Why we should listen to Admissions Professionals

Yesterday, the CAIS Admissions Professionals Conference wrapped up in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and I have to say, the program was outstanding. This is an important group to our independent school community, as they fill our schools with over 45,000 students annually. So when they come together every two years to learn from the top minds in the profession in North America and to share strategies with their colleagues across the country, I listen. We all should, which is why I am dedicating a blog to their insights.

At the conclusion of one of their breakout sessions, I took some notes. I think some of these comments are gold. Here’s the list:

I wish my Head knew that…

  1. Recruitment is a collaborative effort.
  2. I stress about the numbers just as much, or even more than, you.
  3. Everyone is part of the solution to getting and keeping great kids.
  4. Data collection is increasingly valuable to my success, and I need more expertise on the team to do this well.
  5. Everything can’t be completed yesterday.
  6. You shouldn’t ask for an updated admissions number in the hallway; please take the time to understand the complexities of the process and let me produce a full report for our discussions.
  7. I would like to work with the senior leadership team and Board.
  8. Admissions is the revenue generating aspect of the school and we need the right staffing to be successful. I want to meet to discuss this.
  9. Admissions should be respected as much as advancement.
  10. Admissions and advancement rely heavily on communication, research and analytics.
  11. I still need to be in the trenches – be with the families, conduct the interviews – but I also need to provide the strategy. Can you help me to find this balance? After all, you have a similar challenge in your position.
  12. I am not a marketing expert, and neither are you.
  13. New findings suggest there are 82 points of contact between initial inquiry to enrolment.
  14. I have your back.
  15. I love my school.

I wish my faculty knew that….

  1. Next year’s customers are in our building. We are all responsible for retention. (This one was probably most popular, by the way)
  2. I need to really understand your feedback on new students to help me do a better job. So please complete our surveys and speak with me.
  3. Our priorities everyday can shift according to who walks through the door.
  4. I worry about filling the school with great kids. A lot.
  5. I am important to your continued employment.
  6. I need you to manage the good reputation of the school in our community.
  7. When you talk positively about our students and our school, you have tremendous impact on word of mouth advertising.
  8. It is important to offer excellent customer service.
  9. Admissions is now really recruiting.
  10. Remember, we are all human.

Not sure if I captured all of the comments here (thanks to Kim for trying!) but I do hope some of these resonate with you. We owe it to our admissions offices to support them and collaborate with them through this tremendous shift to strategic recruitment and enrolment management. There is no doubt that it is becoming more complicated to get the attention of the best potential students in the country.

But there is a second and very powerful reason that we need to pay attention to Admissions Professionals.

As our schools are making more funds available for Financial Aid, Admissions Professionals have a huge responsibility to find the best students. And by best, I mean those students who, regardless of income, will make the most of the gift of a CAIS education. We all know students who have been given this opportunity and then have gone on to do amazingly good work. If we all support Admissions Professionals to find even more of those students, we can put our heads on our pillows at night knowing that we are supporting great kids who will go on to change the world.


p.s. Sarah Milligan, all the best as you leave CAIS to do just that.

When you hire for potential

When I was 36 years old, the Board of CESI hired me as the Interim Executive Director.  I had been an English teacher and a department head in the public system, and then a grade supervisor and Dean of Studies at Lower Canada College, but I had no experience in governance or finance, and really very little experience in a senior leadership role.  To be honest, I was not Executive Director material at that point.  They gave me the job because I had worked at CESI for a few months, in a part-time role, so they at least knew I could manage things for a short-term while they did a search.  But no one would have thought that I would become the permanent Executive Director at that time.  Not even me. 

I was hired because of a need, and I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.  I don’t remember exactly when it was that the Board decided not to go through with a full search, but I do remember being told why I was given the job.  I remember Tom Hockin, my Board Chair at the time, summarizing an in-camera conversation the Board had about hiring me – I was young but had degrees from an excellent university (Queen’s); I was working hard and seemed to be focusing on what was most important; they were impressed by my learning; and they were happy that I could communicate well.  I was a risky hire for them, but they were willing to give me a shot.  When I thanked him, I remember one of his comments clearly – Tom explained that I was the age of his daughters and he hoped that someone would give them a chance one day too.  Looking back, I think they really hired me for one reason:  they thought I had potential.

