By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Dealing with unresponsive students is a common problem every fall, especially as we get closer to the holidays.
These past few weeks a number of readers have been asking me for more information and ideas on how to handle this group. Radio silence means different things for different students, especially if they’re at different stages of the college search process (i.e. inquiries, incomplete apps, and admitted students).
Today I’m going to walk you through what that silence could be signaling, as well as how to handle both cold inquiries and incomplete apps right now.
Let’s start with the most common reasons for a lack of communication:
- They aren’t sure why your school would be a good fit for them. This particularly applies to inquiries. Because so many recruitment emails, letters, and text messages continue to look and/or sound the same (along with school websites), students struggle to differentiate what it all means. When confusion mounts, in many cases they do nothing, which then slows down their entire process and thus contributes to students taking longer to take action.
- They’ve decided your school isn’t a good fit and they just don’t want to tell you. This generation of students has a very hard time telling people “no.” Our ongoing survey research says that they’re afraid you’ll get mad at them, you’ll criticize their lack of interest, or you’ll criticize the fact that they’ve changed their mind. They don’t want to deal with any of those, so that fear manifests itself through silence. By avoiding conversation, they hope you just sort of fade away so that they don’t have to deal with an uncomfortable situation.
- They aren’t sure how much your school really wants them. Because of that, some students stop an application midstream while others struggle to understand why they should talk to you more than the other schools they’ve also been admitted to. Simply letting them know how important they are goes a long way.
- They’re busy and overwhelmed. When Dan (Tudor) and I look at the survey data from students and student-athletes, being busy with high school life as well as being overwhelmed with the college search process comes up often. How are you easing their stress level and making this process easier for them?
- They don’t like talking on the phone or aren’t comfortable with you texting them. It could be as simple as that. Our ongoing survey research says that about 27-30% of students didn’t want a phone call or text message from any college during their search. Make sure you’re communicating with your students the way they want to be communicated with.
- They’re actually interested, but they don’t know what to say (or do next). Remember, fear is a real thing! Building on that last bullet point, I want you to lead the conversation and clearly articulate the next step in the process at every single turn. Without doing that most won’t figure it out on their own, let alone in the time frame that you want them to.
Now I’m going to share with you a couple of strategies that have helped our clients generate engagement from cold inquiries and students with incomplete applications.
For cold inquiries, create a short, personalized email that directly asks where the student is at in their college search, and if your school is still being considered. No sales pitch or extra info about your school, get right to the point. 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 school that’s the right fit for them, but you’re not 100% sure and would like them to reply back with an update. You could even tell the student that it’s okay to tell you “no.” Make sure you get creative with your subject line, and based on our survey research I’d recommend that you schedule your email to go out late in the afternoon or sometime in the evening.
For seniors with incomplete apps, there are multiple options that we’ve seen work. You can take a similar approach with a short, personalized, email that communicates your excitement, and at the same time asks what’s preventing them from finishing their application. You could also send a short text message with a similar focus, or you could send a text with the goal of setting up a phone call to discuss the student’s specific situation. Some counselors have told me they end up trying all three (in no particular order) before getting a response.
Let me add that when it comes to phone calls, make sure you don’t sound robotic. Students can quickly tell when a call from a counselor or even a student caller is scripted. It drives them nuts and they lose focus fast. Be direct and talk in a natural, conversational tone.
One final thing – For the students who do engage be sure and ask about the best way to communicate with them going forward. Then immediately note (or update) their communication preference in your CRM.