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Starbucks and the Bias Your Prospect Has Against YouTuesday, February 14th, 2017

starbuckslineBy Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

Do you like Starbucks? If you’re a frequent reader of my newsletter you know I’m really fond of the coffeehouse chain…in fact, it just so happens that I’m writing this article from my local Starbucks store.

I started drinking their coffee in my early 20’s and it quickly became my “go to.” One day I’ll get a latte, the next it’s a mocha, and lately I’ve been on an Americano kick. It doesn’t matter if the location is a standalone store or it’s inside a local supermarket, my coffee is always made the way I want it with my name on it. Throw in comfy couches, free Wi-Fi, and a mobile order and pay option so you don’t have to wait in that long line and I’m all in!

In other words, the hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising and branding that Dunkin’ Donuts, McCafe (McDonalds) and the rest of the competition have invested in hasn’t convinced me to switch allegiances. I have an emotional bias towards Starbucks, and as you can see in the picture above, I’m not alone.

Why is that? I think it’s because the competition hasn’t made the emotional case for why I should switch. And since I already think I know everything there is to know about coffee that’s “right” for me, I tune out their advertising messages.

Which brings me to you and your school’s recruitment of students. The exact same reason I don’t seriously consider switching coffee brands may be the reason many of your prospective students don’t seriously consider you and your institution. It’s a principle called confirmation bias, and it’s an increasing area of study for our team here at Tudor Collegiate Strategies as we map out recruitment strategies and communication plans for our clients.

Confirmation bias happens when we only pay attention to the information or data that affirms our decisions or beliefs. Once we’ve formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring or rejecting information that casts doubt on it. Even though evidence may overwhelmingly contradict our position, we hold tenaciously to our preferred belief. In my case, it may be irrational love for Starbucks coffee.  For you, it could be affecting your prospect’s ability to look logically at the opportunity your school offers them.

Our research shows more and more prospective students are coming into a recruiting conversation with an existing bias either for your school or against it. And whether you like it or not, a lot of it is irrational:

  • They don’t want to consider you as a private college because they’ve seen the price tag, and every time others around them tell them that there’s just no way it can be made affordable, it confirms that notion.
  • Your prospect doesn’t want to visit campus because they think your school is located in a small town in the middle of nowhere, so of course they’d be unhappy going to school in your town because they’re convinced that a small town translates to nothing to do.
  • Your prospect has grown up close to campus, so they think they know everything about your school. They want college to be a unique, exciting experience for them, and they’ve decided that won’t be possible if they stay close to home.

Any of those sound familiar? Right now, confirmation bias – and the negative effects it carries – is creating more hurdles for you in the recruitment process.  It’s a powerful psychological aspect of our decision making, albeit illogical.

So, what are you and your admissions colleagues doing to combat that? And, what’s the best way to compete against this line of thinking on the part of your prospects and their increasingly influential parents?

First, I need you to understand that it’s going to take some time to successfully attack a bias. If you think it can be done in one email or one letter, you’re mistaken. It has to be an ongoing process because you’re essentially going to show and prove to your prospect, and their parents, why their way of thinking is in fact wrong.

Understand that your prospect has probably already made up his or her mind. That might be a good thing for you, or it could be the reason that they haven’t replied to any of your emails or answered any of your phone calls.  Once you agree that most of your prospects come into a conversation with preconceived biases and ideas, I believe it changes the way you construct a recruiting message. The student comes in thinking they know what they want. You then need to approach this situation patiently and also say to them, “I know you feel this way, but I think you might want to take a look at this over here and here’s why.” Again, understand you’re going to be suggesting that they’re wrong. That’s okay. You’re just going to have to tell them what they need to do differently and how they’re going to have to think differently.

They aren’t looking for logic right away.  They’re looking for an emotional reason to have a conversation with you.  Have you ever asked yourself why a prospect doesn’t respond to you when you send out a logical, factual outline of what your school offers, the successful history of recent graduates, and the outstanding community that your students enjoy?  The answer is because they’ve already decided that their original choice is the smartest one for them.  I’ve decided that Starbucks is the right coffee for me based on nothing more than the fact that I’ve drunk it for years and I like the personalized service and look/feel of their stores. Similarly, your prospect is basing their decision on whether to communicate with you or not on simplistic, illogical reasons.  So don’t try to sell them on the logic behind choosing you right away. Instead, work on creating an emotional connection with them.

