Recruiting Adult Learners: Ask the Right Questions

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It takes a unique set of skills to effectively recruit adult learners. From developing rapport, to finding the right balance between answering questions and asking them, to overcoming perceived obstacles to enrollment—there is much more to recruitment than simply emailing information about your degree programs.

As with any new relationship, asking the right questions when communicating with prospective adult students is critical to understanding students’ goals and needs. Without the important knowledge of what is driving students toward completing their degrees, your recruiters may have a tough time connecting with prospective students and guiding them to enrollment.

Below, we offer four things to keep in mind as you evaluate your admissions team’s effectiveness.

It’s not enough to just provide information. Making the choice to enroll in a degree program can be an emotional experience for an adult learner. While it is important to answer prospective students’ questions and ensure they have all the information they need to make an informed decision about enrolling at your institution, it is equally as important to focus on building rapport and lasting connections with them. While we know tuition, length of time to completion, and program are key factors adult students base their decisions on—we also know that trust and likeability of institution staff play an equally important role. Successful admissions professionals are those who transcend beyond the role of an “order taker” and proactively build personal relationships with prospective students by asking the right questions.

The first answer is not always the final answer. When it comes to a prospective adult learner’s motivation, there is usually more behind the curtain, so to speak. When an average recruiter asks a student about motivation and receives the answer “career advancement,” the recruiter may move on to the next question. When a great recruiter asks a student about motivation and receives the same answer, that recruiter will ask another question to dig deeper and uncover the true motivation. Successful admissions professionals understand there is typically an emotional reason behind the first answer. Whether the student needs to advance to better provide for family or wants to earn a promotion due to being overlooked previously, there is usually a deeper motivation behind the student’s initial answer—and that motivation is only uncovered by asking the right questions.

Open-ended questions are key to effective engagement. Adult learners are complex and diverse. The motivating factors that led them to your institution vary widely, as do their education, family, and career backgrounds. To effectively engage prospective students and fully understand their motivation, background, and what’s important to them, a great recruiter must ask a series of open-ended questions. In other words, just as with any relationship, recruiters must learn the who, what, why, when, and how. Understanding the full scope of an adult learner’s situation will lead to stronger rapport and increase the likelihood of enrollment at your institution.

Sincerity and genuine concern are important for a lasting relationship. Adult students know when they are being “sold” and when the person they are communicating with is not genuine. Asking questions to get to know a prospective student is a good way for a recruiter to demonstrate sincerity—and asking the right questions to truly understand a student’s need is a great way to show genuine concern. Adult learners bring with them stories of perseverance, triumph, loss, second chances, excitement, and more—and acknowledging and celebrating those stories by learning more about them will result in lasting relationships and higher conversions.

The takeaway. Building relationships with adult learners by asking the right questions will lead to higher enrollment conversions. Your admissions team may be missing out on new enrollments if they are not taking the time to learn about and develop genuine rapport with your prospective students.

If this is an area where your team may need development, we are here to help. Our customized, in-depth admissions training program teaches your staff how and when to ask the right questions when recruiting adult students. And, with 100% of our training clients reporting increased effectiveness and team morale, you can count on us to deliver a program that will generate real results for your team.

Learn More About Our Admissions Training Program