In Your Care: 20 Ways To Make The Details Matter

Janie McIlvaine


on March 4, 2013

In Your Care: 20 Ways To Make The Details Matter

I spent a weekend in New York City with the people in my life who mean the most to me. New York, an urban kingdom with a whole array of personalities, lifestyles and cultures...and our host wanted to share a meaningful piece of this village with us. He paid attention to the details. Each restaurant was carefully selected. Each activity was thoughtfully chosen. We were in his charge, in his care. And the result was a memory well worth preserving.

Soon after arriving, my husband and I headed to Central Park on foot. I wanted to inhale an ordinary day in the city. As we approached the park, I watched a group of tiny school children crossing a busy Manhattan street with their teachers. Each child was carefully holding a brightly colored handle, connected to a single cord that was attached to two teachers to keep them safe. Perhaps it was a small detail, but it was evident that each child was in their charge, in their care.

I listened to a young mother answering her child’s question of, “What’s for snack?” And the reply was, “Homemade apple pie when we get home,” which was greeted with a resounding “Yum!” Perhaps it’s a small detail, but I don’t remember the last time I baked an apple pie. As they boarded a train, I couldn’t help but notice this mother’s obvious delight over the ensuing treat and a child who was in her charge, in her care.

So what does any of this have to do with independent schools? I’ll pose a question to all Admission Directors at this very busy, frenetic time of the year. Are you paying attention to the details? They matter! We are, after all, directly responsible for ensuring full enrollment of mission-appropriate families in our schools. And ultimately, throughout the admission season, these families are in our charge, in our care.

With the memory of New York still lingering, I’ve listed some details that have been on my mind. Perhaps they will resonate with you:

  1. Is the individual visit creating a memory well worth preserving? We only have one chance to make a good first impression, and prospective families are strongly influenced by their first encounter with our schools.
  2. Are guests being greeted politely and efficiently, or do they see an admission office that is overworked?
  3. Are tours and tour guides in tip-top shape? We all know tours can be a slow trudge or a memorable walk. Is there a signature moment? (Jeff Kallay writes a great article about this.)
  4. Are you connecting your prospective families with the appropriate people while on campus? Is there a follow-up?
  5. Are phone calls and emails being returned in a timely manner?
  6. Are letters being properly proofed and sent without mistakes?
  7. Are the messages in your waitlist and deny letters still current and relevant? When was the last time you reviewed them?
  8. Are your statistics up-to-date and accurate? Have you personally checked?
  9. Are you continuing to make connections with current families who are looking at competitor schools? It’s never too late to make them think twice about leaving your institution. And we all know that low attrition is one of the most important ways to ensure full enrollment.
  10. Are you smiling or wearing that “hang dog” look?
  11. Is your office cluttered and unkempt or a comfortable place for your visitors?
  12. Are you following up with prospective students who shadow? A thank-you note is most appreciated, remembered and still in style.
  13. Are you taking the time to thank your admission team and the faculty who support you?
  14. Are you thanking your feeder schools for filling out school recommendation forms, sending transcripts, and writing letters of recommendation?
  15. Are admission committee meetings well-planned and effective? Have the files been thoroughly reviewed by all committee members?
  16. Are you meeting regularly with your Head of School to ensure that s/he is aware of any potential opportunities or problems with upcoming admission decisions? Have you made her/him aware of all faculty, sibling, and legacy families?
  17. Have you sent an interesting push page to remind applicants that notification dates are soon to come and that YOU are still interested in THEM?
  18. Are you promoting the lifetime benefits of an independent education and your school, in particular, during your interviews?
  19. Is the admission portion of your website current? Have tuition increases been updated? Are old open house dates still posted?
  20. Are you explaining how giving of time, talent, and treasure supports the mission of your school before students enroll?

There are so many other specifics that could be added to this list. But for now, I’m heading to my office where a new stack of files, ready to be reviewed, is waiting for me on my desk. As is my usual routine, I’ll pick up a cup of coffee first, for a much needed burst of energy. Though there’s a Starbucks right next to my school, that’s not the one I frequent. Instead, I head to the Starbucks in the opposite direction, for the barista there remembers that I like cinnamon on my latte. And after all, it’s the details that matter the most!

Resources:

Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service - A Disney Institute book

"Campus Tours Go Disney" - an article by Eric Hoover featured in the Washington Monthly

The Ultimate Experience: Designing a Visit Program for Results - a presentation from the 2011 SSATB Annual Meeting

"Lessons Learned From Bad College Visits" - a blog entry by Ronen at University Language Services