Discover what makes them happy.  Why have they decided that a bigger/smaller college or another location is right for them?  What are they assuming that makes them feel this way? You need to make the emotional case that (using a previous example for the sake of argument) a private college is worth the extra investment. Only after that basic idea is accepted as a possibility can you then move on to the logical argument that you’re the best option for them.

Last, but not least, be consistent.  This strategy doesn’t take place over one or two emails or in one long phone conversation. It may take weeks to create that emotional connection.  Consistent, long term communication with your prospect using the rule that I talk about in many of the On-Campus Workshops I’ve led is key. That research-based rule says that most students want a message that tells them “here’s why you should pick our college and join our student body” sent every six to nine days throughout the recruitment process.  They need the consistency, and they need it talked about in a personalized way…doing that will make it easier for them to reply back to you and start a conversation.

Many admissions professionals won’t attack biases for the simple fact that success isn’t instantaneous.

Understanding this important psychological component of your prospect’s mental make-up is key in developing a comprehensive, effective recruiting message.  Without it, they’re probably going to come up with enough illogical reasons on their own to not talk to you or seriously look at what your school can offer them.

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Admissions VIP Extra: February 14, 2017Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Surprise! Keep reading because I’m going to give you something extra.

I started the Admissions VIP Extra a little over two months ago.  It’s at the bottom of every newsletter, which means it takes a little extra effort on your part to scroll all the way down, click, and invest a couple extra minutes of your time.

You choosing to do that means a lot to me, and I want to thank you by giving you even more access.  Here’s the kicker – to claim your prize I need you to click this link and send me an email with the subject line – VIP surprise  That’s it…you don’t have to include anything in the body of your email.

Everyone who does that will get a response from me within a matter of hours.  I will give each person 15 minutes of my time to talk about whatever you want to talk about.  You tell me how I can HELP YOU right now with student recruitment, leadership, or something else that might be on your mind.

Talk to you soon, and check back here next week for another Admissions VIP Extra.

 

 

A Very Important 3-Letter WordTuesday, February 7th, 2017

Bballpracticeby Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

It happened the other day during my daughter’s basketball practice. The coaches were teaching the girls (1st and 2nd graders) how to set and use screens when one of them blurted out, “Why are we doing this?”

I expected the head coach to respond with something like, “This is what we’re working on”, or “Because I asked you to.” Instead he stopped the drill and explained to the girls why setting a screen was helpful to get them open, which then would give them a better chance to score…and that’s something they all wanted to do.

The way coach handled that situation reminded me of an important communication strategy that I need to bring to your attention today.

Think about all the times you ask your prospects, parents, co-workers, faculty, student workers and others on campus to do something for you. Quite often if you only share what you want done, it can come across like you’re giving orders. And if you explain how they need to do it, it’s like you’re micromanaging.

What if you always explained why something needed to get done?

When you provide the “why” to someone, you educate, motivate, and empower that person. And when they feel like an active participant in something that involves them, and they understand the value and benefit doing it will bring everyone (including themselves), they’re more likely to move forward.

Here are some situations during a typical recruitment cycle when you need to explain the “why”. I want you to ask yourself if you’re consistently doing that now.

  • When you want a prospect to visit your campus
  • When you want them to complete their application or get you a transcript
  • When you want them to come back for an admitted student day event
  • When you want them to stop by their high school counselor’s office to talk about outside scholarship opportunities
  • When you want them to reply to your email
  • When you want them to give you a phone call or answer your call

When people understand the “why”, they’re way more likely to accept the “what”. Take the time to answer and explain the “why”.

And if you’re in a position of leadership, explaining the “why” will help you get buy in on a task or project from team members as well as build team chemistry. When I work 1-on-1 with admissions counselors, tour guides and office staff, as a part of one of our recruiting workshops, “not explaining why” is a common frustration that gets voiced to me.

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Admissions VIP Extra: February 7, 2017Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Finding out where things stand with your admitted students: by Jeremy Tiers

I touched on this a couple of weeks ago, and since then I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to handle admitted students who just aren’t saying much during a conversation.

