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Monday Musings, September 25, 2017 #emchat #admissions #highered

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).

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 2.14.43 PM

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





Financial aid appeals: Tools for #admissions, financial aid and enrollment personnel to cope. #emchat

Enrollment professionals across the country spend much of the month of April responding to and reviewing appeals for additional financial aid. The flurry of appeals from prospective students and their parents has become part of the job. These appeals come in the form of letters, emails, phone calls and even personal visits to campus. Appeals are sent to multiple people (including presidents) and it would seem that no stone is left unturned when appealing for more financial aid.

Again, this has become the norm and a part of the process as natural as reading a viewbook or visiting for an open house.

Once upon a time I hated appeals. But, over the past 20 years, I’ve mellowed a bit. Mellowing does not mean I am any more generous in responding to an appeal and that I don’t say no! I’ve simply gained a greater appreciation for the process and the urge to appeal.

More often than not, the appeals are heartfelt and genuine. Students and families provide detailed information we can use to determine the worthiness of the appeal and it’s clear they’ve put some thought into it. It’s a pleasure to work with these families and we are frequently able to respond in a manner that addresses the appeal in an affirmative way. I really like working these families and find the conversations (and frequently the conversion to enrollment) very satisfying.

As gratifying as it is to work with the students and families who take time and care in crafting an appeal for more assistance, it’s not as much fun to work with the “let’s make a deal crowd.” Sadly, this group is growing and consuming more time; they won’t take no for and answer and sometimes are not even satisfied with a yes.  These students and families make multiple calls, send countless email messages, and leave voicemail messages at odd hours and they request a call back at an equally odd hour. These families are often well coached and know to “shop” the value of their argument for more financial assistance from stakeholder to stakeholder throughout campus.

Once upon a time managing these relationships and serving these families really got me down. I’d get frustrated and throw something; maybe even utter a swear word or two. But, over the years I’ve developed a couple of coping mechanisms to help me through.

Each of these items I keep on my desk this time of year as a reminder and to help me cope.  Here’s a picture of all of this great stuff and a description of how I use each follows.


Red Tape—I keep a roll of red tape on my desk to remind myself that I am in a service industry and I am here to serve the students with whom I work and the institution I represent. The red tape is there to remind me that I need to cut as much red tape in the process review appeals as quickly as possible. I can’t put up too many hurdles or add to the anxiety a family is already experiencing in this process. Cut the red tape, I say!

Erase A-Hole—I work with plenty of pushy and unreasonable parents in this process. Some try to apply corporate negotiating tactics and some make threats about where their kid will go if we don’t act in a manner they’d prefer. Some ask to speak to someone else because of their dissatisfaction with my answer or unwillingness to accommodate their request. Some yell and shout (occasionally swear at me). Most think they are a lot smarter than anyone who works in admissions or financial aid. For these unreasonable and difficult parents, I keep a handy-dandy roller of Erase-A-Hole on my desk. While there are plenty of applications for this product, I use it as a reminder that I need to separate the students from the parents no matter how frustrating. A glance at my roller of Erase-A-Hole allows me to move beyond a frustrating call or shout-filled listening session with a parent to focus on the student involved and try to act in the student’s best interest.  Erase-A-Hole also make me laugh.

My little blue shovel—I don’t know how many of you have a little blue shovel, but I recommend you all get one ASAP. My father, a now retired Episcopal priest, introduced me to the little blue shovel many years ago. My dad told me that he carried one in his pocket and he’d get it out and begin shoveling whenever he was listening to something that simply was not believable. I suspect it’s no a coincidence that blue shovel has the initials of b.s. (It did take me some time to figure this out, though). Let’s just say that I find the blue shovel to be an important and useful tool when trying to discern the veracity of an appeal. Here are three examples during which the little blue shovel gets a workout:

Example 1: A family appeals for more aid “because they’ve received a better offer from another college.” When we request a copy of the award from the other college and the family responds that “it would be unethical” for them to share the other award letter, you might see that little blue shovel working over time.

Example 2: When a family appeals for more aid because XXX institution has offered them more financial assistance and “is now their first choice.” When we reviewing to which colleges the family has submitted the FAFSA and discover that claimed first choice college is not among them, you will see that blue shovel working.

Example 3: When a family tells me about the student who they know “who has the exact same profile and financial circumstances who received a larger financial aid award.” When we ask for the other student’s names and are met with crickets or the response of “It just wouldn’t be right to tell you that,” the blue shovel is at it’s best.

The blue shovel is a very useful tool!

These three symbols/coping mechanisms represent important things we cannot forget when reviewing financial aid appeals in the coming weeks.

First, we serve students and should not make the appeal process any harder than it needs to be. Cut the red tape and remember you provide an important service.

Next, even when working with a pushy, overly demanding parent remember that it’s the students on whom we must keep our focus. Do your best to erase a difficult conversation to do what is in the best interest of the student. Erase the thought and keep focused on the student.

Finally, make sure you dig a little to see if it is necessary to use your little blue shovel. You owe this to your college to protect the college’s resources and not get tricked into offered aid that is unnecessary.

Do you have coping mechanism you use during this time of year?

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission

My review will be delayed until after May 1: I fret too much to enjoy #Admission #admissions

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

Is that “your best and final offer?” Yes, it is. #admissions #emcat #highered

For the first time in my enrollment career just days ago I had a father of a prospective student ask me “is this your best and final?” He was asking about his daughter’s financial aid package of course. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard countless contortions of this question over the past 20 years, but never as straightforward and never in the same language I hear used on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing. (Yes, I’ve watched Million Dollar Listing).

I mean really, best and final offer!!!

Most frequently this question or similar questions are not from families with demonstrated financial need, but instead are from families that view this “negotiation” as part of the process. In fact, last year I even saw eerily similar letters/emails from families requesting additional financial assistance. (The requests were so similar, in fact, I thought I might need to consult our Honors Council to determine if academic integrity had been breached and plagiarism was at hand).

While I am at it, this conversation almost always includes a reference to “we know another student at XXXX college who got a better award.” The comment is so forced it feels a little like Anthony Michael Hall’s character in The Breakfast Club describing his Canadian girlfriend. This line about knowing another student is about as believable. If you’ve never seen the clip before you can watch it here. You might picture this clip the next time you hear a similar comment from a parent.

What I’ve concluded (and should come as no surprise) is that there are consultants and services that are making a business of coaching and advising parents and students about how to go about the process of asking for more aid. (I suspect it’s all pitched at the level of “How to negotiate the best possible financial aid package”).

I understand it and have become increasingly comfortable with all of this.

But, I know it’s not good for higher education.

Over the years, I’ve responded to a number of the requests “for more aid” or for “a best and final offer.” I put a few of the responses together into one and offer it below. I’ve done everything I can to protect the innocent, but have used various “no” responses is the model below and tried to keep the tone. (My file folder on this one is titled “Mean no more money responses).


Your recent e-mail regarding your daughter was sent to me as a member of the scholarship committee at XXXX College. Your daughter is a very qualified candidate and we are very pleased that she is still considering XXXX College.  I am writing to address your e-mail concerning our offer of financial aid.  

First, there is nothing further that can be done in the area of merit scholarship–XXXX has earned a very fair award and in comparison to the rest of our admitted pool we cannot and will not make any further adjustment.  If my memory serves me correctly we discussed your daughter’s award previously and I explained the context for the financial assistance package that we offered. That context has not changed.

I know that this letter will come as a disappointment to you and to your daughter; however, there is nothing more that we can do unless there has been a dramatic change in your family’s financial circumstance. We do not “negotiate” a financial aid offer or package and it is my understanding that our merit scholarship offer has exceeded any demonstrated financial need.

As mentioned in your e-mail, I am aware that two of our coaches have expressed interest in your daughter, and I have no doubt that she can contribute much to our athletic program. However, her athletic ability is not factored into any equation since we abide by all guidelines governing Division III athletics. Our awards are based on need and merit and that is all.

As you and your daughter weigh final choice, I would urge you both to very carefully consider the opportunity that she has been presented with by being offered admission to XXXXXX College.  There are many things to consider when choosing a college–and cost is one. But, we sincerely hope that you will consider the qualities of and QUALITY of each of the colleges your daughter has as potential options. 

Not all colleges are equal–in cost or in quality–and it is my belief that your daughter’s financial aid offer is more than fair for the value of the educational and co-curricular options she will have if she chooses XXXXX College.  

In closing, I want to note that I don’t think the comparisons you and your daughter are making are particularly comparative when it comes down to results and outcomes, which are the aspect that are most meaningful in the end when it comes time to make a wise college choice.  Each of the colleges that your daughter has as options are very different places and offer decidedly different experiences. Please keep this in mind in the coming weeks. College is like with any other product or service; it is typical to pay more for a better product, experience or service.

If you have further questions please feel free to contact me directly. I sincerely do hope that your daughter will be a part of our student body–she has much to offer.

Yours very sincerely,

W. Kent Barnds

It’s probably not all that mean really, but I am interested in your impressions and whether or not you have or have seen similar response. I’ve become more courageous over the years in sending letters like this, but I am sure I still don’t send it enough.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

Thanks for reading.

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission

#College #Admissions and #holidays: Let’s align them and have one “Show your love day” #emchat

It’s high time we align our holidays and the college admissions process

As we approach St. Valentine’s Day, which is one of the stranger holidays we celebrate, I think those of us working in college admissions counseling should think seriously about giving more meaning to the day we celebrate on February 14.

I’d like to propose that we align Valentine’s Day (February 14) with National Candidate’s Reply Day (May 1). I’m serious (sort of).

