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Colleagues and friends,
This past weekend, on- and off-campus, included a variety of activities for Family Weekend and Tribe of Vikings. It was full and rich weekend of engagement. Everywhere I looked I saw the best of Augustana College on display.
Despite the heat and awful humidity, we hosted hundreds happy family members on campus. Late on Saturday afternoon, when I saw Kelly Noack, who does much of the planning together for Family weekend, I was thrilled to hear her say that she was interacting with very happy family throughout the day. Her comments are a great re-affirmation of a recruitment job well done. And, now, we have the opportunity to continue to build on that momentum.
Also on Saturday, I had the opportunity to play golf at TPC Deere Run as part of the Tribe of Viking Golf Outing (yes, I paid my own registration). I played with three guys (two are current parents) who played football at Augustana in the mid-1980s. It was a great time. I promised a “big number” and I delivered on it! Actually, it was a scramble, which made it possible for me to contribute a shot or two along the way. This was the first time I’ve played in the ToV golf outing and it won’t be the last.
The only disappointment (other than the Viking’s loss) over the weekend was hearing from an alum whose son attended Washington University and played football there. This alum was disappointed his son had never been contacted by Augustana during the recruitment process. As an admissions guy, I was disappointed, too. I hate to hear stories of students we didn’t actively recruit. I could have done something about this if I’d known! As someone now responsible for external relations, I was doubly-disappointed, though. Looking back, we not only lost out on an exceptional student-athlete, but we also distanced an alum who has much to offer Augustana College.
A weekend like this past weekend was a great reminder that everything we do is connected. When we are recruiting students we are directly involved in alumni relations. And, the interactions we have with out alums have a direct impact on recruitment.
A thought I can’t get out of my mind
Pastor Sara Olsen-Smith’s sermon yesterday got me really thinking about a few things. But, in particular, her use of Teddy Roosevelt’s quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” hit hard. In higher education we spend considerable time benchmarking and comparing ourselves to so-called peers and aspirants. Whether a comparison is some sort of environmental scan or US News & World Report we always seem to be more concerned with comparing how we are doing to someone else, who we believe is doing much better.
While I fully understand the need for comparisons and benchmarking, I do wonder if too much of this results in the work being joyless, rather than joy-filled? Perhaps this powerful sentiment can inspire taking stock of what is going well and celebrate it?
There is so much good happening and there is so much good that we make happen. Let’s leave comparisons as contextual and not let them steal our joy.
Two things I think are worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)
Applying behavioral science to student support services—The piece by Inside Track really caught my attention. Honestly, nearly everything they do catches my attention; I think they are doing some really amazing work within higher ed. While this piece is specifically about students services, I read with recruitment and fundraising in my mind. The behaviors described and the potential actions/solutions are applicable with prospective students and potential donors. When you read this think carefully about the constituency you work with most frequently and determine how you apply behavior science to moving people to actions you’ve like them to take.
Motivating employees is not about carrots and sticks—Last week I was involved in a conversation with someone in a leadership position that included no “carrots or sticks” because all of the tools are in someone else’s toolkit. I thought to myself, “man, it stinks to be in that position.” But, I was reminded of HBR article I read over the summer. I wish I’d have had the presence of mind to discuss it while in conversation with this person. Lisa Lai’s concluding passage is a good teaser for a great article:
“The bottom line is: Don’t rely on outdated methods and tricks to motivate employees. Talk with your team about the relevance of the work they do every day. Be proactive in identifying and solving problems for your employees. Recognize employee contributions in specific, meaningful ways on a regular basis. Connect with your own motivation, and share it freely with your team. Put away the carrots and sticks and have meaningful conversations instead. You’ll be well on your way to leading a highly motivated team.”
I think the element that appeals most to me is being proactive in identifying and solving problems. It reminds me that a leader’s job is to make sure that people don’t encounter a buzz saw!!! I think most team members will appreciate leadership that is aware of this responsibility!!!
What do you think? Does Lai offer guidance you can follow? Or, are carrots and sticks still the most important tools in one’s leadership toolbox?
Something for you (and me) to think about
I found a list last week that I’d never seen before. How about a list of majors that are the most meaningful? Seriously, Forbes posted The Most Meaningful Majors.
I really like the list, which includes careers like pastoral ministry, counseling, music therapy and laboratory science. In each of these cases, these careers are not only meaningful to practitioners, but also to those who benefit from one’s career choice. As a Lutheran college that makes a lot of noise about “vocation” it would be worth thinking about our footprint in the meaningful majors space. (I also was drawn to this article because I think the stock photo they used include the Augie A—see below).
P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add them to the list. I try to get one of these out every Monday.
