exactly what my daughter does.