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The Marathon / Sprint Cadence Of Admissions

The Marathon / Sprint Cadence Of Admissions

“You have to forget your last marathon before you try another.”  – Frank Shorter, Olympic Gold Medalist.

The admissions process is like a marathon for prospective students.  For students, this route has 26.2 miles of grueling processes, steps, and opportunities for students to slip through the cracks.  We involve school counselors, independent counselors, high school math teachers, the Department of Education, individual colleges, financial aid offices, admissions counselors, essay writers, the college board, and more guidebooks and now podcasts than you could ever imagine. 

The process also works like a marathon for admissions counselors, with a mandatory sprint for the last 1.2 miles.  For them, we involve college fairs, high school visits, school counselors, independent counselors, six different versions of a student essay, coffee shop visits, airline points, rental car counters, the college business office, an admissions director, institutional priorities, a discounting agency, a search campaign, inquiry flows, calling campaigns, text campaigns, coaches, and parents.  Then, just when they are as tired as you could imagine, spring break ends, and we ask (demand?), they sprint all the way to the finish line of May 1, throwing in more calling nights, financial aid appeals, admitted student days, virtual events, all with an eye on the finish line.

That final burst of energy is necessary.  It can motivate someone to finish the marathon (although 1.2 miles is an awfully long sprint) – and to have an even better result than if they finished at the same pace.  Unfortunately, college admissions offices aren’t preparing for the spring – so in some cases, they just don’t do it, and in others, they miss opportunities.

Whenever that final rush to May 1 begins, college admissions leaders need a better answer than just, “I know you’ve been working hard, but we just need to push a little more to get to May 1.”  The plan needs to help counselors focus on the students who are still engaged in the process and let go of the rest.

It is the “letting go of the rest” that most people get hung up on.  If there are admitted students in April, the prevailing perspective is to mine the entire admit pool for any enrollment potential.  But due to our drive to always increase our applicant pool, we have too many admitted students to ask counselors actually to manage them all through the entire process.

The answer is to find a way to break out your admit pool into three distinct groups and then change your outreach strategies accordingly.

Group One – We got ‘em!
Certainly, after spring break, there are a group of students you can be comfortable that you’ve got to yes.  Maybe they’ve deposited, maybe not, but they have shown so many signs that they’re going to enroll that you can step back and wait.  At enroll ml, our dashboard breaks this out clearly for counselors and then monitors these students for any change in behavior that might suggest fading interest.  Admissions leaders should develop a system like this if they do not already have one in place.

Group Two – We lost ‘em!
Send your celebratory press release after you’ve initiated fast apps all you want; there was a segment of your applicant pool who was never going to enroll because they just weren’t that interested in beginning with.  While lead scoring or applicant scoring might give you some insight, it would be wrong to trust that number and build communication plans around it.  However, after being in your admit pool for a month or more, you can trust that the students choosing not to engage with your institution are uninterested.  Keep sending them messages in case they raise their hand as suddenly interested but identify who these students are and let them go.


Group Three – The swing students
This is where all your enrollment potential is.  By April, you should have a group of students, probably around a quarter of your admit pool, which is not in either group.  Instead, they’re interested, they’re engaged, but they’re not sold yet.  Build a model to accurately (and I cannot stress that enough: accurately) identify which students this is, and have your counselors work them in a more personal, time-intensive way than they have in years.  You’ll be repurposing the time spent calling students who aren’t interested and applying it to students with a realistic chance of joining you in the fall.

If you ask your runners, your counselors, to sprint for the last 1.2 miles, you have to give them a new way of looking at their admits.  There must be students you push to the sidelines and students you put on hold.  Sure, you can require them to run at top speed with no preparation after finishing 25 miles already but remember the quote from Frank Shorter at the beginning of this article.  “You have to forget your last marathon before you try another.”  In an age when counselor retention is a critical challenge, finding ways to make the marathon we put counselors through more reasonable and rewarding is a key to success.

Teege Mettille
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