Reducing “No Shows” at Admissions Events – Part Two

Ah, summer at last! Unfortunately, for many enrollment officers, easy summers disappeared with the crest of the high school population wave. All their marketing communication strategies, effective yield programs and one to one communication may have produced a promising incoming class. But these days, numbers that look good in May could easily melt away by September.


Now institutions have events planned to keep the newly deposited freshman class fully engaged so that no competitor can snatch them away before classes begin. Getting interested prospects to admissions events is important, but making sure that accepted students and deposited freshmen attend events designed for them could be crucial.



Part One showed how social psychology’s Commitment/Consistency Principle can help. It outlined an experiment in which a restaurant reduced no-shows by 66% just by asking those making reservations to agree that they would call if they needed to cancel. Getting people’s agreement to live up to the arrangements they’ve made is very helpful. But to really assure that people will fulfill their end of the bargain – get it in writing.



Why in writing?


Communications psychology expert Robert Cialdini, PhD and his coauthors cite many examples of the power of writing to seal commitments. One illustrates a fact I wish I had known. While a student at Boston University in the 1970s I was recruited for a summer job with Southwestern Company.  It was a tough assignment that could prove quite lucrative – selling educational books from door-to-door.  The books we sold were very good – and comparatively inexpensive.  We showed them to people and took deposits all summer long. 



Deliveries could be challenging. More often than I wished people who had put a deposit on a set of books backed out when it came time to pay the balance.  Laws passed by many states protected consumers from our high-pressure competitors by allowing them a cooling off period for door-to-door sales.  A number of students who never used high-pressure tactics saw their summer sales and incomes evaporate when customers invoked their right to cancel.



At first, these consumer protection laws hurt many door-to-door sales organizations. But then they learned a way to cut the number of cancellations dramatically.  They would have customers fill out their own order forms.  Those who did rarely cancelled. Research reveals that, “People live up to what they write down,” Dr. Cialdini declared in a television interview.


Study with students shows that written commitments stick


One study seems particularly applicable to encouraging students to keep their commitments to admissions events.  Social scientists Delia Cioffi and Randy Garner asked college students to volunteer to help with an AIDS education program at local schools.  The instructions received by half of the group told them to fill out a supplied consent form if they were willing to take part.  The other group was told the opposite:  they could volunteer by leaving a nonparticipation form blank.  The only difference between the two groups was whether or not those who volunteered did so in writing.



The results of this test showed the power of written commitments.  Only 17% of those who volunteered passively (by failing to fill out a refusal form) actually showed up as agreed.  In contrast, a full 49% of those who committed to help in writing kept their promise.  Consider – this group of busy college students received no tangible reward for following through on their agreement. Yet, those who committed to it in writing were 288% more likely to arrive as scheduled. What kind of results might be seen from high school students actively seeking a college to attend?

Lessons from Flo and the Gecko – Part One
Where'd My Gut Go?

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