New blog post: Is social media is the new cocktail party for parents engaged in the college search? #emchat #admissions #highered
At Augustana College we use a number of tools to track what people are saying, writing and blogging about the college. It’s helpful to know what’s out there, to track trends and celebrate good news or prepare for bad news. These tools track all sorts of things, and an alert I received today really got me thinking.
Yesterday one of the alert services provided a link to a parent’s Facebook page on which Augustana was included. The parent had listed several other colleges and universities, too. The post, which I will paraphrase, includes a list of colleges this parent’s student is considering. Plus the post includes the academic and co-curricular interests of the student.
It’s a fascinating list of colleges—ranging from the super-selective to the local public university. The list includes 20 colleges in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and Wisconsin. Colleges range in size from 800 to 5,000.
What is most interesting to me about the post, though, is that the parent asks for advice on how to decide, compare and even negotiate with colleges.
Presumably, this parent is asking for advice from people who he trusts to be informed and have the best interest of his student in mind. However, the replies are what you might expect – both biased and anecdotally based.
I am very tempted to follow the parent, so I could continue to monitor the post. I am curious to see if anyone makes a good case for Augie among those who post.
I guess this really shouldn’t surprise me at all, considering how people use social media. But, this particular post may suggest a new way to gather information about colleges and the college search.
It seems to me that discussions on comparing and negotiating with colleges were once reserved for the cocktail party circuit. These questions were reserved for close friends or those who one knew had recently navigated the process. These questions were held in reserve—somewhat like one’s voting preferences. However, this post suggests otherwise.
While I know plenty of people who have queried their Facebook friends for dating, dining, vacation and voting advice, what do you think? Are you ready to ask for advice via Facebook about important issues, like your student’s college choice?
Please complete the poll below:
Let me know what you think? Is social media the new cocktail party?
W. Kent Barnds aka @bowtieadmission
Preparing for a career in college admissions: You should umpire Little League games. #admissions #emchat
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
I am not going to see “Admission” in the theater. I am probably going to wait until it’s on TNT some Saturday when I don’t have less to fret over.
The movie is out and the admissions world is aflutter. I’ve read reviews, tweets, blog posts and even semi-serious analysis about how well the Tina Fey and Paul Rudd’s movie, “Admission” depicts contemporary admission and admissions counseling. I have to admit that I am pleased to see my colleagues in college admissions get excited about the movie. In fact, they are so excited that they’ve organized a group trip the theater to watch the movie.
I am just not that excited about the movie and am unlikely to part with the $8 it will cost to watch it in the theater.
I am sure there will be some who will attribute this to curmudgeonly behavior on my part or no sense of humor. I want to assure you that it’s neither one of these things; I am neither a curmudgeon or a humorless jerk. It’s something altogether different for me.
In all candor, if I were to go to the movie I know I would do nothing but fret about mounting pressure to “make the class.” (This is probably not something that will come through in the movie, but far more realistically depicts the reality of admissions work).
There is incredible pressure felt by many admissions people this time of year as we employ all of our powers of persuasion to help counsel and recruit students. For me, it is this pressure that prevents me from doing quite a number of cool and engaging things this time of year. Honestly, it sort of defines my every moment from now until May 1. And, I know there would be nothing enjoyable about the movie for me at this time of year.
Now, I don’t want this post to be taken the wrong way; I want admissions people to go see the movie and I want them to enjoy it, talk about and tweet about it, too. I think it probably will provide a great distraction for the day-t-day and I am certain there will some laughs for all to share. I also know many who will see it (and enjoy it) feel the same pressure that I do. I am no martyr and don’t want this to come across as martyrdom in that I take my job so seriously that I can be distracted. I am simply saying, that it’s not for me…at least right now.
The real reason for the post is to explain to my two faithful readers that I won’t be posting a review of the movie until much later.
My review will come after I’ve watched the movie months from now on a Saturday afternoon when I’ve got some time to enjoy.
W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission
#College #admissions, the silly season, Northern Exposure and spring break: Will you crack before the thaw? #emchat #highered
It is commonly discussed and lamented among admissions professionals that this time of year stinks. There’s a lot of pressure and waiting. Greetings of “how are you” are replaced by “how are the numbers.” This is annoying and one does get tired of answering the questions. The question defines the season in many ways. However, there is something else entirely that embodies this time of year for me and I suspect many of my admissions and enrollment colleagues from across the country.
I’ve been in college admissions and enrollment work since July of 1992 and it never dawned on me until this year how much this time of year reminds me of an episode from the great television program, Northern Exposure.
I know I am dating myself by discussing Northern Exposure, but it was cool, and had a bit of a cult following, before Arrested Development and The Office. I am pretty sure the new generation of admissions counselors would have enjoyed it for it’s odd characters and great storylines and suspect hat were it on today it would be discussed at college fairs, and on #emchat and #admissionsproblems.
