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They Treat Anecdotes Like Data

They Treat Anecdotes Like Data

This piece follows “Five Barriers to Yield Improvement” and focuses on the third barrier.

What is riskier than someone who doesn’t have all of the available information they need to make a decision?

Answer: someone who thinks they have all the available information to make a decision. 

Because of the human fallacy of mistaking anecdotes for data, admissions counselors often find themselves in just that situation.

Successfully maximizing the enrollment potential of a recruitment territory requires the ability to intuit what information a student needs at any given time.  This skill develops over time … time that is measured in years, not months.  It also requires the consumption of data reports and research projects to truly embrace and understand the drivers of enrollment at your institution.

Brand new admissions counselors may actually be immune to this fallacy.  In their first year, they’re not expected to know this; thus, they rely on the advice and insights from their peers and supervisors.

However, it’s the counselors in years two, three, and four for whom this challenge is most acute.  Professionals who may be made to feel (by themselves or someone else) that they should have insights and perspectives to go along with their new title of Senior Admissions Counselor or Assistant Director.  These are the folks for whom the anecdotal story from one student two years ago sticks with them.

Once, I heard a more experienced admissions counselor talk about the recruiting hook that is Aveda.  Our small town had an Aveda (this is perceived as an upscale salon) – and one prospective student’s image of our community was shattered when they learned that there was an Aveda blocks from campus.   For an entire cycle, I took that and ran with it – telling students that yes, “we even have an Aveda.”

When I tell you it never landed, not even once, believe me.

It’s because I was victim to this most human of errors: taking one anecdotal story and assuming it applied to a broader swath of students.

It did not.

There are examples like that happening across the country, probably in your office today.  In some cases, they are harmless – no one was turned off knowing we had a nearby Aveda Salon.  In others, there are more significant challenges.  Suppose there are anecdotes pulling focus from your core strengths, the messaging architecture you put together or drawing your admissions counselor to the wrong student. In that case, you risk wasting the most precious of resources: time.

Reduce the reliance on anecdotes as data, and you can improve your yield.

Teege Mettille
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