By Luc Martin, associate director of admissions, Sonoma Academy (CA)
As we all know, the admission landscape gets more and more competitive each year and we’re all searching for unique ways to increase our yield. At Sonoma Academy, we empower and prepare our student ambassadors to take a central role in our recruitment efforts, and to “share the yield.”
As associate director of admissions at Sonoma Academy High School (CA), I am responsible for our student ambassador program, which we call “All Stars.” Today, 35 All Stars serve as key contributors to most of our admission events. From hosting open houses, to speaking at school presentations, to interviewing students on a visit day, an All Star will play a significant role in a prospective family’s experience. As the coach of this team, it is my responsibility to communicate the keys to our success.
Build the Space
The secret sauce of the All Star program is our exploratory class (similar to an elective) that allows us to have an ongoing and dedicated time and space to work with our team. We meet with the All Stars twice a week, one quarter per year. Having this scheduled class time provides me the opportunity to build team chemistry, teach a curriculum, and organize the team. This class time has been critical to the development of each All Star and to the success of the All Star program.
Recruit the Students
Think of your student ambassador team as your school’s “All Stars.” This team should embody the spirit and culture of your student community and reflect the values and mission of your school. A major challenge is: How do you attract the most qualified students to join your All Star team?
In my experience, the best way to bulk your team up with grade A talent is to go out and recruit them yourself! Yes, identify and recruit the students you want on the team. It seems too simple and obvious, but going out and speaking with students about your student ambassador program is the most effective way to strengthen and diversify your candidate pool. In the competitive world of admission, you’ll need the most dynamic players to win, so go out and get them!
Inspire with Curriculum
Our All Star curriculum has always focused on the development of leadership and communication skills. Leadership is notoriously difficult to define, operationalize, and teach. However, a few years ago, I read Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why, and was inspired by his key phrase, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This philosophy would eventually become a pillar of our curriculum, as well as our mantra for all of our communications with prospective families. I encourage you to explore Simon Sinek’s material and look for ways to incorporate it into the curriculum for your ambassador program.
Break the Bread
One of my top priorities as the coach of All Stars has been to cultivate a family atmosphere. Once an All Star feels comfortable and part of the family, then he or she is more likely to take an All Star-related risk (public speaking, leadership, etc.). Taking such risks is vital to every All Star’s development, as it allows them to build and refine their skills with each new bold venture.
Scheduling retreats and/or providing team shirts are great ways to foster a family environment. However, I have found that the most successful strategy is simple: to eat food, and lots of it! For instance, we frequently have snacks together at the beginning of each class. Before our open houses we have “family dinners.” Occasionally, and unexpectedly, I will bring doughnuts into my office, send an email, and just wait for the stampede of All Stars to knock down my door.
Creating a regular meeting space, delivering inspiring curriculum, and sharing food together are all effective ways I’ve found to create a dynamic and successful student ambassador program. Consider placing your All Stars on the frontlines of your recruitment efforts and share the yield.