Here are some more ideas that you can use during the latter stages of the recruitment process to find out what your undecided admits are thinking:

  1. If you think they might be concealing an objection, it’s time to do more probing. Try asking questions like, “Do you and your parents agree on which college you should attend?” Or, “Sometimes students that I talk to have a question about (insert objection). Is that something that’s on your mind?” If you’ve been transparent and honest up to this point you’ve probably gained their trust. Getting them to reveal that critical objection allows you to address it and continue to move the process forward.
  2. Test out their willingness to engage with you by doing what we refer to as a “trial close” question. A trial close question is a question that assumes a future action because you want to see how the other person will respond. For example, you could ask, “When you get on campus this fall, do you think you want to live in (insert freshmen dorm name)?”
  3. Make your commitment to them clear. It’s simple and obvious, yet many counselors neglect to do it. Your admitted students probably have multiple schools to pick from at this point and they need ways to differentiate between them. Reminding him or her through consistent messaging will reiterate how much of a priority they remain to you and your institution. This is something they want, need and will thank you for. Inconsistency on the other hand, particularly with your letters and emails, is likely to cause an undecided student to question your school’s interest, as well as slow down their communication with you at a critical juncture in the process.

Do You Care More Than Your Competition?Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

jer2017by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

What’s your answer to that question?

I’m asking because what you do during the next month or two will in large part determine whether or not many of your undecided admits select your school.

If you’re wondering if “caring” more than your competition can actually impact a student’s final decision, look no further than our ongoing focus group research on college campuses nationwide. Students continue to consistently tell us that how the admissions staff treats them throughout the college search process influences their decision more than factors like affordability, location, and the prestige of the name of the school.

“I loved how my admissions counselor (counselor’s name) made a point to communicate with me and get to know me personally. It really feels like he cares about me and my concerns. And I feel like he made a point to not only know me, but also remember me from the first time he met me.”

I see quotes like that one all the time from students when we administer our recruiting survey as a part of our on-campus workshop with a college/university.

Your teenage prospects and their parents are trying to figure out if, and how much, you care. And it’s not that different for the growing population of transfer students. They’ve been through the process once before, and in most cases, they’re now paying extra close attention to your customer service.

Best selling author and business marketing guru Seth Godin makes the same point when it comes to what we look for as adults:

“We’re hyper alert to the appearance of caring. We want to do business with people who appear to care, who appear to bring care and passion and dedication to their work. If the work expresses caring, if you consistently and professionally deliver on that expression, we’re sold.

The truth is that it’s what we perceive that matters, not what you bring to the table. If you care but your work doesn’t show it, you’ve failed. If you care so much that you’re unable to bring quality, efficiency and discernment to your work, we’ll walk away from it.”

So, how can you show your admits, or any other prospects in your pool, that you care more than the competition? Here are five basic strategies that have consistently worked for our clients:

  1. Stay consistent and keep them updated. A lot of admissions counselors make the mistake of not communicating regularly with their admits during this nerve-racking time of year.  I’ve had counselors tell me that they can’t think of anything new to talk to the student about, or they don’t have anything of substance to say to the student until the financial aid package is completed. That’s fine, but you need to consistently give them an update on what’s going on.  Even if your latest update goes something like, “nothing new to report, but I’m calling over to the financial aid office every day and I’ll keep you updated.” I can’t stress this key point enough. When your admits (and their parents) see ongoing, regular contact from you, they make the judgment that your school has a greater interest in them and values them more.
  2. Give them examples of how you’re working behind the scenes to help get them the best possible financial aid package. The more that you can use this time to demonstrate how you and everyone else at your school are doing some heavy-lifting behind the scenes for that student goes a long way towards getting them to perceive that you care more.  Remember, what we perceive is even more important than what we’re doing in many instances (actually caring and working hard behind the scenes is important too, of course!)
  3. Ask them what objections or questions they need answered.  Just because you’ve been consistently communicating back-and-forth with your admits doesn’t mean they’re close to saying “yes”. Take this time to ask them these two questions: “Can you give me one or two big questions about our school that you’re still trying to figure out?” and “What do you see as the next step in this process?”  Those two questions might just open up a new conversation and even reveal an objection or question that they’re struggling with.
  4. Connect them with your current students. “Your students made me feel like they wanted me more than all of the other colleges combined” and “The more I talked to students the more it became clear that everybody is just one big community that looks out for each other.” Those two quotes hammer home a theme that I see often when we ask students what the deciding factor was that led them to pick their current college. Your current students, specifically your freshmen, just went through the same tough choices and dealt with the same sorts of feelings that many of your undecided students are dealing with right now. You need to create opportunities to help them understand how they will “fit in” on your campus.
  5. Use this time to get to know the parents (if you haven’t already). Yep, here I go again. Parents, parents, parents. All this month I continue to hear from, and have talked to, admissions counselors who tell me that they have admitted students whose parents they have yet to connect with. You cannot and should not expect a student to commit to your school if you haven’t spoken with their parents at least once…and honestly it needs to be multiple conversations. Not sure what to ask them? Click this link and email me right now. I will help you. Spending time with the parents is critical to setting yourself apart from other counselors who don’t have a deep relationship with family members.

If you have any questions about this article or the strategies that I’ve recommended, I’m happy to have a discussion with you. The next step is to send me an email.

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Admissions VIP Extra: January 31, 2017Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

The 7-letter word that can help you: by Jeremy Tiers

I want to introduce you to what I consider to be the most underrated tool in student recruitment. You can’t buy it, it’s hard to teach, and most counselors don’t use it to their advantage.

When you’re trying to secure a commitment and obtain those deposits, one of the worst things you can do is give your recruit the feeling that they’re being pressured. I hear stories all the time about counselors who are so stressed out about increasing yield, that they push and push until they get the answer they want from their prospect. Here’s the problem with that scenario. Pressure might lead to an initial commitment, but that prospect will be a strong candidate to flip-flop at the last minute, or at the very least talk negatively to others about the way your institution recruited him or her.

Passion is an effective sales tool because it isn’t artificial. People can tell when you truly enjoy what you do and genuinely believe what you’re selling. A passionate recruiter sincerely cares about, and takes the time to understand, the wants and needs of their prospect and his or her family members. When you do this it creates a more enjoyable experience and generates excitement and other emotions that a recruit relies on to make their decision.

So, which approach are you using – the passionate pitch or the pressure sell? There’s a big difference between the two. Let me provide you with a few contrasting examples of “passion” versus “pressure” when recruiting your students:

Passion is when you smile, speak with enthusiasm, and display pride because you’re that excited to explain to your prospect why your school is the “right fit.” Pressure is when you rarely make eye contact and look at your cell phone every five minutes, because you’re tired or you’ve got some other place you’d rather be.

Passion is when you consistently communicate with your prospect from the beginning to the end of the recruiting cycle. You use different methods of communication, make your messages interesting, and always keep in mind how your messaging is important to that prospect. Pressure is when you infrequently touch base after a prospect submits their application, and then when admitted, call and ask if they’ve chosen where they want to go.

Passion is being prepared to start the conversation about paying for college early in the process. You understand it’s a stressful subject and you want to ease everyone’s minds as much as possible. You effectively communicate how the process works and the value your school offers. Pressure is the feeling that parents have when their son or daughter really likes a school with a high cost of attendance, and they have no idea how they’ll be able to afford it.

Passion is when you listen to your recruit reveal an objection, get clarification, and become a problem solver. Pressure is when you try to move the recruitment process forward without acknowledging a problem or concern exists.

 

 

Prospects and Parents Will Open More Of Your Emails If…Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

nacac16jtby Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

…You use the right subject line.

Think about it. Every time you go to your Inbox, what is it, other than who it’s from that ultimately leads you to open, scroll past or delete (without reading) each email? It’s the subject line.

As a quick example, over the weekend I was going through my Inbox…I had emails from people trying to sell me stuff; others with boring subject lines, some in ALL CAPS (don’t do that), and even one that had the subject line spelled incorrectly. The first email I chose to open had the subject line, “Need Your Advice”. That’s what got my attention. (It was an admissions counselor reaching out for advice/feedback on an email he’s writing for after his school’s Preview Day event)

That same type of decision-making takes place every time one of your inquiries, prospects, admits, commits and parents go to their Inbox and find messages waiting.  Which ones do they read?  Which ones do they not pay attention to?

