Dan Tudor

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January 23rd, 2018

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Establishing a Timeline With Prospective Students

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services 


Lately I’ve been getting a lot of emails and phone calls from Directors and Associate Directors who describe the following scenario. Their school is getting ready to deliver financial aid awards, and call campaigns are about to commence. In many cases, there’s been minimal or inconsistent contact between the admissions counselor and an admitted student/family up to this point. As a result, the Director or AD is worried that these phone calls will come off as transactional instead of personal.

On top of that, I’ve also heard from a number of admissions counselors who tell me they’re lacking confidence to make financial aid phone calls because they don’t have a good feel for where those admitted but undecided students are at in their college search process.

The end result is usually one of the following:

  • Because they don’t know which students are ready to end the process (I promise you that every counselor has one or more students who are ready to do just that once they get their FA package) the admissions counselor misses a huge opportunity to “close” those students. Oftentimes simply reiterating to a student that they’re a priority for your school and then asking them if they’re ready to commit/deposit is all it takes to get the student to take action.


  • If the admissions counselor does ask an admitted student if they’re ready to commit/deposit and the student/family isn’t ready to decide just yet, there’s a chance the counselor will come across as pushy and overly aggressive. In many cases that makes future conversations between that counselor and student/family more difficult. And if the student does happen commit because they feel pressured, I would argue there’s a greater chance for that student to melt later on because in their mind that decision wasn’t made on their terms.

The easiest way to avoid a situation like this is to ask each student as early as possible in the process what their timeline is for making their college decision.

As I explain when I lead an admissions training workshop, establishing a timeline that your prospect or their parents have set in their mind for making that final decision is critical for you to effectively manage the entire recruiting process (and all those names that a counselor has in their territory). It also gives your prospect a checklist to follow early on which we’ve found helps to alleviate some of the stress they’re feeling during the early stages of the college search.

Furthermore, this strategy will establish you as the person that will be guiding them through the college search process. Note that I said guide –  not trick, force, or pressure. You do that through consistent communication, effective questioning, establishing logical “next steps” throughout the process, and continually providing them with smart reasons (i.e. storytelling) that prove your school is the “best fit” based on their wants and needs.

Now, if you ask them about their timeline and their response makes it clear that they have little to no idea how to navigate this process, that again provides an opportunity for you to insert yourself as the expert guide who has helped countless families who were in the same situation as they are.

As you’re walking the student/family through all the key steps and stages of the college search process, make sure the timeline you’re establishing is a mutually agreed upon one and not one that you’re telling them they have to follow. I can’t emphasize that point enough!

Let me also add that if you establish a timeline with your prospect during their junior year of high school (or even their sophomore year), ask about their timeline again every six months because there’s a good chance that their answer will change. If this were the start of their senior year, ask at least every three months moving forward just to make sure that everyone remains on the same page…which brings me back to where I started this article.

If you haven’t established a mutually agreed upon timeline with your admitted, but undecided students yet, during that next phone call I want you to ask a question like, “Jeremy, have you and your parents talked about when you’re going to make your college decision?” The response you receive will not only tell you where they’re at in the process (and probably reveal any objections/concerns they have about your school), but also what your next step with that student/family needs to be.

Do you have a question about this article? Email me right now by clicking this link. I’m happy to discuss it further with you.

P.S. If you want even more tips and strategies like this one that you can use in your everyday recruiting, bring me to campus this spring or summer to lead our popular admissions workshop. You can get in touch with me here to check on available dates, or click here for all the workshop details.

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