Dan Tudor

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March 27th, 2018

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Are You Creating the Right Kind of Urgency?

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services 


The topic for this week’s article is the result of a recent phone call I had with an admissions counselor who also happens to be a frequent reader of this newsletter. She reached out to me looking for ideas on how to create urgency and not pressure with her admitted students.

Her fear was that she was pressuring many of her undecided students too hard and that was having a negative effect on both future conversations (i.e. getting them to continue to engage with her) and the final decision. All she wanted to do, she told me, was to remind those students how much her school wanted them and to see when they felt they would be ready to make a decision.

Does any of this sound familiar? It’s a common challenge for admissions counselors, which is why I want to spend a few minutes today talking about some easy things that you can do to correct your approach if you’re facing a similar problem.

Let me start by saying that both Dan (Tudor) and I continue to see a lot of colleges and universities really push their internal timelines on prospective students, which in many cases creates bad pressure that ends up driving some of them away.

When you push a deadline on someone without having a prior discussion about it, it almost always comes across as you pressuring that person and creating an atmosphere of you versus me. That could include saying something like, “I need an answer by (insert date).” Now, I’m not saying that you won’t get students to deposit when you do it that way, but I would argue that your chances for melt significantly increase.

I talk a lot about being a partner in the college search process with a student/family because there is strategy and psychology behind that approach. You create the right kind of urgency by setting clear, long-term timeline expectations for the prospect as early as possible in the process.

For example, as you start to have early conversations with high school juniors in the coming weeks, I want you to help those students build out the next 8 to 10 months and what that will look like. It doesn’t have to be exact, and it’s okay if together you edit that timeline at some point. Just make sure that both you and the student/family are in agreement on the timeline. I would even go so far as to ask them after you build it out if they’re in agreement with everything you’ve discussed.

And if you’re near the end of the process and you haven’t built out a timeline with one of your undecided seniors, I would strongly encourage you do so immediately. You could talk to them about the timeline goals of your office, and ask what they feel is needed before a final decision about your school can be made.

Let me add one more thing. If a student isn’t willing to build out a timeline with you, I would start to question just how serious they are about your school and ask a few targeted follow-up questions.

Remember, it’s about the way they want this process to go, not the way you need it to go.

So, in addition to building out those clear, long-term timelines, here are four other very simple things you can do to create the right kind of urgency.

  1. Explain the WHY behind the urgency. Help the student/family understand why it’s in their best interests to keep the process moving forward. Give them logical reasons such as additional stress and having to complete multiple tasks in a much shorter timeframe.
  2. Ask them what big question marks still remain. This is particularly useful late in the process with admitted but undecided students. Go ahead and ask the student, or his or her parents, “What are the big question marks in your mind about our school that are making it tough to make a decision?” I’m not about to tell you I know what answer you’re going to receive because the reality is this could go off in a number of different directions. Whatever feedback they give you, analyze it and deduce if this is an objection that you can overcome or if the student is just having a hard time telling you “no.” You could also ask something like, “On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of being close to making a decision, where are you at?” If they tell you they’re at an 8, then get them to verbalize why they’re an 8 and what they see as the final stumbling blocks or question marks.
  3. Talk about their next steps and be a problem solver. Building on #2, take the feedback you receive and come up with a solution for them or at least the next step. You could also tell the student you’re thinking it might be helpful for them to talk to someone who was in the same position recently (i.e. one of your freshmen) and faced a similar challenge. Ask them if making that connection that would be helpful…most will say “yes.”
  4. Use the right words and phrases in your recruiting communications. There are plenty of words and phrases that you can use in your emails, letters, and text messages to help you create urgency. They include – Fast, quick, close, soon, approaching, deadline, never, and don’t miss out. Each one of these will cause their mind to think urgently over time.

Was this article helpful? I’m always interested in hearing what you think. And, if you have a question about urgency or any other aspect of student recruitment, let’s start a conversation (or at least get one scheduled on the calendar). All you have to do is reply back.

P.S. Have you seen #TiersTalks on Twitter? I started it in 2018 as a way to give you a behind the scenes look throughout the week at key themes and insights from conversations I have with admission and EM professionals (including when I lead a workshop). You can check it out here.

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