Blog - Ask the right questions to engage students over the phone

Ask the right questions to engage students over the phone

You pick up the phone and ring a student who has expressed interest in your University. The student answers, you confirm you’ve reached the right person, introduce yourself and then what? If you’re tempted to say some iteration of ‘how are you today?’, think again.

‘How are you?’ is boring. It’s an overused filler statement and students know it. Talking with students over the phone is a hugely effective way to build rapport and relationships aren’t developed with filler-speak. You need authentic conversation.

Treating your phone outreach as collaborative discussions rather than customer service calls will help you shape productive and engaging conversations.

To help you get started, UniQuest’s Joshua Aldridge has shared questions he’s developed across his career in student recruitment to improve the quality of the conversations his teams have had with prospective students. Joshua has seen a 50% growth in enquiry to application conversion when approaching conversations under the following question-led framework.

1. Status questions

This is where your conversation begins. After a brief introduction where you confirm you have the right person and identify who you are and why you’re calling, skip the ‘how are you?’ and start getting to know your prospective student better.

Status questions are exploratory questions about students. Status questions help you achieve a couple of things. One – they help you understand your prospective students better which will help you tailor your support and unique selling points to their interests and circumstances later in the conversation. Two – they help you build goodwill with students as you’re demonstrating an interest in their lives, making them feel like they’re not just another record in your CRM system.

Sample questions:
• Where do you live?
• What are you currently studying?
• What course are you considering studying at University?
• What activities are you involved in at school or in your town/city?
• What are your hobbies?

2. Probing questions

Probing questions are how you learn about students’ aspirations and plans. Like status questions, probing questions will enable you to cater conversations to students by surfacing insight into their goals. Probing questions also help students feel more in control of the conversation as they’re driving the content of the call based on what matters most to them.

Sample questions:
• What do you like best about what you’re currently studying?
• What do you enjoy about the subject?
• What are your career goals?
• What are you looking for in a University?
• What about our University interests you?

3. Solution questions

Solution questions piggy-back off the information the student has already discussed with you.

For example, if the student has spent time describing an interest in studying biology because he/she really enjoyed school science lab projects, you may ask ‘Understanding your interest in biology, would you like me to tell you about our biology course?’.

It’s good to ask permission in this way before diving into your ‘solution’ for two reasons:

  1.  It allows the student to continue to feel in control of the conversation. Choosing a University is a massive life decision and you want students to feel in control of their decision-making steps, not that they’ve endured a pushy sales process.
  2. It could save you from taking the conversation in the wrong direction. It may be that the student is interested in learning more about the University’s network in the field of biology rather than the course curriculum. Getting the student’s input here will help you home in on the most relevant attributes for them.

Challenge questions

During your conversations, you’re bound to hear some conflicts from students. When students describe concerns they have that may prevent them from taking the next step in the recruitment journey, it’s a reflex to jump in with your solution to the problem. Fight against the urge to solve their problem without first taking the time to truly understand the root of their concern.

First, be sure to empathise with them. Reassuring them that you understand and appreciate where they’re coming from will make them feel more confident in your ability to resolve their challenges. It also simply acknowledges that they’ve been heard.

Then, dig into the details behind what’s worrying them with something like ‘May I ask why this concerns you?’ or ‘What about this concerns you?’.

With a deeper understanding for the concern you can then offer a solution targeting their chief issues. But, don’t assume you’ve hit the nail on the head. Before moving on, make sure you’ve appropriately addressed their concern by asking them ‘does that solve the challenge?’. If not, start the process over again.

Closing questions

Wrapping up a conversation is tricky. You’ve had an engaging conversation to this point and you don’t want to fumble with a clumsy close.

At this point you’ll need to make your ask and address next steps. Instead of giving the student a to-do list which can be feel boring and arduous, continue the collaborative nature of your call by getting the student’s input on next steps.

For example, ‘Applications are due by the 5th of May, how soon can you get me your documents?’. By working with students to craft next steps, you’ll gain greater commitment and enthusiasm for the rest of the process from them.


Joshua’s final tip is ‘be yourself’. You must be authentic to build rapport, so pick the questions that work best for your personal style (we may even let you get away with asking ‘how are you?’ if it helps you more naturally transition to meaningful status questions). As long as you approach your phone conversations as a collaboration with students through strategic questioning, you’ll notice your phone calls shift from feeling transactional to personal. And once you get there, you’ll truly be able to wield the power of the phone to improve prospective student engagement and conversion.

The UniQuest team phones prospective students daily on behalf of our University partners; see more phone engagement insights from us by reading To improve student conversion, use the phone.