By Jeremy Tiers, Senior Director of Admissions Services
3 minute read
One of the biggest questions I’ve been getting from my newsletter community the past few weeks has to do with inquiries and prospects who haven’t responded or taken action despite numerous emails, texts, and phone calls.
Dealing with unresponsive students is a common problem every year, especially during the latter part of the cycle.
Radio silence typically means different things for different students depending on where they’re at in their college search. And remember, most students become increasingly tired of the entire process the longer it goes on – all the constant messaging from colleges and universities as well as all the questions from family members and their friends.
Throw in the current pandemic on top of all this, and it’s no surprise that getting engagement or feedback is a big challenge that requires a student-centered strategy. Continuing to send app push after app push isn’t the answer.
Before I share a strategy that you can use, let’s quickly review the most common reasons behind a student’s lack of communication:
- They aren’t sure why your school would be a good fit for them. This particularly applies to inquiries and prospects who haven’t visited campus. Because so many emails, letters, and text messages from colleges and universities continue to look and/or sound the same, students struggle to differentiate how one school is different, better, or unique. That slows down or completely stalls the application process.
- They’re busy and overwhelmed. The college search, COVID, online/hybrid schooling, and just being busy with teenage life can be exhausting and stressful.
- They don’t like talking on the phone or aren’t comfortable with you texting them. Believe it or not, it could be as simple as that. Our ongoing survey research says that about 30% of students didn’t want a phone call during their college search, while 22% never wanted a text message.
- They’re actually interested but they don’t know what to say or do (they need help and don’t know how to ask). We’ve talked before about how much fear controls so many of the decisions that students make during their college search. In a lot of cases, students need you to recognize that fear, address it, and then create an opportunity for them to engage by asking direct and intentional questions. On top of that, simply letting them know that you’re there to listen and help will improve your chances for a response.
- They’ve decided your school isn’t a good fit and they’re scared or nervous to tell you. This generation of students has a very hard time telling people “no.” Knowing that no college or university is the right fit for every student, have you opened the door for this tough conversation?
Now let’s talk about what you can do to generate more engagement and feedback from your inquiries and prospects. Keep in mind that this strategy can be tweaked and will also work with students at other stages who have gone silent (i.e. incomplete apps and admitted students).
Create a short, direct, personalized email that comes from the student’s admissions counselor. No sales pitch or bullet points about your school and no hyperlinks or links to your application.
Tell the student you’ve tried to contact them in a variety of ways, and you’re thinking their lack of response might mean they’ve found the college or university that’s the right fit for them. But you’re also thinking it could mean they need some help, they’ve got questions, or they’re stuck on something. Bottom line – you’re just not 100% sure, so you’d like them to reply back with an update on where they’re at with their college search and how they’re feeling about everything. That’s your call to action at the end.
Remind the student that you’re there to listen and help, and you could even open the door and explain that you understand your school isn’t the perfect fit for everybody, and it’s okay to tell you “no” (i.e. you won’t be mad).
For the message to feel personal, make sure the tone is conversational throughout, and make sure it sounds like you’re trying to understand their personal situation (versus pushing them to immediately complete their application).
Be creative with your subject line. Focus on getting their attention by standing out. Three recent examples that have worked well for our clients are, “What are you worried about?”, “College stuff can be overwhelming”, and “Don’t leave me hanging.”
And based on our ongoing survey research, I’d recommend that you schedule your email to go out right after school or sometime in the evening during the week.
After you hit send, be prepared to respond to the answers you get in a timely manner. Keep in mind you don’t have to write long, detailed follow-up responses. You just have to keep the conversation going.
Remember, your goal is to figure out where the student is at in their process, how they’re feeling about everything, and what (if anything) they need help with before they’ll apply.
One final thing – I’d also recommend sending a short, direct text message about two days later to all the students who don’t reply back to your email. In your text, alert them to that email and let them know you’re really interested in hearing what their answer is to the question you asked.
If you’ve got a question or comment about this article, just hit reply or click here.
And if you found this article helpful, I encourage you to forward it on to someone else on your campus who you think might also benefit from reading it.