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Admissions Directors Are Unable To Identify The Right Students

Admissions Directors Are Unable To Identify The Right Students

As a recovering admissions director, let me tell your our dirty little secret: too often, we have no clue which students a counselor should be calling.

We don’t.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We know the wrong answer when we see them. Two examples of wrong answers to: which students should counselors be calling today are:

  • “No one — students don’t answer the phone anymore.” (Don’t get me started on this myth)
  • “Whoever emails me asking to talk on the phone or by zoom.”

In the admissions cycle, there is nothing more impactful than a genuine, individual conversation about the student’s decision-making process. When there are too many students to talk to, prioritization is critical. Still, we often resort to the old standard spreadsheet design: who has been admitted, submitted a FAFSA, and visited campus.

Sure, we can mix it up, maybe offer our personal twist on the big three variables. Sometimes we’ll use a scholarship competition gimmick, consider virtual events the same as on-campus, or perhaps even roll in website tracking data.

But it’s not good enough, and admissions directors know it. It’s just the best we can do with the tools usually available to us.

This is one of the most frustrating things to good admissions counselors, and it leads to unhappiness and discontent, ultimately contributing to The Great Resignation.

If I were working as an admissions director today, here is how I would solve this problem.

First things first. Find substantial data science resources to scour my CRM. At enroll ml, our data science team reviewed over 31,000,000 rows of data in the onboarding process for a client. This is not something you can replicate in your excel sheets, no matter how comfortable you are with vlookup or simple joins. Perhaps there are on-campus resources, maybe you find a vendor partner, but someone needs to look deep in your data set to find the “tells” of interest. Without that, get as creative as possible to pull out usable data elements for your admissions counselor to apply subjective analysis.

Theory into practice. Develop and document a theory for which data elements are most meaningful, and empower your admissions counselors to use them to break apart their pool. One of my favorite activities as a director was the Admit Pool Workshops we held a few times each spring. Every applicant had a half page of variables printed out (yes, I’m old school) and collectively, we broke the pool into subgroups, each getting different outreach and attention.

Let me be clear – this is not a state of the art approach. Setting up the data elements on your own without rigorously testing them is going to very much rely on hunches and a compilation of anecdotes as to what’s genuinely meaningful, but it is better than nothing. Th best approach now would be to conduct a thorough and rigorous review of behaviors leading to enrollment, measure the strength and predictability of each one, and build a regime based on that. However, at this point in November, that may not be possible for many of us. But the perfect isn’t the enemy of the good – we should move in the right direction even if we can’t yet get all the way there.

You can improve the work environment for your admissions counselors by being more data-informed, allowing them to be more targeted with the time-intensive outreach, empowering them to be in the process, and pointing them to the right students right now.


Teege Mettille
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