How to learn and grow when your students say no

Every institution will have applicants who decline their offer of admission. It’s an unfortunate event, but also one that can provide you and your team with critical knowledge for understanding how applicants see your school and how you can better connect with them. 

  • Was the applicant’s program of choice different than what was offered?
  • Are applicants happy with housing options on or around your campus?
  • Were they discouraged by a lack of specific supports?

The answers to these questions and more are different for every individual, but finding patterns and trends among them offer you the opportunity to better connect with and support future applicants. The results can also help you identify current communications or programming gaps that might be preventing applicants from realizing the full value of what your school can offer them. This knowledge is essential to cultivating a healthy and sustainable student community at your school.  

Tapping into curiosity 

Working with countless higher ed professionals has taught us that timely and accurate research about students is essential to a successful enrolment strategy; yet just as important are the motives that higher ed professionals bring to this research. Among these motives, few are as powerful and contagious as curiosity. A practical need to have accurate information is one thing, but curiosity is a deeper love of learning that has led countless higher ed professionals to discover new ways of supporting and inspiring both their colleagues and students—and finding greater professional fulfillment along the way. 

“When you see something happening in your student data, whether it’s a pattern or an anomaly, you have to have the curiosity to think okay, I need to find out why that’s happening, or what results from that, what does that cause?” says Bonnie Crocker, Registrar at Huron University College. Crocker, a self-described data and numbers geek with a Master of Science in Enrolment Management, also keeps a list of interesting anomalies, patterns, and other statistical phenomena that she plans on investigating further out of personal interest when she finds the time. 

So what motivates a professional like Crocker to seek out and pursue these patterns in enrolment data? 

If I think of it on a very base level, it’s about connections. When you connect one bit of data to another, or you connect this data to a strategic plan moving forward, or recognizing those connections, those patterns, that’s interesting. From an institutional point of view, it also gives you the confidence of knowing that you’re not just blindly moving forward.
— Bonnie Crocker, Registrar, Huron University College


Her words help show just how important curiosity can be as a motivating factor for enrolment professionals. But she also sees another significant force driving her efforts, and that’s human connection.

Connecting with students

While the appeal of data-driven exploration and curiosity is a major factor in her work, Crocker feels a deep connection with the human side of her profession—particularly its impact on students. Crocker finds an example of this connection in Huron’s efforts to better serve the increasing population of non-traditional students, and the appreciation she hears directly from students afterward: “whether that’s longer hours in student services, like evening hours, or flexible course delivery. Then you talk to the students and they really appreciate what you've done to accommodate them, and it was the data that told us we needed to do that.”

But what about when students say “no” to your institution? In contrast to a general non-applicant, an applicant who declines admission to a school has taken the time to work on and submit an application, but has ultimately decided not to attend even when offered the chance. For this reason, Crocker believes that performing research on those who decline admission can “highlight a very specific problem in a way your institution is perceived, or the way that something is supporting or not supporting the student. It could even be an indication of the strength of your communication, and the potential to make specific strategic adjustments there.”

As Crocker’s experience shows, curiosity about student data and a feeling of personal connection with students can strengthen each other in a virtuous circle, leading to better support for students and a more fulfilling work experience for those who support and inspire those students. 

Partnering to explore and improve

When we partner with committed professionals like Bonnie Crocker, our chosen tool for learning more about an applicant’s decision to decline a school’s offer of admission is the Acceptance Declined Study or ADS. This survey-based research analyzes the motives behind this decision according to 50 distinct factors. Throughout this research, our dedicated and experienced team members collaborate with you and your colleagues to understand how different combinations of these factors can help you better understand the needs and perceptions of those who have declined your offer, with a shared goal of making new discoveries on how to better connect with them moving forward. 

If you were to ask us how enrolment research can be so exciting, our answer would be this: because over the past twenty years, we have seen that institutions can truly change, and that this change can have an enduring impact on students, faculty, and staff alike. We have also worked with enough inspired professionals to know that curious, committed individuals can use research and knowledge to transform the culture and community of their school for the better. So if you think the ADS is right for you and your team, we invite you to contact us to discuss how you can learn more about factors that impact you and your enrolments. 


At Academica Group, we’re proud to work with hundreds of committed, passionate higher ed professionals who want to drive improvement at their institutions. By providing enhanced research capacity and expert guidance, we allow these professionals to work beyond resource limitations and seize more opportunities to positively impact the lives of their students, colleagues, and campus communities.

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