By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Lately I continue to find myself repeating the same important reminder to admissions counselors – it’s your job to lead prospective students (and their parents) through the college search process from start to finish.
Far too many counselors continue to take a “sit back and wait approach” when it comes to helping students figure out whether or not their college or university is the right choice for them. It’s particularly a problem during the early stages of the process.
Expecting students to figure out everything on their own and seek you out whenever they have questions is not a smart strategy. That’s because, among other things, the majority of students tell us in our surveys that they’re nervous and/or scared to say or do the wrong thing. Fear is real, and fear delays action.
Someone has to take the lead, and I want it to be you. Just remember, while I want you to lead, I don’t want you to dominate. Make it a two-way conversation that is always student (or parent) centered.
While you’re doing that and starting to cultivate relationships with this next class, here are five big no-no’s:
- Don’t ask students to fill out a lot of forms, a lengthy RFI or inquiry card, or a post-visit survey. You don’t really need a large majority of that information right away, and students know it. Continuing to ask for it because that’s what the process has always been needs to stop. Plus, most of us don’t like filling stuff out and you can multiply that times a hundred for teenagers. When you ask them to do this, it completely kills the momentum. To be clear, I’m not saying there isn’t valuable information early on that needs to be sought out…there is. But in most cases it’s not currently being asked for on those forms, and the language being used definitely doesn’t feel personal, it feels transactional.
- Don’t immediately tell students to apply or sign up for a visit. When you do that in your first communication or before you introduce them to their admissions counselor, it almost always comes across as pushy and disingenuous. It’s like you’re trying to skip steps, and it just doesn’t feel right to students. There’s a process that leads to doing a visit or making the decision to complete a college application. And whenever you do ask them to visit campus or sign up for your virtual/online event (which can happen early on), use language that makes it feel personal, and explain why participating in the event will be beneficial for them.
- Don’t just ask students, “Do you have any questions?” Every one of them has things they’re wondering about, but that specific question and others like it are too open-ended and students aren’t sure what they’re supposed to ask/say. As I touched on in point number one, you’re also battling their fear of doing/saying the wrong thing. Be more intentional, empathetic, and direct with your questions. Focus on asking them about their process and how they’re feeling about different aspects of their college search.
- Don’t keep repeating the same topics that every other college is focusing on during virtual visits and preview days. Don’t just recite a laundry list of reasons why your school is so great and then tell them about scholarships, financial aid and applying. If you do, you’re turning into a salesperson instead of a resource, and you’re not differentiating your school. That’s not going to get and keep their attention. Instead, focus on helping them with things you know they’re struggling to figure out or wondering about (Ex. How do I know if a bigger or smaller college is right for me?; Can I afford a private college?; How do I figure out which colleges to apply to?) And present it in a way that feels genuine and authentic versus completely scripted.
- Don’t assume they know what to do next. Most prospective students don’t know how to go through this process or have any idea how they’re going to make their college decision. By nature, most are going to wait for you to lead. If you don’t do that right away, there’s a good chance they’ll gravitate towards the college or counselor that does.
Knowing what not to do as you’re leading the conversation and making your communications student centered will help you with conversion.
Wondering about something now? Throw it in an email and send it my way. I’ll give you some quick feedback.
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