What got me thinking about Northern Exposure last night was how bizarre I find this time of year. I mean there is this odd sense of helplessness (because 17-year olds are mighty hard to predict) and overwhelming responsibility to “make it happen,” which takes every possible ounce of one’s power of persuasion and saps physic- and physical-energy, non-stop. I suspect most admissions professionals nationwide feel similarly.
As I thought more and more about this odd time of year, I was reminded of an excellent episode from season two of Northern Exposure, titled “Spring Break.”
The episode’s storyline is as follows, “Temporary madness sweeps through Cicely as the townfolk await the ice meltdown and the arrival of spring.” You can read the whole episode review here.
Working on college campus for the last 20+ years this same thing occurs this time of year as we work diligently to enroll next year’s class. On a college campus the storyline might be something like this; “Campus leaders are overcome with uncertainty and anxiety as they count the tuition deposits from now until May 1.”
Do you see this similarity?
What the storyline from “Spring Break” does not describe is that in the episode all of the characters go crazy–temporarily. The whole episode includes stories of characters doing something uncharacteristic of how we’ve come to know them: the straight-lace one becomes a kleptomaniac; the superficial, not very bright, bombshell, dives deeply into classical literature; and of course, there is sexual tension among the couple of the show. They are overtaken by something beyond their control. It’s mighty funny and the tension and anxiety is palpable throughout. The tension continues until a moment when the ice thaws, spring begins, and, magically everyone returns to a normal state.
It’s a classic episode.
You are still asking, how does this relate to college admissions?
Well, because of the tension of the season and the long wait we have for “the thaw” of May 1, it is tempting to go crazy, too. While crazy probably does not include stealing or reading the Great Books as witnessed in Northern Exposure, it is likely to include an overwhelming temptation to micro-manage, to ask endless questions that have already been asked and answered, to offer endless suggestion, to fret, to be short with teammates and others, and generally act unlike oneself (or, at least, they way you really aspire to act). I think this is especially true of admissions and enrollment leaders who feel the pressure and want to act. But, I’ve also seen this occur just as frequently with admissions counselors who start to crack under the pressure of the job.
Even though this is the nature of the season (just like the thaw), we must resist the temptation to lose our mind, temper or compassion for the students we serve and our colleague. Instead we must do our very best and call upon our finest character during this time of year as we work toward our own spring break on May 1.
For kicks I’ve included a link to the last part, which I think is funny. You can watch it here and although you might be inspired by its celebratory nature, I recommend caution. I think a similar celebration might get you in a little trouble on your campus if you celebrate a great May 1 and your own thaw in a similar fashion. Enjoy.
Good luck to all of my admissions and enrollment friends and my your Spring Break (and eventual thaw) come speedily.
W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission
Complaints about college marketing are tiresome & ignore we are all in sales and marketing. #admissions #highered #emchat
I am member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) and for the last ten days the organization’s listseve has run amuck with complaints about the evils of marketing in college admissions. Most often these complaint are aimed at colleges that use aggressive direct mail search campaigns and/or “fast application” programs (a.k.a. crap application in the college counseling community).
These complaints blame college administrators, bond raters and the evil college marketing staffs. I guess these complaints are directed at me since I use some of the so-called aggressive—albeit in a quite targeted manner—search and applications tactics. I posted a blog around this time last year discussing this same topic, which you can read here.
I feel like I need to seek therapy and take a shower each time I read one of these persistent complaints about my profession and what I do. (If you are interested in providing some therapy, let me know).
The past few days as I read through these very public exchanges I was reminder of an essay I wrote several years ago after sitting through a NACAC session where all things marketing-oriented were lambasted. You can read “Souls for sale,” which appeared in Inside Higher Ed to get a better sense of from where I am coming on all this.
After you’ve read the essay mentioned above, you can confirm that it’s naïve to think that we are not all selling and marketing all the time by reading Daniel Pink’s very fine book, To sell is human: The surprising truth about moving others.”
Now, for all those who complain about modern day college admissions and marketing tactics that have emerged, I invite you to consider the points below.
Have you ever considered?
We actually believe in the institutions we represent! We don’t invest in marketing efforts—search, applications, publications advertising—because we are slick snake-oil salespeople. We don’t. We want to reach as many students as possible because we believe in the institution where we work. That’s the truth, friends. We engage in marketing not to trick students, but to introduce our institution and try to gain mindshare in a very competitive environment. In a day when information is more available than ever before, this is as noble as the good old day of attending every college fair possible to introduce our college to prospective students. This is the new norm.
