Starting With The Why

July 1, 2015 Carson D. Roy
Starting With The Why

The majority of admission professionals have a strong grasp and understanding of what they do. Most can also explain to a certain degree how they do it, but how many can answer why they do it? The answer to the why question should not only shape your researched recruitment strategies, but also work as a guide to truly understanding the mission and core values of your school. If the answer to your why questions are unclear or answered by rote with the easy TIHWHADI (this is how we have always done it), it’s time to reevaluate. Summer is the perfect time of the year to finally take an audit of why you are making specific choices in your office.

With recruitment strategies and yield headlining the list for review, our office routinely evaluates what we do and the decisions we make while focused on the why. We try to encourage and challenge each other to answer the why in regards to every piece of the recruitment cycle. This intention has been prompted in part by a book introduced at last summer’s Essex (now Erdmann) Institute, Start with Why by Simon Sinek. In his book, Sinek explains the importance and framework needed for businesses to inform and crystalize their understanding beyond knowing what they do to how they do it by first deeply exploring and validating their motivation – the why.

Why is your office recruiting in particular places and not others? Why do we allocate substantial resources to some targets and limit our exposure in other areas? Why do schools continue to go back to the same fairs and events on an annual basis if they are not productive? Why do we have receptions at certain locations and not others? Why is your open house program set up the way it is? Why do we assume the same feeder schools will continue to send students our way? With travel budgets continuing to tighten and many times a shortage of personnel in the office, it’s becoming increasingly important that recruitment travel needs to be both precise and productive. It’s important to use hard, data-driven decisions when forming your recruitment strategy and answering why you are doing the things you are doing.

A good place to start in answering these questions at a 30,000-foot level is looking at demographic trends in your region. The National Center for Education Statistics ( and the NAIS Demographic Center ( have been useful to me in identifying emerging markets and growth in the domestic marketplace (I will give you a hint:not promising in the Northeast). This big picture data, combined with yearly internal school data (past inquiries, applications, current students, feeder schools) on where your constituents are coming from, is also important and will shape each school’s recruitment schedule. By using the combination of continually questioning the reasons why you are specifically making the recruiting decisions you are making, and by using data to back up these decisions, you will hopefully find the delicate balance between courting emerging markets and remaining fully present in historically productive areas to become increasingly more transparent.

July and August offer a terrific time to get new members of your office educated to why your institution believes in particular things and to help them become able to articulate that. Why does your school have sit down lunch as an entire community? Why do you have a dress code? Why does your school have an athletic requirement? Every family can go to your view book or website to get an idea of what and how you do things - that’s the easy discussion. Sinek states in his book that, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” The ability to articulate why your school embraces and values the particular things that you do will lead to deeper, more productive conversations with prospective families during the application process and will guide applicants to a clearer vision of the value-added proposition that your school provides.

Finally, I suggest you take some time over the summer for yourself. Why? Because it’s important to recharge your batteries in order to be fresh and excited when the new recruiting season opens up in the fall. You, your officemates, and your family (believe me!) will appreciate it. Although it can be hard for many of us to step away, try to take a little bit of time to unplug and not think about admissions and what you want to improve upon next year!


The Erdmann Institute for Enrollment Leadership

Simon Sinek- Start with Why -link to book purchase

TED Talk-Simon Sinek- How Great Leaders Inspire Action

The National Center for Education Statistics

NAIS Demographic Center

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