Summer Admission: The Heat Is On

June 11, 2012 Tom Sheppard
Summer Admission: The Heat Is On

I was 26 years old when I experienced my first summer in the admission profession. I had just been appointed admission director of a boarding and day school, and arrived to find that we had spaces to fill. We had a lot of spaces to fill. My experience that summer gave new meaning to the phrase, “That which does not kill you will make you stronger.” Now, some sixteen years later, I can’t remember how many of those spaces we filled, but I survived - and in the succeeding years, no two admission cycles have been the same. Some have brought significant over-enrollment in March and others have been a dash to the finish, but I will always look back on that first summer as the most meaningful professional experience I’ve ever had.

Over the years I’ve been given the opportunity to share my experiences with admission professionals at summer workshops for TABS and SSATB. With great frequency, I come across others who look just like I did that first summer, wondering how against all odds they will ever pull this off. Such encounters are an opportunity to share, commiserate, and instill just enough energy and optimism to make it through the summer while others enjoy a few more days at the beach.

For any of you who now find yourselves heading into the heat of the summer wondering if you will make budget, let alone reach full enrollment, I offer the following:

  • You are not alone. During my first summer in admission I was often awake at 2:00 AM, experiencing real stress for the first time in my life. I was convinced no one else could possibly understand the pressures I was facing. I now know that nothing could be farther from the truth and feel lucky to have a network of colleagues who are just a phone call away, ready to share my ups and downs. Until you develop the same network, call me anytime: 831-625-8308.
  • Stick with your plan. The most successful admission offices I encounter are offices that plan for the long term, know there are no silver bullets, and have a well-defined plan to see themselves through good times and bad. If you haven’t developed a clear enrollment model, summer is the time to start and many of us who have been around awhile would be glad to help.
  • Be completely transparent. Your Head of School and CFO know the pressures you are under. They also need to plan, so preventing any surprises by giving them regular and realistic enrollment updates is always the best approach. Avoid the temptation to overpromise and just tell it like it is. You’ll sleep better at night and serve your school well.
  • Find balance in your life. Getting away, even when there is work to be done, is crucial. Our office is probably glad when I leave for a few weeks every summer. Yours will be too. You’ll return refreshed and ready for the challenges that never end.
  • Gauge your risks carefully. Meeting your enrollment goals is important, but not if it means taking unnecessary risks which will come back to haunt you. Assessing these risks is a subjective process that should be undertaken in a deliberate manner.

Above all else, remember that making a difference at your school does not happen in one year, but in ten or even fifteen. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and this summer is but one of many where you’ll make decisions that help your school prosper in the long run.


So You Want to, or Have to, Build an Enrollment Plan: Where to Start (and End): AACRAO presentation 4/4/12 by Craig Cornell of Ohio University

Mentorship and advice - the Admission Leadership Council

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