We are keenly aware of changes in behavior, demographics and values and are reacting to them. We are investing more in strategic marketing because the data are scary. Prospective students are scared of college costs, visiting fewer colleges, searching more online, relying more on word-of-mouth from peers, participating in the commodification culture, which views all college educations equally and without distinctions. It would be professional malpractice to know of these trends and do nothing about them. We are paid to get the name of our college in front of prospective students. And, yes, marketing and advertising has taken over for the high school visit and college fair or old. This is not exclusively because of colleges either—the effectiveness of visits and fairs is on the decline and virtually every admissions officer I know would say exactly the same thing.
We really like being on lists—especially good ones like the ones in high school guidance offices. Colleges like being on lists, but not the ones you might be thinking about like US News. Nope. We like being on the lists high schools provide as part of their profile (their primary marketing and positioning material), which they provide to decision-makers and families to demonstrate how great they are at preparing students for admission to all the right colleges. Yes, there is pressure to be on those lists and we respond to that pressure.
The following points are realities to which we’ve had to respond and more aggressive marketing has been the answer:
Travel is expensive and becoming more expensive and advertising has filled a void. In an effort to cut back on increased travel costs many of us have direct resources to advertising and marketing efforts. This has become particularly true in instances where we’ve been forced because of demographics to look beyond our core recruitment territories. Advertising and marketing in needed to introduce our colleges before traveling and engaging in more traditional recruitment and admissions activities. We can’t be blamed for reaching further afield in an effort to keep our colleges vibrant and fully enrolled. For the pure economists out there who think we should sit idly and watch only the strong survive, I don’t know what planet you are living on.
Lunchroom visits, block scheduling and increased emphasis on challenging course loads results in seeing fewer students during high school visits. Traditional recruiting and admissions methods are nowhere near as effective as they were ten and twenty years ago because of changes (mostly good) in high schools. However, these changes have also had an impact on admissions staff productivity. Many colleges have weigh the pros and cons and have determined that the worth of traditional outreach is not once it once was and have opted to try to reach everyone in a region who is in their prospect pool through direct-marking efforts.
Decreasing access to college counselors has forced us to spend more (and do more) on direct marketing to students. Across the nation there are fewer dedicated college counselors and as a result the special partnership between admissions and college counseling personnel is not what it once was. Many colleges have determined its more effective to reach out to students directly, rather work directly through counselors who are too frequently over-worked. This results in more aggressive tactics to get the attention of a student, since the benefit of the student to guidance counselor conversation is waning at too many places because a shortage of resources (this is a sad reality). Colleges are left to “fend for themselves” in the absence of their historical partners.
Finally, I’ll offer some more personal observations from my seat at Augustana College.
I know one universal truth about college admissions and that is that 100% of students who do not apply will not accepted and will not enroll. I believe in my institution and want as many qualified students as possible to have the benefit of working with our first-rate faculty and students and participating in the many transformative experienced offered here. However, I know we don’t always enjoy the name recognition to get great, qualified students who are a great match to apply. Sometimes we have to be more assertive to get them into our pool just to have a conversation and to convince them that we are the right place for them. I know that if I can’t get them to apply, I don’t have a chance. I do know that if they do apply, my chance of introducing them to this great place increases considerably.
The athletic teams for my institution do not appear on television, but many of our competitors do. We advertise and market heavily for a whole host of reasons, but one of the primary reasons is because my institution does not enjoy the TV time that so many of its primary competitors do. Whether in the fall when the University of Iowa, the University of Illinois and Northwestern University are playing football on TV (and showing their cool PSA’s that invite the world to apply—talk about broad, un-targeted marketing), or it’s the lead up to March Madness when DePaul University, Loyola University in Chicago, Butler University, Bradley University and Marquette University (all in the top 15 overlap institutions for my institution) are on the airways battling for an invitation to the tournament. TV appearances, PSAs, and name recognition really matter and make a difference in college admissions whether we want to admit it. In my seat, I can’t ignore it and advertising and marketing is our way to “get in the game.”
My institution’s alumni are passionate and want more students to know about us and ultimately attend and have the same kind of experience. There is pressure from passionate alums who have gone on to do great things who expect my institution to be in “the national conversation” because they’ve become national leaders in their professions. I have to respond to this pressure by doing my best to get my institution into the national conversation. We work our tails off to do this because of the passion our alums have for this place. Their passion is genuine and deserving of our best effort to market their successes and the college, in general. Simply put, I have a professional obligation to explore every method possible to build on this passion and introduce it to prospective students in a very crowed marketplace. This isn’t slick; this is the challenge of today’s work.
I called for a “truce” in “Souls for Sale,” but am not so sure the truce will ever be honored. Perhaps it’s better to just ask for a little respect for the work we do, the challenges we face, and the benefit of the doubt that our marketing is done with the best of intentions, rather than the worst.
W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmissions