Last Friday I received the first of call of the year from a parent questioning why we’d denied her son admission. It was a respectful call and the questions were serious and genuine. I sensed advocacy and curiosity on the other end of the line. The call ended in the same way these calls always end, with an invitation to be proven wrong by the student attending another college and transferring.
It was the first of many more to come, I suspect.
These calls are an important part of the cycle and I appreciate the parents who call (even those who don’t do their homework before calling). These parents are advocates for their kids and are involved, which is a good thing.
These calls are never joy-filled, even after more than 20 years, but they’ve never really troubled me. In fact, I believe my job as a Little League umpire prepared me for my job today and equipped me to handle even the most unreasonable passionate parents.
I grew up in Gering, Nebraska, which is a small town in Western Nebraska. As a teenager I had a number of jobs including a morning paper route, mowing lawns, painting houses and serving as a Little League umpire. It was may dad, an Episcopal priest who knows nothing at all about sports and probably couldn’t tell you the difference between a ball and a strike, who suggested I try umpiring. I don’t know if his encouragement was to make sure I earned some money—Lord knows it was not “easy money”—or if he genuinely wanted me to learn a little bit about life. Whatever the rationale, I am grateful for the lessons learned as an umpire. Those lessons, described below, have been important to my work as an admissions officer.
A few lessons from behind the plate (and the catcher) and how they relate to college admissions
Trust your gut—As an umpire, you have to trust your gut. If it looked like a ball, you have to call it a ball, AND it probably was. You can’t second-guess. An umpire has to make the call and has to trust his or her experience. This is the same for an admissions officer. Our work is about good judgment, not certainty. Students with great application and records can bomb in college, just as those with modest backgrounds can go on to excel. As admission officers, it is our job to trust our gut when making a decision.
Listen respectfully—As an umpire, I got yelled at A LOT. Yelling is what parents do—particularly parents living vicariously through their 6 or 7 year old! The worst thing an umpire can do is get emotional, yell back, raise his or her voice or let the chatter become an irritant. The best umpires are those who keep their eyes on the game and ignore the yelling. When a coach challenges a call, the umpire must listen respectfully and allow the coach to speak (when doing so it’s important to be open to the idea that a mistake was made, too). This is the same thing an admissions officer must do when working with a disgruntled parent or student. respectfully is critical. Many times the yelling and complaining is simply part of the process—a catharsis or mourning. A good admissions officer, just like a good umpire, will take it and take respectfully.
Perspective is dependent upon proximity—Balls and strikes look different depending upon perspective and proximity. What looks like a strike to some often looks really different from behind home plate, which is why the umpire has the best position to call the game. A parent’s perspective when it comes to their student’s application to college is the same as fan calling balls and strikes from the stands—they are not positioned to best see the big picture and all they can see is what’s right in front of them; their kid and their kid’s desires and dreams. As an admissions officer, just like an umpire, you have the best perspective because of your proximity.
Someone has to make the call—In college I was an intramural referee (a topic for another blog post) and we had an honor code, which could be invoked if a referee could not make a call. As you can imagine, when participants were left to make a call it didn’t go so; everyone one thought they had the best position and their call was the right call. This is exactly why an impartial umpire is so important. An umpire needs to see the big picture and have the long view AND he or she needs to make the call, rather than rely on someone else to do. I recall fondly my days as a catcher in Babe Ruth baseball; I frequently tried to make the call on behalf of the umpire. I’d not so subtly suggest a ball was a strike, move my glove into the strike zone and make snarky comments when the ump “missed the call.” A good umpire makes the call because he or she has to. A good admission officer does the same thing. They are there to make the call—even the difficult ones. They have to exercise good judgment, but they must make the call.
While all of the aforementioned qualities were developed as an umpire and honed as an admissions officer, I think the most important lesson I learned as an umpire was to be fair. Fairness is essential to both jobs. If one is confident that decisions are arrived at fairly it’s easy to defend and explain any decision. This is the essence of the work of admissions; to be fair.
What job prepared you for work in college admissions?
W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission