by Jenna R. King, Director of Admission and Enrollment, Riverdale Country School (NY)
Many of us chose the admission profession because we enjoy the constant buzz of prospective families streaming through our offices, each with their fair share of interesting stories to tell, thoughtful questions to ask, and genuine desire to find just the right fit. However, another wonderful time of the year can be when our teams come together to reflect. As we prepare for summer and gear up for these exciting gatherings, here are a few decisions we as team leaders must make:
What is our agenda? What is our goal?
I always invite other team members to contribute to the agenda (via Google doc), as collective planning maximizes the group's investment.
How did this year's events go?
How well did we communicate with our various constituencies from prospective parents to students to our faculty to our board to the administrative team to our feeder schools and programs?
Did we like the way others from the community were involved in the process?
What needs to be tweaked?
It's much easier to do this while it's still relatively fresh in everyone's minds. We often start by reviewing the feedback we have received from admitted and new families and use that as a launching point for us to contribute our own thoughts about how we did.
Are we planning ahead? If so, what needs to be planned?
Do we know about curricular and programming changes?
Have we invited all of the right people to our upcoming admission events?
What application and website updates should we make?
How will we work with the head of school, division heads, and communications team to update our messaging and the talking points?
What role will each team member play (see Tom Sheppard's blog on Building an Admission Office for the 21st Century), and what individual projects will each person take on?
What efficiencies can we build into our office work so that we have more time to connect with families and the rest of our community?
How will we get the faculty and students excited about our upcoming events?
Recently, our planning sessions have pushed us to become a paperless office and to start using online tools such as Asana to manage team tasks.
How often, where, and when should we meet?
Choosing the time and location is far less important than planning the content and inspiring the participants, but you want to make sure you maximize the attendance. Our team tends to have at least one June session and one August session of about 23 hours each in a conference room on campus. Having people from all divisions helps focus the conversation on bigger picture issues rather than minutiae that can be discussed at other times.
What does the team want to eat?
This may seem unimportant, but keeping the team fed is essential! Yes, we have many Google spreadsheets into which team members add their snack requests, and I make it a point to pick up each and every item on the list. My colleagues have gotten more than one group text of a photo of the Costco shopping cart full of goodies to entice them to show up! Now that the logistics are situated, you need to set the tone and keep the group focused.
How can we understand our users' experience?
Understanding our prospective students and their families is the focus of what we do and is exactly what we want to discuss during our retreat sessions. We can consider the user experience by engaging in a design thinking exercise where each team member answers several questions (What messages do prospective families walk away with? What do they still have questions about? What are their concerns?), and we then debrief, looking for areas of overlap.
However, we can't stop at just imagining what our visitors are thinking and feeling. We also need to find ways to actually experience the school as a prospective family. One colleague recently participated in the Shadow a Student Challenge and spent a day as a 5th grader. There's no better way to know what's happening in the life of the school than to experience it through the students' eyes. How does a prospective parent experience your school and application process? Well, find out... Fill out an application. What's frustrating? Make tweaks. Take a tour. What questions weren't answered? Give the tour guide feedback about what was missing or unclear. Try to find information about financial aid or curriculum or parent involvement on your website. Can't find what you're looking for? Time to change it. Have your team members go through a parent interview, complete with time for questions and answers. How did it feel to sit in the waiting room? What questions weren't answered satisfactorily? Have everyone brainstorm solid answers and practice them.
For what it's worth, I have learned that families really appreciate knowing you've considered their experience. When you know you're doing something that isn't ideal for them, don't be afraid to acknowledge it. My spring tours had to start at 10:00 this year, as a result of construction, and I knew this was not the best time for working parents so I subtly commented during each tour about how grateful we were to people for coming to us in the middle of the work day. They never said anything, but I think they walked away feeling heard and understood. I cannot underestimate the value of spending your team's time really understanding your school and your admission process from an outsider's perspective. Debrief the user experiences, and use them as a starting point for your planning.
As you head into summer, I send you and your team off with best wishes for a rejuvenating season!