Now, I know there will be objections about this dramatic acceleration of the college choice timetable. I’ll hear about student stress, workload and impracticality. Someone will probably complain to NACAC’s Admissions Practices Committee that I am undermining the Statement of Principles and Good Practices. I know this won’t be easy.  However, after more than twenty year in college admissions, I think there is some value to aligning the days on which we tell each other we’re in love with each other.

Maybe focusing on just one big day—the day we tell everyone who we love—will reduce stress. Deciding students can tell a sweetheart of their undying love and can send their enrollment deposit to the college of their choice. Let’s make this easier.

What do you think admissions and college counseling friends?

Can we make this work? Can Valentine’s Day and National Candidates’ Reply Date be combined into “Show your love day?” (Maybe some of you have more creative ideas for the name of the day; I am open to ideas).

I think we can do this.

Think about the benefits. Students get a jumpstart on securing a prom date by declaring their love in February—well before they would otherwise. And, we all (admissions officers, students, and college counselors) can enjoy the spring, which such a lovely time of year.

I also have some new design ideas to secure enrollment…think about the possibilities of asking someone to show your college some love on “Show your love day?”


W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission

New blog post: Want the fairest shake in #college #admissions? Send a photo.#highered

When I started working in college admission in the early 1990’s I recall that one of the items we requested as part of the application was a photograph of the applicant. Most of the time the photograph of the 17-year old applicant matched the story told in the application, but there were exceptions. We’ve all heard the adage “a picture conveys one-thousand words,” and a picture included along with a college application in my experience frequently reinforced this.


This is a photo of me from my junior year at Gering High School, Gering, Nebraska

However, somewhere along the way, we ceased asking for a photograph to accompany the application. (We’d still occasionally receive grainy black and white photos on transcripts—these often would go back as far as sixth grade through high school and were always of great interest). While I cannot recall the exact justification or rationale we applied when we quit asking for pictures, I imagine it had to do with the argument that the photos could be used to discriminate (which is a real issue) or we’d seek to admit only the “pretty people.” However, it might have been the very practical argument of matching and processing.

Honestly, I cannot remember and have not thought about it at all until today.

Why am I thinking about it today?

I just finished reading Daniel Pink’s terrific book, “To sell is human: The surprising truth about moving others.” (I highly recommend the book—especially for college admissions folks). Near the end of the book he describes a fascinating experiment completed by a radiologists named Yehonatan Turner.

The experiment involved providing radiologists with photos of patients when given the computed tomography (CT) scan to diagnose and analyze. Typically, a radiologists gets the CT scan and that’s all.  The photos of the patients represents the twist here. All of the radiologists reported having more empathy toward the patients for whom they had photos. While interesting, it’s not what Turner was really looking for, according to Pink.

As Pink describes it, a great radiologists, in addition to identifying an injury they are told to look for, will make “incidental findings.” These incidental findings are discoveries of additional problems and sometimes are life-saving.

Turner’s purpose was more complex that finding out if a photo led to greater empathy. Three months after the original experiment, he provided a sample of scans from the original study, in which radiologists had found incidental findings to the same group of doctors. However, he did not include the photograph of the patient sand did not disclose that the radiologist had seen the scan previously. Turner discovered that 80% of the incidental findings were not discovered!

The photo and the personalization it provided made a difference in the diagnoses, not just the empathy.

You might be asking, why am I writing about radiologists and describing this passage from Pink’s book?  It’s a fair question. College admissions is not radiology. However, both jobs, particularly this time of year for admissions officers, can be very mechanical and isolating. Given the expanding applicant pools at colleges and universities and the pressures to make speedy (but good) decision, I can’t help but wonder if every applicant is getting the full attention they deserve?

I cannot help but think about college admissions and how important it is to make it personal when reviewing application.

Making it personal is one of Pink’s main themes and is clearly something that it crucially important in college admission, too.The passage in Pink’s book also got me wondering out loud if going back to a day of asking for a photograph to accompany the application would help us be more personal? Would seeing a picture that communicates 1,000 words help us become more effective champions for certain applicants? Would a photo help us understand and then communicate a story that helps shape the impression of the admissions committee? Would we see things that we are missing because we are speedily diagnosing what we are to diagnose, rather than taking it personally and finding an incidental diagnosis that leads to an offer of admission for a student who is a great match? Would a photo attached to an application personalize the review of an application to create a sense of empathy that ensures everyone gets our full attention and advocacy.

I don’t know the answers to these questions and don’t know the feasibility of reintroducing the picture, but I do know that sometimes and applicant is just that—an applicant.

(I did write this to remind myself about the work of a college admissions officer. But, I also want to think out loud about how a photo might serve as a good management tool and/or inspiration for personalization).

What do you think? How would you feel about a photograph as an application requirement?

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission

(This post was updated on January 19, 2013)