It’s that time of year. March 10, the common notification date for delivering admission decisions. The admission committee has done its work and financial aid decisions are on the table. The entire admission office, director, associates, staff are reflecting on the end of another admission season with a sense of relief mixed with a bit of angst at the possibility that, in spite of their sometime agonized decisions, they still have to wait to see if they will fully enroll the school for another year. And it’s a time when others on the campus ought to be walking into the admission office to celebrate their work – board members, head of school, administrators, faculty, staff – for it’s this admission office whose work will ensure the future of the school and salaries for its employees. The students they bring to the school are the future the school will mold for all of us.
Not a few admission officers over the years have told me about their faculty thinking the job of the admission office is ripe with all sorts of wonderful perks: business class seats; four-star hotels; drinks by the pool and a few hours actually meeting and interviewing families. The reality is often middle row seats; lonely hotel rooms; hours on winding roads; another dreaded school fair where no one comes to their table or, if they do, have no idea who the school is or likely don’t care (My favorite story was when my associate director standing behind our table sees a mother drag her son up only to have her point and say, “If you don’t shape up, that’s where I’m sending you!”). They endure endless hours of interviews with adolescent teenagers and parents with unusual views of what should constitute success for their child. These are often young assistant directors right out of college, perhaps alums of the school – all enthusiastic – and hit the proverbial yellow brick road of recruitment full of optimism. Then they visit a school and address that eighth-grade English class where, perhaps, five of twenty students are interested the rest seeing this just a respite from another writing project.
The director, like the entire staff, loves the school; believes in its mission; and is determined to bring In those students that best fit that mission. Yet, there are football teams that need continued victories; orchestras needing to replace that first-chair violinists; budding thespians. The champion debate team coach is in the office pleading his needs; the science department chair is bemoaning the lack of mathematics preparation needed for her physics curriculum. The development office is in the middle of yet another major multi-million dollar campaign and wants to see the profile of the applicant pool parents. The chairman of the Board is asking for consideration of a friend’s wholly unqualified son because, of course, he knows this family could be of great help with funding the new swimming pool.
The head and his board have a budget that must be satisfied and, without input from the director, has decided to increase the tuition another two percent over the previous year and has asked that the admission office bring in more tuition-able families to cover the cost. Of course, financial aid allocation will only be increased slightly even though for every point tuition is increased there will be a three-fold needed increase to meet the financial aid needs of the current families let alone allowing for funding new families.
The director and his admission office soldier on because, well, that is their work and their love for their school is what motivates them through another open house, reception, panel at the local sending school. There are tour guides to train; another publication to be designed; a social media campaign to be implemented; a campus video to be produced. In many cases, there are advisees, evenings in the dorm, weekend duty. Some schools even require that, should that admission officer be on the road doing the work of admission, they must return and make up the dorm duty they missed.
They are counselors to parents wondering if their child will find a nurturing, safe home at the school, and will the school ensure entry into that celebrity university. They contend with pressure from the head of the local sending school to consider that one student whom she knows is just not going to get into any other school. A family shows up at the office door unannounced expecting an immediate tour and interview and they’re not leaving until that happens.
The director and her team must then manage all the agendas in the admission committee meeting: the mathematics chair insists incoming freshman cannot have anyone needing Algebra I; the English department chair wants perfect writing skills; and the athletic director needs a power forward. And there cannot be any student with SSAT scores below the ninetieth percentile. International students must be as fluent in English as a native-speaking American.
But it all comes together and the admission director and his team have done their work while not forgetting that there is that revisit day to manage in a few weeks. It is time for to celebrate. Celebrate the men and women who have made it all happen; whose work changes the life of every student admitted. The school will continue to thrive as it has for decades and teachers will be allowed to do their magic continuing the work they love. Meanwhile, the admission office is already preparing for the next admission season.