Updated: Feb 23, 2021
by Trevor Waddington, Principal, Truth Tree Consulting
As is often the case, the admission director or enrollment manager gets the cheers when enrollment goes up. They also get the stink eye when enrollment is on the decline. Some of those cheers and jeers are warranted, but not all.
I like to think the admission/enrollment professional or team is responsible for +/- 4 total new students. Meaning, an ineffective admission director will enroll 46 new students while a highly effective admission director will bring in 54.
So what makes an admission/enrollment professional highly effective? To contextualize this effort, let's use Stephen F. Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
If you are not familiar with the book, Covey contends the following habits will make you more productive.
Begin with an end in mind
Put first things first
Seek first to understand, then to be understood
Sharpen the saw
So let’s dive into the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Admission and Enrollment Professionals.
1 - No Armchair Admission Directors Here
You must be proactive. No more hoping the phone rings or waiting for your inquiry inbox to fill up. Highly effective enrollment pros are proactive. Their mindset is, “how can I get the phone to ring at least three times today” instead of “I don’t understand why the phone is not ringing.”
2 - Begin with the Ultimate Enrollment in Mind
If you ask most admission directors about their ultimate goal, you’ll probably hear a number: total enrollment or number of newly enrolled students. Sometimes the chase for a number can cloud judgments of acceptance. Have you ever accepted a student who was not the ideal fit but might work out? I’m raising my hand.
Instead of trying to hit a number, try this exercise.
Gather your boots on the ground colleagues (teachers, academic deans, and coaches). Have them close their eyes and ask them to think of their “dream class”.
How many students are there?
What do they look like?
How do they interact with one another?
What are their parents like?
While budgets are not set on black coffee wishes and teacher lounge donut dreams (Sorry Robin Leach, RIP), your end goal shouldn’t just be a number, it should be to make your colleagues happy too.
3 - No, I Cannot Cover Your Class
I mean, I know she gives tours and organizes open houses, but what else does she do?
Have you ever heard this whispered in the halls about the director of enrollment management? I know I have. That’s why we sometimes feel guilty saying ‘no’ to covering a class or going on a field trip.
If this has happened to you, make a plan. Choose a day of the week and let it be known that every Thursday is an admission planning day where you are not available to cover duties. This is the day when nothing is urgent and everything is important. No phones, emails, or do-you-have-a-minute pop-in meetings that never take just a minute. Call it a work from home day or find someplace secluded on campus where you and your team can make important plans.
4 - Win-Win with Colleagues
Highly effective admission directors don’t see their counterparts as rivals. They see them as collaborative colleagues. I’m not suggesting you give away all of your trade secrets, but creating win-win scenarios can help both schools. For example, you may not be the right fit for an applicant, and that’s okay. Maybe they are a better fit at your colleague’s school. Down the line, they’ll hopefully return the favor.
One of my favorite professional accomplishments was creating a mastermind group of 10-15 admission colleagues. We met monthly for round table lunches and routinely collaborated via email as a group. Yes, we competed for students but we also learned a lot from one another. In the end, it was a win-win for everyone.
5 - Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
The above headline was too good not to take directly from Covey. He nails it. When I first started doing admission work, I was eager to tell an interested family about the school and all the great things that happen at it. In my haste, I neglected to learn why they were interested in my school. The first thing out of your mouth after pleasantries should be, “tell me about [student name].” By carefully listening and, if in-person, watching the parents’ body language, you will learn about the pain they are trying to avoid and the pleasure they would like to attain by enrolling at your school.
6 - Know If You're Fluff or Jelly
One of your responsibilities is to create rapport with prospective families. Your relationship with a family has some, if not more, influence on their ultimate decision.
I think I did a pretty good job rapport-building. To a greater extent, my strength was deciding who else on campus could make a meaningful connection with this particular parent. Highly effective enrollment pros understand some parents want to hear about the school in a cerebral, linear fashion, while others want to experience the emotion through you.
It’s up to you to find the synergistic peanut butter pairings on your campus. That way, they leave confident that someone at the school “gets me and my child”.