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Advice On Talking About Cost With Prospects and ParentsTuesday, November 29th, 2016

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

You and I both know that talking about paying for college is a stressful and complex topic for most families.

In our focus group recruiting surveys on college campuses across the country, we ask freshmen students which of the following three things was “most stressful” for them during the college search process – Thinking/talking about paying for college, filling out applications, or waiting for decision letters/emails. The number one answer every single time (close to a 70% overall average) is thinking/talking about paying for college.

Unfortunately I continue to both read and hear a lot of stories about college and university admissions counselors waiting until their school’s financial aid packages are distributed before starting a real conversation with a family about cost…unless you count sending out reminders to fill out the FAFSA and other aid forms (which I don’t, and neither should you).

So, if you’re not sure where to begin, or you’re willing to consider a different approach, let me share with you some strategies that we’ve seen work over the past year that you should think about putting to use with families of this current recruiting class.

  • Start the conversation early. Too many counselors do the exact opposite. They avoid talking about cost until a family brings it up in conversation mainly because, they tell us, they’re worried it will lead to an objection.  Your ability to clearly explain the process early on will lead to a greater comfort level and a lot less questions down the road when you try to convert those admitted students. I would also recommend that initially you have separate conversations with students and parents about cost and financial aid, not the parents and your prospect together at once. It’s a sensitive topic, and we’ve found that when a school does it this way, both conversations end up being more productive.
  • Ask the parents what kinds of challenges this process creates for them. That type of question is one of the effective questions that I recommend to admissions teams when I lead an on-campus training workshop.  You need to understand what obstacles the subject of cost creates when it comes to considering your school.  By engaging the parents in that conversation, you’ll help them connect the dots which is something they value.
  • Focus on what you can offer them instead of what you can’t. Our ongoing focus group research also continues to show that more often than not, multiple other factors rank ahead of “being more affordable than other schools” in terms of their importance of influencing your prospect’s final decision.  The “feel” of your campus, how your admissions staff and students treat them on their campus visit, the perception of the college as a whole, and other non-monetary factors play a huge part in the final decision.  Are you directing your conversation with your prospects back to those factors?
  • Be their guide and always keep them in the loop. I’ve talked numerous times in previous articles about how important transparency is with this generation of students (and parents). The college selection process is confusing and stressful. Both you and your admissions colleagues need to be their guides from start to finish. Be sure and reiterate key dates and deadlines well in advance. If you want to avoid “sticker shock,” explain to them how the bottom-line total is calculated and why that’s the important number to remember. Also, try and touch on how a financial aid offer might change in years two, three, and four as well as how your school can help them manage their student debt. Don’t just pass these things off to your financial aid office. I want you to strive to be an honest guide who makes the details easy to understand. If you do that, you’ll quickly gain their trust.
  • Be prepared to provide detailed student outcomes. You can’t expect a family to commit to taking on any sort of debt unless you can provide a detailed outline of the potential return on their investment. For example, if the student wants to major in business, show them how many graduates have been produced by your school as well as where those recent alumni live and work and what they earn on average in the first few years after graduation. A detailed account like that will help prove your school’s value in easy to understand dollars and sense terms.
  • Understand that they might have the money, but they don’t know if they want to spend it on your school. When a family talks about not being able to afford your school, remember that in some cases they can afford it, they just haven’t decided that they want to. Ask yourself what would happen if a bigger, prestigious brand name school with a perceived higher academic reputation entered the picture for your prospect and offered the exact same financial aid package. Chances are that family would find a way to “make it work” financially. Just remember that more often than not your prospect has the money, they just aren’t sure yet if they want to spend it on your school. It’s your job to consistently and creatively find ways to get them to justify the expense and why it’s worth the investment.
  • Collaborate with your school’s financial aid staff. The days of directing all “money” questions to your financial aid office are quickly coming to an end. If you haven’t already done some cross training with the folks in financial aid, now is the time. You need to understand what financial aid officers look for and how they make their decisions. Be able to navigate your school’s financial aid website because if you can’t do it, you can guarantee your prospects won’t be able to either. Cultivating these relationships will make a tangible difference. Remember that both offices are working towards the same goal of enrolling those “best fit” students.

At the end of the day there will be times when, despite your best efforts, you won’t be able to overcome the reality that some families just cannot afford your school without taking on what they consider significant financial debt.

I’m confident, though, if you start the conversation earlier and focus more on the value of your institution and not the dollar amount, you’ll avoid a lot of confusion and frustration by your prospects and their parents.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read this week’s article. If you’ve got a question about any aspect of student recruitment, let’s schedule a time to connect. All you have to do is email me directly at: jeremy@dantudor.com

The Four Things Your Prospects Want When it Comes to Financial AidMonday, January 19th, 2015

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

This past week I had a lengthy discussion with an admissions counselor. She reached out to me for advice after a common theme started to develop with her new admits. The excitement of receiving that acceptance letter had begun to wear off. It was now being replaced by the stress of affording to pay for college.

The first thing I did was reassure this counselor that she wasn’t alone. As we all know, similar situations like this are occurring in many other admissions offices. Accepted prospects are once again being reminded that getting in to college is only half the battle. A new whirlwind of paperwork and electronic filing awaits them.

Colleges and universities are preparing for, or in many cases, are now in the thick of financial aid season. Prospects and parents alike are gathering the information needed to complete the financial aid forms, some of which are due in the coming weeks. Too often however we hear about recruits quickly becoming overwhelmed by the lingo of financial aid. That feeling of frustration can be enhanced further if they call the admissions office, only to speak with someone who is unprepared to provide guidance, and instead passes them off to a financial aid counselor who currently has a full plate and is unavailable.

As we discuss during our on-campus workshops, throughout the entire recruitment process your admissions team must always be laying out those all-important “next steps.” Through listening and effective questioning, counselors should also have uncovered and answered any objections. Having said that, here are four more things your prospects want from you when it comes to financial aid.

  • They want an explanation of the aid package as early as possible. Prospects value schools that give financial aid estimates, even if they can’t spell out all of the package details yet. At a number of institutions the total package may not be known until March or possibly later. Walking a recruit through a projection early on, with specifics such as scholarship awards if possible, is a tangible way to show him or her that you care.
  • They want to know your school’s value. There’s no question that a strong financial aid package will increase the chances that admits submit deposits. Research tells us though that this alone is not enough value to consistently secure commitments. Counselors must sell all of the qualities of the college above and beyond the financial assistance. This includes concrete data on your recent graduates.  Knowing your school’s strengths and presenting the value proposition in the best way to connect with each individual recruit will pay dividends.
  • They want transparency. If you read this newsletter each week then you understand just how important transparency is in the eyes of your prospects. If you haven’t heard that before, I strongly encourage you to write it on a post-it note and stick it somewhere visible as a daily reminder. Here’s how it applies to the financial aid process. As I mentioned earlier, clearly stating what needs to happen next in the process is a must. Make sure your prospects know when the filing deadlines are, what forms are required, what verification means, and how loans and payment plans work. Explain that to maximize their chances of getting aid via the FAFSA, submit that form as soon as possible. If they tell you their parents make too much money so they don’t need to complete it, make sure they understand that there are many different factors that go into financial aid.  Ask them if they received even a few hundred dollars why they wouldn’t want that additional assistance. In the end if you can’t explain the details clearly, what are your prospects going to think?
  • They want you to solve their problem.  That’s right…they want you to help them figure out how to pay for college. They want you to help them find any outside scholarships and figure out what additional options they have for financing tuition and other expenses. They also want you to tell them about any financial aid seminars or workshops that your college or another local high school is hosting. Believe me when I tell you that the counselor who solves their problems will likely be the one whose school receives those deposits. Let’s be honest though, it’s unlikely that you will solve all of their problems, but if you can demonstrate that you’re trying to do so you’ll win brownie points with your prospects.

If you remember each of these four important points when you’re communicating about financial aid with your prospects, you will see greater yields.

Looking for help delivering clearer messages to your recruits? Jeremy Tiers and the staff at Tudor Collegiate Strategies work with college admissions departments around the country on a personalized basis.  To discuss your situation and how the program would work with you, email Jeremy directly at jeremy@dantudor.com

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