Updated: Jun 13, 2019
by Trevor Waddington, Principal, Truth Tree Consulting
When I first started in admissions, I never thought much about the information gathered on the application. Sure, it’s good to know the name of the student - I guess 😉 - and what grade they are going into. Then I realized the more I could find out about “them” the better positioned I would be to attract mission-appropriate families and predict enrollment. My first ‘ah-ha’ moment was the section where the parents put their occupation. If they had good jobs (or at least one of them), there was a good chance they afford tuition…I was a genius!
When I moved to the Washington, DC area, I realized many schools asked what other schools they are applying to on the application. I thought this was cheating, but apparently it was common practice, so of course I would add it to my school’s app. From here, you can figure out what type of education they might want. For example, if they indicate three K-12 schools and you are a K-8, it might be because they don’t want the hassle of applying out again in 8th grade and you are a safety school.
It got deeper. With the advent of Google Maps, I could view a recent photo of their home and what accouterments they had outside. If they had a University of Michigan flag flying, a basketball net in view or a garden on the side of the home, I could use that information to tout the school’s outdoor learning spaces or the sports program. And of course, I would have my Michigan Tumbler cup well in view when the parents came to visit for an initial tour.
Once, I even spotted Star Wars family stickers on the car in the driveway, so I was sure to have my 3-D printed Millennium Falcon well in view when the parents came to my office.
It went deeper still. Using platforms like WealthEngine, I could find out who or what organizations they donated to. If they religiously donated to the National Wildlife Federation, I might intentionally mention the endangered species conservation project the 6th grade was working on.
With 17 years of experience as an admission director, there were other nuggets of info I was able to use to help build rapport with the family and determine their yieldability, but none as successful as this one.
What is your favorite restaurant?
This might sound weird, but hear me out. Who out there doesn’t have a favorite restaurant near home or one they will go out of their way to eat at when traveling? I know when I’m back in the Philly, PA area, I make a b-line for Pappou’s for an ISOP (Inside Out Pizza). Pappou’s is a dive bar and kitchen where I wouldn’t take dignitaries, but I would take out-of-town friends. The point is, our taste in the culinary is an extension of the visceral experiences we value most. And there’s an easy way to find out about their palate for cuisine without seeming like a creeper.
You: I see from your application you live in [name of city/town/neighborhood]. I love that area. Have you ever been to [name a restaurant near their home]?
Parent: Yes, we love that place.
You: Oh nice, is that your favorite restaurant in the area?
Parent: No, we’ve never been.
You: I hear it’s delightful. Where is your favorite spot to dine?
If they name a restaurant that’s truly high society, they are either legit foodies with a taste for the extravagant or they are trying to impress you knowing it’s the best restaurant. If you are a school steeped in prestige, either way, you are good to go. If you are a small school without a picturesque campus, you might not want to put this family in the “definitely coming” category.
There are other great questions to ask and ponder, but overall, the more you can find out about people’s personal beliefs and choices, the better off you will be in positioning your school as an attractive education.