When I began my work in admission three years ago, I was a complete novice with no experience or network on which to rely. Through the Enrollment Management Association's Annual Conference, the Admission Directors Institute (ADI), and finally the USC CERPP Leadership in Enrollment Management Certificate program, I was able to find my feet in the field. Luckily, one of the first lessons in the USC program was how to construct a suitable admission model for a school. As a rookie in the field, this was the perfect starting point.
Initially, I thought this would be a lesson on the pros and cons of using a single reader vs. committee vs. computer program; however, it focused more on important elements to consider such as data, mission, identity, and school values. I knew I could not simply base our admission model on that of another school, as there are challenges, approaches, and “best practices” which vary by institution. This is a by-product of the fact that every school has its own unique mission and societal role and therefore, its own definition of success. There is no universal admission model, so it became a matter of crafting one that was suitable to our own mission.
In one of our early readings, Mike Sexton from Santa Clara University (CA) said, “The mission statement should be that beacon, compass, or anchor (depending how you look at it) that keeps an organization on course.” Of course, enrollment management is a data-driven process, but only so far as to help navigate and balance the mission’s goals with other pressing priorities. The right admission model and proper criteria for evaluation is the first step in fulfilling the school’s mission and shaping its identity. Beth-Sarah Wright, a fellow member of my USC cohort, expanded on this when she wrote, “The work of enrollment management is making the essential identity and the aspirational identity of an institution become the perceived identity.” Through data and historical trends, I can determine how and where to best convey our message and tell our story to create the perceived identity we desire. Data must be compounded with the mission and with humanizing stories to achieve this. The goal is to create a cycle in which the intentions and efforts of the mission are supported by data and the admission model is guided by the mission – simultaneously securing the future of the school.
As a private day and boarding school, our admission team has always used the selection model. This model, which is most common in the private sector, evaluates prospective students against the merits of the other applicants. It is far more subjective, complex, and ambiguous than an eligibility-based model. The subjective nature of merit plays an important role in the selection model, as no measurement can ever be completely accurate. However, merit in its most basic terms should be framed as the capacity of a student to contribute and remain compatible with a school’s mission and vision.
With our mission as our compass, we know we must remain self-aware of our own offerings and constraints. The admission department has a duty to the prospective student to determine whether he or she will be best served in our school. Ultimately, a mission-oriented admission model must answer “yes” to whether the mission will best serve the prospective student and whether he or she will embrace this offering and reciprocate.