Just like me, and probably just like you it often comes down to the subject line.

Still not convinced that you need to pay close attention to your subject line? Consider this – 205 billion email messages are sent every day. That means it’s becoming harder and harder for any of us to get (and keep) the attention of our readers.

So, if you want to get more of your emails opened, here are some ideas that we’ve seen work as well as a couple of extra tips:

  • Personalize it. I’ve reiterated numerous times in previous articles how important it is to use personalization (and use it correctly) throughout the recruitment process. We all love the sound of our own name, and when you include the recipient’s name in the subject line, it adds a feeling of rapport. Plus, according to the Science of Email Marketing, emails that included the first name of the recipient in their subject line had higher clickthrough rates than emails that did not.
  • Tell them you’re about to help them with something. Be really specific. Examples could include, “5 tips for filling out the FAFSA easier”, or “This will help you understand your financial aid package”.
  • When every email from you is urgent, none is. At least that’s what many of your prospects tell us.  Use urgency when it’s actually useful, like when there’s a real deadline or compelling reason to contact you immediately. If you use urgency too often, you’re going to find it a lot harder to cultivate your recruiting relationship.
  • Ask a question. Make it short, make it compelling, and create curiosity.  If you’re asking a question in your subject line that you know is relevant and matters to your prospect it will draw them in.
  • Chop-off half the sentence (like I did today).  Doing that tends to prompt the recipient to wonder what the other half says, especially when the subject line clearly offers value for him/her.
  • Make it really, really short. Short words or phrases get attention. For example, “Deadline” or “Scholarship”.
  • Use a call to action. Calls to action in the subject line have proven effective for our clients when we recommend them for a specific email that’s a part of the monthly recruiting communication plan we create. Even a simple “Check this out!” or “I need your feedback” can serve as a motivating call to action and indicator that a response is or is not being requested.
  • Be different every single time.  There are very few subject lines so amazing that they should be used over and over again.  Take a few minutes to be creative.

What you put in your subject line is arguably the most important factor in getting your emails opened and read. If you’re not consistently taking that part of your emails seriously, I implore you to make a change immediately.

Now on to the fun part! As a way for me to thank you for being a loyal reader of this newsletter, I want to give you the opportunity to win something. It’s 30 seconds of your time for 30 minutes of mine.

All you have to do is click on this link and send me an email before 11:59 PM PST today (Tuesday, January 24, 2017) with your best or most creative email subject line. In the body of your email just put the words newsletter contest. I’ll pick my 3 favorite email subject lines and each winner will receive an email from me tomorrow (Wednesday, January 25) about how to claim their prize.

One last thing – Please review and considering changing your current “out of office” auto-reply email(s).  This is another opportunity for you to be creative and show off some of your personality!  Most admissions counselors don’t take the time to have some fun with that email that goes out to peers, parents, and most importantly your prospects.  This is another little thing that can make a big difference for you.

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Admissions VIP Extra: January 24, 2017Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Figuring out where your prospect stands in their decision-making process: by Jeremy Tiers

I get asked a lot for a low pressure strategy that admissions counselors can use to gain insights into what their prospect is thinking as they get deeper into the decision-making process.

The best strategy centers around simply asking your prospect intelligent questions that help reveal what they’re thinking. For example:

  • Ask questions that use a third person as the reason you need an answer. You could use your Director, VP, or your school’s Financial Aid Director…someone who holds a degree of power in the mind of your prospect.
  • Ask questions that use a time of year as the reason for urgency. You can use an application/financial aid deadline or some other point in the timeline as the reason you need to get an update on where they stand in the decision-making process.
  • Ask a question with a “because” in it. It’s a powerful word…powerful “because” it gives your prospect an added reason to give you an answer.  For example, “I’m wondering if you’re going to submit your housing deposit by the end of next week because that building is really popular and often fills up fast.” In our work with other admissions departments around the country we find that “because” is a powerful motivator for today’s generation of students.

