The 2016 report on The State of the Independent School Admission Industry from the Enrollment Management Association and the 2013 report The Evolution of the Independent School Admission Professional from SSATB provide critical guidance to schools on improving the quality of admission work and the people who do it. Recent trends like the economic crash of 2008, the arrival of charter schools, the explosive growth of for-profit pre-schools, and the vagaries of the Millennial mindset demand that admission representatives customize the process for prospective families and work much harder to retain them year-to-year once admitted. Thirty-year trends like the improvement of suburban public schools, the shrinking number of Catholic parish elementary schools, the growth of alternative models of schooling, and, most important, our doomed financial model have made for existential seismic activity that will continue to play out.
So, who should lead admission efforts at your school? I relate a profile here for the ideal makeup of a K- 8 or K-12 day school Director of Admission.
Naturally empathetic/Fiercely competitive
The Venn diagram on these two characteristics diminishes the field rapidly. Prospective parents (and especially those of very young children) need to feel uncontrived warmth and engagement from your DA. Behind the scenes, your DA must be driven to fulfill your school’s goals and beat the competition.
Unintimidated by conflict
Your DA will have to say no to prospective families, perhaps even after an initial visit. S/he will also have to ask colleagues (including the Head and trustees) to step up their game and/or change their ways in very concrete terms. No one (who is psychologically stable) enjoys this aspect of the work, but someone who is cowed by it will be ineffective and ultimately crushed by the job.
Expert in childhood development and early childhood classroom practice
Parents of young children need an articulate translator of what they see in an early childhood classroom and a knowledgeable guide to describe how the school’s program reflects a deep understanding of childhood development. On a larger admission team, someone other than the Director might be the chief expert on this piece, but the DA will still need a thorough academic understanding of these areas. Evaluating prospective students, communicating with parents throughout the process, building credibility with teachers, all rely on this expertise.
Organized and efficient
These qualities would appear on the description for any job at your school, but the DA is the person on the team who will pay the biggest price for not having them. The mis-addressed email, the forgotten appointment, the panicky, overwhelmed demeanor will result in a measurable loss (tuition X dropped balls). Likewise, the poorly organized files review with the teachers who have given up their planning time, or the inaccurate, confusing Board report begins a downward slide in credibility that ultimately erodes the bottom line.
You should expect your DA to assemble, analyze and report data, to identify new trends and act on them, to abandon long-held ideas that are no longer true, to not become wed to new ideas and to be humble enough to acknowledge false leads.
No matter how much you might try to help them understand a larger context, you can be certain that most prospective families view your DA as a gatekeeper to the hopes and dreams that they hold for their children. Your DA must honor this trust with witness-protection-level discretion.
Adept team builder
The DA should be an adept networker and collaborator, expert in building cultural capital with faculty, the admin team, the facilities staff, current and past parents, trustees. Attracting, admitting and retaining mission appropriate kids and families is a whole-school task, and your DA must have the skills to marshal these constituencies to do the work.
Outside of your PE faculty and your maintenance staff, your DA might have the most physically demanding job on campus. Leading tours across all four corners of campus, making pre-school visits, doing developmental screenings, conducting weekend admission events—it’s important to be clear in the search process that the job will be physically rigorous.