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Building an Admission Office for the 21st Century

Tom Sheppard


on April 13, 2015

Building an Admission Office for the 21st Century

As the demands for complex marketing and recruitment strategies grow each year, fueled by the simultaneous need to meet revenue targets and satisfy savvy consumers, performance pressure rises correspondingly within admission offices across the country. Whether those offices are equipped to play the vital role their schools are asking of them varies widely and depends on numerous variables. Arguably, the most important of these is the people.

What is universally true is that offices staffed by individuals with the skills necessary to succeed will have taken an important step toward ensuring their school’s prosperity. Long gone are the days when offices big and small could be comprised of well-intentioned adults who were true “people people.” Without question, interpersonal skills are still highly valued in an admission professional. However, in today’s competitive landscape, the most successful offices will be comprised of individuals whose professional profiles include specific and unique skills necessary for the success of the office. Among the most important profiles are:

The Collector and the Cruncher: Perhaps no set of skills could be farther removed from the traditional notion of an admission professional than that of an individual who is obsessed with collecting high quality data and using it to make informed decisions and accurate predictions. Finding individuals who live and breathe data and who also possess the extroverted qualities needed to complete other aspects of admission work can be challenging. Once you find them, you would be well served to hold on to them. If you happen to be a young admission professional looking to make a valuable contribution to your office, then become The Collector and the Cruncher. Your job security and place within the office will be greatly enhanced.

The Grinder: Admission is hard work with many deadlines, long hours, and frequent disappointments. No one is better equipped to remain focused and determined under these circumstances than The Grinder. These individuals, though not necessarily über creative or obsessed with numbers, simply get the work done time after time and we would be lost without them. They often bring little or no drama to the office and their steady resolve is appreciated by all.

The Generator: A successful marketing plan is multifaceted and based on strategies grounded in data that takes its life from a pool of discarded ideas. The Generator is the individual who proposes these ideas. Although they know that the vast majority of them will never see the light of day, they keep at it and once in a while, they strike gold. They often possess a remarkable ability to turn what the data suggests into marketing ideas that evoke a strong emotional response from prospective families.

The Strategist: Ultimately, someone has to look at the data, consider the endless stream of ideas, and create the strategies the office will employ before doling out the actual tasks to turn the plan into reality. In most offices this is the Dean or Director, but if it’s not, it might be wise to create a title which clarifies the role this individual plays.

The reality is that in most offices limited resources will require that individuals play multiple roles. In the most successful offices, staff will be capable of assuming different roles as needs arise. Unfortunately, the paradox in the admission profession is that any individual whose skill set is too well defined will struggle if they are unable to fulfill other aspects of their work. The Generator, if their creative spirit is allowed to spiral out of control, will avoid the drudgery of interview write-ups, emails, and file reading. At the same time, The Collector and the Cruncher, who so effortlessly collects and analyzes streams of data, will lose their value to the office if they cannot create a compelling narrative that illustrates your school’s value to a prospective family.

In the end, we will all be more successful when, as Jim Collins would remind us, we get the right people in the right seats on the bus.