So the cover of the new Harvard Business Review caught my attention:  How to Spot Talent (Hint: Experience is Overrated).   The author argues that potential now trumps brains, experience, and competencies, and defines potential as “the ability to adapt to and grow into complex roles and environments.”  He explains that “21st Century Talent Spotting” is required because business is changing too rapidly to predict what competencies employees will need, even a few years out. Basically, the hiring process must assess the potential to learn new ones, and he offers five indicators:  the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination.

Now almost ten years later, as I poured over this edition of the HBR, I was reminded of two things:  I was indeed a risky appointment at the time, but it was also a very different – smaller and simpler! – organization then.  I don’t think anyone then could have predicted the growth and change.  But here’s the thing – because they hired for potential, I was grateful for the chance and I had a crazy drive to prove to them that I was worth the risk.  Still do.

CAIS Schools = Deep relationships

On the way home from the CAIS Business Professionals conference, I watched Her, the Spike Jonze movie about a man named Theodore, whose friendship with a new, advanced operating system deepens into an eventual love. Watch it, and then your brain will be filled with questions about technology and relationships and what it means to be in love.

It made me think about the three people whom I love most, and how technology impacts our ability to stay connected. I travel often, and so I find I rely on technology to stay connected. Before every flight, the last person I text is Kevin. I don’t know why, but I need to text I love him and I wait for his text back, preferably before I take off. I like to Facetime Kathleen first thing in the morning. I like to wake her up, and see her disheveled hair, and experience her early-morning crankiness. Once I Facetimed her from my room across the hall from her, and we laughed at our routine. I used to Skype with the kids at night, and once I remember Kevin reading to them in bed, and I could see Jacob poking at Kathleen, so from my hotel in Vancouver, I was disciplining them as if I were there.

But being apart is tough on a family. I remember when Jacob was younger, and when I returned from a trip, he would jump into my arms and wrap his legs and arms around me. He would stay there, and I would just let him cling to me in the front hallway, without saying a word. It was as if he needed that physical reminder that I was his Mom and I still loved him although we were apart. He didn’t say the words, I’m glad you’re back, and he didn’t need to. There is no technological replacement for those moments in life, but thank goodness for the technology between them.

Now that Jacob is at boarding school, and those embraces are even rarer, I think a lot about how we use technology to maintain our deep connections. We text. Often. I sometimes think I know more about his day than my parents ever knew about mine because we text so frequently. We also speak on the phone, and I love that he can give me a quick call mid-day to let me know how he did at rugby while he still has that post-game high. When I landed at the airport today, I got a text to say that his math test “was good, but super hard!!!!!!!”  I’m sure he texts and calls his friends too, and I’m sure he is on his device a lot. But here’s the thing.

At boarding school, Jacob spends the majority of his days engaged in face-to-face interaction with friends. In fact, he spends the majority of his evenings and weekends with friends too, as well as professional, caring adults. His days are full of people, not technology. I love that he spends his free time playing, and I mean playing outside with friends, playing games that have not been organized by adults. Really goofing around. How great is that?

Lakefield, like all CAIS schools, values relationships, and they are quite intentional about how students spend their time. I was just at Brentwood watching their Dance Show last Thursday evening, and I asked a row of girls what they loved most about their school. Without a pause, one girl smiled and said, “Relationships.” They all agreed. One added, “Well, you are never bored at Brentwood.”

So I am thankful that boarding school allows my child to develop a broader network of relationships. And I am thankful that Kevin and I had the courage to let go and let him spend more time with others. And I am thankful that technology allows me to stay connected to him.

But here’s the other thing – when I see Jacob this weekend? I might jump into his arms and cling to him in the hallway.


p.s. As a side note, my colleagues who edit this blog both individually asked if they were number four on my most-loved list. Not quite, but I do love my entire CAIS team.