Lessons Learned

I’ve been working in enrollment management for 24 years now. In that time I’ve talked to thousands of students and parents, offered advice on panels and in presentations, talked with college and guidance counselors and collaborated with colleagues all across campus for dozens of open house programs, scholarship weekends and admitted student days. I’ve even had the good fortune of traveling multiple continents promoting Elon across the globe. But until recently, I was never the parent sitting in the information session, taking the tour and trying to figure out how to support my son as he determined which school offered him the best opportunity to launch his future. I wondered two other things: 1) how did time pass so quickly? And 2) how am I going to pay for this?  After all, I’m a father first.  Then I’m an enrollment manager.

Perhaps it’s because of my professional experiences that I’ve been hyper sensitive to not “controlling” the college search.  Knowing what and who I know, I will admit to having had some sense of where “we” should look.  But beyond that – and driving us to each location – I think I did a fairly reasonable job of letting my son take it all in. Ultimately, he identified a few schools that I agreed were pretty exciting, he applied, was admitted, made his choice and “the launch” occurred in mid-August. His mom, brother and I are even getting used to this new way of life. We’re doing much better than we were eight weeks ago but we miss him like crazy. And this teenage boy isn’t a Face Timer so we have to believe that little news is indeed good news.

So what did I learn? Personally, I was preparing myself for years. I’ve been through too many Move-In days not to recognize the emotional toll this life transition is for families. But now that the college search is in the rear view mirror for my oldest son, allow me to reflect on some observations along the way.

  1. Visiting campuses during the academic year is critical. Spring Break and summer is when most students visit because they are out of school and families can get away. Ultimately however, the energy of a community is impossible to appreciate without being there when students are on campus. I knew this to be the case but once I experienced it, I fully understood it.
  2. Campus tours should be no longer than one hour and 15 minutes. Any longer is information overload.  Plus, it can be really hot out there on the bricks! Furthermore, small campus tours are essential. It’s too easy to hang out in the back of the group and spend time on your phone. Doing so defeats the purpose of the tour.
  3. Information sessions must have visuals. We are all bombarded with messages that frequently sound the same. We live in a You Tube era. Video content isn’t special.  It’s the norm. Just make sure it’s short.
  4. It’s not just the tour guide that makes an impression. It’s also the staff member representing the college or university. Professionalism is important. I am exceedingly proud of my colleagues here in the admissions office and believe they represent Elon extraordinarily well.
  5. Deciding where to apply is much less challenging than choosing which college you will attend. Don’t get me wrong, this time of year is tough. Lots of deadlines inside and outside of the classroom. But once admission offers and, in some cases, scholarship offers arrive, it can be really hard to determine which academic environment is ideal. That’s why a second or third visit – particularly after you’ve been accepted – is vital. See what else you can do beyond another info session and tour. The more you know about a school before you enroll, the better.
  6. ZeeMee helps a lot. Never heard of it?  Check out ZeeMee.com. This new(er) social media platform is designed just for students. It provides an opportunity to bring an application to life. That’s good for both students and the admissions committee!

I expected to learn a lot from my son’s college visit experience. Frankly, I was more excited about it than he was. As a dad, I learned what different schools had to offer my son. As an enrollment manager I enjoyed a first-hand look at what students and families experience as the college search unfolds. In the process, I’ve borrowed some of the things I considered especially effective for my son – and for me – and shared that with my colleagues on the very campuses that inspired me.

Imagine what I’ll learn by going through this again with my high school junior. Stay tuned.






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