By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
3 minute read
It was looking/sounding like your school was one of their top choices, but in the end, they decided to go elsewhere. Now what? Should you just move on, or is it beneficial to try and figure out the why behind a student’s decision.
That’s a question I’ve been getting from both newsletter readers and those who follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Seeing as how no admissions counselor is immune to this situation, I thought it would be beneficial to share with you some of the strategies that I recently recommended to them.
I’ll start with this. Sometimes the reason why a student chooses another school will make sense (i.e. it was less expensive or was in a more preferred location). And sometimes it will come completely out of left field and you’ll find yourself scratching your head and saying, “Seriously!?”
Either way, it’s important to try and figure out whether it was something out of your control or if changing your process or improving a certain skillset could have resulted in a different outcome.
There are a few common missteps I see happen every year that I want to make sure you avoid.
- Never email, text, or call a student just to “check in.” It’s imperative that you ask direct and intentional questions throughout the entire process – including asking admitted students about their timeline for making a decision and what factors will matter the most.
- There was never a real discussion about cost or the student or family’s plan to pay for college.
- There was a lack of communication with the parent(s).
Now let’s talk about how to handle those “no’s.”
You should always ask questions and dig for answers. Why? Because we continue to find that you’ll get the most honest answer from a student right after you lose them. It’s fresh in their mind, and a lot of this generation feels a little bad for not picking your school, which leads them to feel like they owe you an explanation.
Whenever possible, this conversation should happen over the phone or via video chat. Text messaging and email are both fine, but you can’t hear their voice/tone or see their reaction to certain questions that I’m about to give you.
Start by congratulating the student on their decision. It’s okay to tell them you wish they had chosen your school, but in the end it’s about their happiness, and they need to feel that you’re excited for them.
That kind of professionalism is key because word of mouth (i.e. a positive experience even though the student didn’t pick your school) is extremely important and can help lead to future commitments.
Now it’s time to try and figure out the why. That involves asking questions like these:
- What was the number one reason for choosing <College Name>?
- When did you know it was them and not us?
- What were one or two things about our school that you wish you could have changed?
- What did your parents have to say about your decision? (You’re asking this to see if everyone was in agreement.)
- Can you tell me one thing that I could have done better to make your college search less stressful?
When you’re done, wish them good luck again, thank them for the opportunity to get to know them, and let them know that if anything changes in the near or distant future, you’ll be here and you’d love the chance to talk with them again.
For those students who don’t respond or have no interest in having a discussion with you anymore, consider writing them a quick handwritten note with the same congrats/good luck message.
Yes it will take extra time, but in more than a few cases I’ve seen this yield results for admissions counselors when students decide to transfer schools.
Here’s a final piece of advice. Never let rejection get you down. I see this happen a lot with new admissions counselors, and some end up developing a negative attitude which affects future conversations. Always remind yourself, they’re not rejecting you personally when they choose another school.
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And if you found this article helpful, I encourage you to forward it to someone else on your campus who could also benefit from reading it.