AN INTERVIEW WITH REBEKAH SOLLITTO, Assistant Head of School, Poly Prep Country Day School (NY)
As enrollment managers assess their goals for the year, they’re faced with the challenge of reaching a specific admissions count. Precision is key here, and “more” does not necessarily equal “better.” Going over target exhausts your resources, and falling short leaves you shy of your financial goals. But it’s not enough to simply reach that number, you have to factor in which kids are best fit for your school. Because of this pressure to nail the bullseye, there are few techniques to narrow in on those students.
For Rebekah Sollitto, the best method that gets you there is predictive analytics. As Assistant Head of School at Poly Prep with a diverse educational portfolio, Sollitto has a keen sense for the needs of different age levels, parental concerns, challenges, and opportunities that are present in the admissions world. She understands the impact that institutional research can have on making these jobs more efficient, accurate, and innovative.
“For me, institutional research is asking critical questions about the status quo in order to help you make good decisions about the future.”
The process starts with assessing your current data and setting the groundwork for the data you want before you move forward with identifying trends. , the characteristics you’re measuring are found to have no impact on yield,“You need good historic data to have good predictive data, but you can’t go back in time. You just have to start somewhere,” said Sollitto. Once you’ve built up your database, you can begin to ask questions. Whether it’s a matter of gender balance, zip codes, or financial aid recipients, ask why these trends are there and what it could mean for your future yield.
Sometimes the characteristics you’re measuring are found to have no impact on yield but knowing that there is no impact is also valuable. Knowing this will allow you to learn what data is important, what characteristics to look for, what are the nuances, and how you can streamline the process. It’s a skill that takes practice and patience, but there are tools to help you achieve impressive results. Utilizing data collection software and specific questions about their own school, Sollitto and her team found that:
- Being a sibling impacts yield for younger kids, but not for high schoolers
- Boy-identifying students yield at a higher rate than girl-identifying students
- Financial aid recipients yield at a higher rate than full pay students
- 5th and 6th graders yield at a higher rate than 9th graders
- Zip code has no impact on yield
Now that you have the data, the questions, and the findings, there’s an important task of relaying this information to your board. You might be fascinated by one characteristic, but they may be interested in another. Rather than presenting your work as a “data dump,” Sollitto recommends shifting this to a conversation. Ask them questions about what metrics they’d like to see, what learnings resonate with them, and what defines success. Don’t be afraid to push those responses even further by asking follow-up questions.
“If you are considering a new pathway or a change, it’s a good conversation to have. Like what are we basing this on,” said Sollitto. “Are we trying something out just because we want to see what happens? Are we trying something out because we’re solving a problem?” This creates a partnership where you and your trustees are thinking critically and level setting expectations. From there, you can make informed decisions.
While it’s necessary to assess data internally, there’s also an opportunity to take a step back.
“One of the insights that I am so grateful for is actually knowing what the outside world thinks about our school,” said Sollitto. “It only helps your school and your students to either work to meet the expectations, or work to change them.”
So when it all boils down to parsing through data, predicting trends, and making sure you hit the mark for admissions, it’s essential to also pause and reflect on what truly matters for your school.
Rebekah Sollitto credits the nature of independent schools for allowing her to do a little bit of everything: she was an advisor, dean, math and computer science teacher, coach, and math specialist before joining the Poly Prep community. From 2013–2020, she led Admissions and Financial Aid at Poly, often crediting her inspiring team as the best part of her job. Serving currently as Assistant Head of School, Strategic Initiatives, Rebekah works on special projects targeting school improvement. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from Harvard; her master’s in technology education from Teachers College, Columbia University; and her M.Ed. in independent school leadership from the Klingenstein Center at Columbia University.