By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
More often than not it still comes as a surprise when I talk about the importance of getting different groups of prospective students to reveal what they DON’T want in their future college.
A lot of admissions counselors continue to try and avoid any talk around negatives, and yet there’s a lot of value in knowing a student’s real feelings sooner rather than later. Plus, for most students, it’s actually easier to talk about what’s wrong vs. what’s right.
For that to happen though you need to lead the conversation and tell them it’s okay to reveal what they view as negative about your school…no matter how small or big it may be in their opinion.
So, the next time you communicate with a new inquiry, prospect, or even a junior or sophomore during a campus or high school visit, I encourage you to incorporate one or more of the following questions. These almost always get students to talk, think, and engage.
- “Tell me about the wrong type of college for you”
- “What would you say is the wrong kind of classroom environment in college for you? Do you want your professors to get to know you, or would you rather be in a bigger class where you’re left alone?”
- “What’s the wrong type of college location for you – big city, or small town?
- “What are the two or three biggest question marks you have about our school?” (Don’t ask them “if” they have any questions, ask them what the questions and objections are)
After they tell you and seem to be finished, here’s what I want you to do next. Tell them how much you appreciate them opening up and sharing whatever they just shared with you. It’s extremely important that that they feel like there are no penalties for being honest with you because you want them to continue being honest moving forward. For those students who seem really nervous and don’t open up right away, you might have to tell them that earlier in the conversation.
Finally, let them know that you’re always open to talking with them about their concerns because in the end you want to help them find the college that’s the best fit for them.
I also want to add two more things. Don’t be surprised if a student struggles to verbalize their answer to one of those questions, namely because they won’t have a memorized answer like they do to many of the common questions that a lot of college representatives ask.
And finally, sometimes utilizing this strategy will reveal much earlier that your school isn’t the right place for them. That’s okay because that’s part of recruiting.
If you’re still not sure about this approach, consider the following. Most students expect colleges and universities to brag about themselves and only highlight the positives. They continue to tell us as much in our focus group surveys.
Asking about a negative and being willing to discuss it makes you stand out. That kind of honesty and transparency can be powerful.
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