By Jeremy Tiers, Senior Director of Admissions Services
4 minute read
Hearing that a student has chosen another college can be hard, especially if you were feeling like your school was going to be the pick.
Even if you do everything to the best of your ability, you will still receive some “No’s.” Remember, there isn’t a college/university or an admissions counselor that yields 100% of their admitted student population.
After this recruiting cycle winds down, if you weren’t already planning to do some self-evaluation, I strongly encourage you to intentionally set aside time for that.
Success in admissions and enrollment management is a process. There is no quick fix that solves everything. It’s about developing a plan, building good habits that you integrate daily, and then taking inventory of things to figure out what needs to be tweaked or changed. If you don’t follow those steps, professional and personal growth becomes more difficult.
Today I want to focus on how to handle and evaluate those “No’s.”
It’s important to determine if students are choosing another school because of things that you can control (i.e. your customer service, your campus visit experience, the way you communicate), or for reasons out of your control like the location or size of your school.
Here are four of the most common and controllable missteps that contribute to missed enrollment goals – by an entire staff, or by a counselor with their territory.
- There wasn’t enough intentional communication with students. Instead there was a lot of “checking in” and “Reach out if you have any questions.” As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, developing the habit of asking direct and intentional questions is a gamechanger.
- There was a lack of communication with the parent(s). The college search process is no longer a student only experience – it’s a family experience. Personalized outreach to this top influencer group is essential.
- There was never a real discussion about cost or the student/family’s plan to pay for college.
- You didn’t actually make “the ask”, or make it in a way that felt personal. Repeatedly telling students via email and text to submit their deposit is not an effective strategy for the majority of colleges and universities in 2023. Remember, students have more options than ever before. Like most of us they like to feel wanted, and prompting them in a personal and encouraging way to take the next step is sometimes all they need.
Now let’s talk more about how to handle those “No’s” – both in the moment when you make the ask or after students have declined their acceptance.
You should always ask direct questions and work to gain feedback from a student after they select a different school. We continue to find that you’ll get the most honest answer from a student either in the moment, or in the first week or two that follows. The decision is fresh in their mind, and a lot of students feel a little bad for not picking your school, which leads them to feel like they owe you an explanation – as long as you ask for it in an empathetic and respectful way.
My advice is to start by congratulating the student on their decision. It’s okay to say you wish they had chosen your school, but in the end, it’s about their happiness, and you’re excited for them.
Then let the student know you’d like to ask them one question:
“<First Name>, what did your decision ultimately come down to?”
Your goal should be to pin point the why, and if possible, also the when (i.e. When did you know that our school wasn’t going to be the choice?)
If you feel like the student is open to sharing more, you might also ask:
“What were one or two things you wished you could have changed about our school that would have made us your top choice?”
“What did your parents have to say about your decision?”
“What’s one thing I could have done better to make your college search easier or less overwhelming?”
All of that context is extremely valuable. As you’re gaining different insights from students, look to see if any common themes emerge that warrant additional discussion within your office.
Whenever you’re done, wish the student all the best and let them know that if anything changes, you’ll be here and would love the chance to talk with them again about their options.
One final importance piece of advice – Write a short email with the same ‘Congrats and good luck’ message to the student’s parent(s). That kind of professionalism is key because word of mouth (i.e. a positive experience even though the student didn’t pick your school) can help lead to future interest from other students. Plus, you may gain additional context about the student’s decision from their parent(s).
If you’d like to talk more about something I said, feel free to drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you found this article helpful, forward it to someone else on your campus who could also benefit from reading it.