My Flight Cancellation Results In Key Advice for YouTuesday, January 17th, 2017

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

Often times, as I head off to lead a workshop with a college or university admissions department and their counselors, I have to deal with the inconvenience of flight delays and cancellations.

My most recent issue was a cancellation in Chicago due to air traffic control…at least that’s what the text message said that the airline sent me. No, “we’re sorry for the inconvenience”, or “here’s how we’re going to help you”. Instead, the text message told me to go to their website to select an available rebooking option, or call a representative and ask for assistance (which you and I both know means call and sit on hold for who knows how many minutes).

After sitting on hold with the airline for the entire time it took me to drive to the airport, I hung up, returned my rental car, and took my place in line with all the other frustrated customers.

In the midst of waiting for the airline representative to come up with my new itinerary, I overhead a mother and daughter (high school senior) standing in line behind me talking about rescheduling their college visit due to the same flight cancellation.

I decided to introduce myself, and we struck up a conversation about the college search process and how their experience was going.

In the 15 to 20 minutes I talked with them, they opened-up about some of their frustrations and also offered some observations about admissions counselors and the process in general.

While I’m not suggesting they speak for every prospective student/parent around the country, I do know this wasn’t the first time I’ve heard similar statements.

Here are three things worth mentioning:

  • They wanted to know what to do next, but no one was telling them.  The two of them had previously visited a couple of campuses. Each visit basically ended the same way with a “thanks for coming, call us if you have any questions”…and they made it clear to me that they had questions every single time, namely, what do we do next and how did that school’s process differ from other colleges they were considering? Nobody was outlining the process or telling either of them what was coming next. Lots of generalized “contact” from admissions counselors and student callers, very little direction.  I want you to be the counselor that outlines a plan and keeps your prospects updated on what’s coming next and what you want them to do next.  Ask your prospects, and their parents, to walk you through their timeline (as best they can).  Figure out how you can help them get from the start to the finish.
  • The student was tired of phone calls and emails that were boring. She was “so over” (her words not mine) counselors calling and emailing, “Hey, how’s it going”, or “Any big plans this weekend?” When I asked her what counselors should do, she told me that they needed to ask better questions that actually mean something to her and are interesting. The lesson?  This generation of students doesn’t just want a school to “check in” with them and waste their time. That doesn’t win points with them.  Have something to say, and show students that you’re reaching out to them for a reason.
  • The parent had all kinds of information about her daughter’s decision-making process that she was happy to share with colleges…if they would just ask. When I asked mom how many admissions counselors had reached out to either her or her husband, she said one. And she added that the one who did reach out literally called the house to let them know that they could fill out the FAFSA earlier than in past years. Let me say it again – If you haven’t connected yet with the parents of your prospects who are high school seniors (especially the ones of your admits), you’re making recruiting much harder than it needs to be. And when you do reach out to parents, not only do you need to ask the right questions, but be ready to prove how your college offers the best “bang for their buck”. How you communicate your value and what your school has to offer counts now more than ever.

Want to talk with me further about one or more of these bullet points? Is there something else that you could use help with right now? Connect with me via email today.

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Admissions VIP Extra: January 17, 2017Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Don’t make this mistake with your admitted students: by Jeremy Tiers

Today I want to bring to your attention a common mistake that I see a lot of admissions professionals make later in the process that impacts yield in a negative way.

Too many admissions counselors shift their communication efforts into cruise control after a prospect is admitted.

If you’re having trouble coming up with things to talk to your admits about at this stage of the game then I’d wager you haven’t built a strong enough rapport yet.

Here’s one easy thing that you can start doing today that will make a difference:

Keep giving them reasons to pick your school. Your prospects crave direction. Even after they get admitted, they’re still looking for good reasons to ultimately choose your institution. Make sure you’re giving those to them. If you think you’re going to wait until an admitted student day event and then “close the deal” in one day or one weekend, you’re taking an awfully big risk. Like it or not, other colleges will continue to recruit them, and would it surprise you to know that admitted students have told us that they even start to consider new schools because they just aren’t 100% sure yet that they’ve found that “right fit?” You need to continue to clearly communicate reasons why your school is the obvious choice. Don’t just assume that they know.

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