by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
You’re not alone.
Winter seems to be the popular time of year for radio silence from students, namely inquiries and admitted (but undecided) students.
A lot of admissions counselors tell me their state of mind when this happens is a combination of frustration and urgency. And when an admissions counselor is frustrated and feeling the pressure to move students to the next stage of the process, I’ve found that bad things often follow. I’m talking about things like becoming way pushier during conversations or questioning their own ability to recruit students successfully.
Today I’m going to take you inside your student’s head and give you an idea of what they might be thinking or feeling. There’s a reason for the silence, and it’s important that you understand the “why” behind it. That understanding will give you the road map you’ll need to continue or reignite effective communication. I’ll also give you some strategies on how to do that as well.
Let’s start with five common things that could be behind your prospect’s silence:
- You’re school isn’t a good fit and they just don’t want to tell you. As you probably guessed, this is one of the most common reasons for getting the silent treatment. Why don’t they just tell you that they’re not interested, right? If only it were that simple. This generation of students has a very hard time telling others “no.” Our research says that they’re afraid you’ll get mad at them. Right or wrong, this is who you’re dealing with. By being silent, they hope you just fade away so that they don’t have to have that uncomfortable conversation with you.
- They aren’t sure how serious your school is about them so they don’t want to invest extra time with you. They know they’re not the only student being recruited by your college, and because so many recruitment emails and letters continue to look and sound the same, they struggle to differentiate who’s more serious about them. Combine that with an inconsistent flow of messages (i.e. send a lot early, then slow down, then send a lot more around financial aid season), and you’ve got students who are completely confused and ultimately default to just ignoring it all.
- They’re interested, but they don’t know what to do or say next (and most are afraid to ask). This usually results from admissions counselors who make their conversations and messages all about their school and taking action, sprinkled in with some, “How did your day go?” phone calls or text messages that end up going nowhere. No matter what stage a student is at in their college search, they’re always looking for the next step, and you need to consistently give it to them.
- They don’t like talking on the phone. It could be as simple as that. Make sure you’re communicating with your students they way they want to be communicated with.
- They’re busy and overwhelmed. When Dan (Tudor) and I look at our research data, both with prospective students and student-athletes, the two most common reasons they give us for not being prompt in returning a school’s call is that they’re busy with high school life as well as being overwhelmed with the college search process in general. Many students also aren’t sure what they should (and shouldn’t) say during a conversation with an admissions counselor or student caller. How are you easing their stress level and making this process easier on them?
Alright, I’ve given you some of the “why.” Now let’s discuss some things you can do to regenerate the conversation. By the way, keep in mind that at this point (mid-February) you’re going to have to pick up the phone and make a lot of calls. Like it or not, that’s going to be your best option in almost every case.
- Stop acting like a robot on the phone. Students can quickly tell when a call from a counselor or a student caller is scripted. It drives them nuts, and they lose focus fast. You can still focus on the same talking points, but do it in a natural, conversational tone so it doesn’t feel forced and robotic.
- Take responsibility for your inconsistent communication. If you and/or your school have been inconsistent, ease their concerns/fears right away by apologizing and taking ownership (even if it’s not completely your fault). Tell them you could have done a better job making this process more about them, and ask them if your school is still under consideration. If it is, reassure them that going forward you will improve, and you could even go so far as to ask them for feedback on what you can do to be a helpful partner.
- Give them an “out”. Specifically with “cold inquiries,” in a voicemail or email (or even if they answer the phone), ask them if they’re okay with telling you “no” if they get to a point where they feel your school isn’t the right fit. Counselors who have done this tell me one of two things typically happens – the student calls back and says that they’ve chosen another college, or they’ll say they haven’t made a decision yet and are struggling with some aspect of the process. Either way, you get the information you’re looking for, and you now know the truth about what’s going on.
- Tell them they’re a priority. It’s a couple simple words that make a huge impact! If you’re talking to an admitted (but undecided) student, remind them at some point that they are a priority.
- Send the student a handwritten note. A personalized gesture like this not only increases your likeability, but it also signals that the student is a priority and encourages them to take your call the next time you reach out.
- Call the student’s parent(s). If you’ve left multiple voicemails and/or reached out through multiple channels, call the parent(s) with the goal of discovering if a decision has been made. And if it hasn’t, your goal now should be to find out where they’re at in the process, and come up with something you can do to help them.
- Ask them an effective question. For example, “What do you see as the next step in your process?” or “What’s the biggest thing you’re struggling with right now when it comes to picking a college?” or “Why did we end up being one of the schools that made your final cut?” Keep in the mind that the question you’re asking needs to align with the stage they’re at in the process.
I’ll end by reiterating a very important point! Once a conversation has been renewed or started, please make sure there’s a plan moving forward for how you will consistently communicate with that student/family the rest of the way. Without that, you’ll quickly be back to square one again.
If you have a specific question, problem, or concern…or maybe you’re just looking for reassurance that the approach you’re considering is a good strategy, I’m here to listen if you’re willing to share. The next step is to call, text, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll get a response within 24 hours (probably less). That’s my promise to you.