From The Yield, Winter 2013
Tabor Academy, Marion, Massachusetts
The fall is a big travel, school fair, and recruitment season for boarding schools. Can you provide insight into your staff’s travel, school fair, and general recruitment plans? How is travel divided (territories, familiarity with market, special interest, etc.)? How does your team manage the various events and competing priorities among your constituencies?
Our fall travel calendar is still heavily dependent on fairs. Not surprisingly, this is a strategy we are re-thinking. When I was starting out in admissions, fairs were inquiry generators. On good days we returned to the office with a handful of inquiry sheets. Today, even at fairs hosted near Marion, where we are one of the more popular schools in the room, most conversations are with families already well along the admission funnel. Fairs today, even the well-attended ones, seem to be more about an opportunity for a face-to-face with prospective families already in the pipeline rather than about generating new business. While there is value in these conversations, the bigger school fairs aren’t always the best setting for these types of interactions. Tabor has long enjoyed the benefits of traveling as part of a consortium that has ranged in size between 10 and 16 schools. Our consortium has pooled our resources to experiment with various fair initiatives. We have held panel discussions, traveled to new markets, set up at athletic venues, used different advertising methods, and even hosted guest speakers to attract more families. While our initiatives have been hit or miss, it has been great to be part of a group that at least exercises “initiative.”
I think we all understand that the “ghost inquiry” has meant the dissipation of the traditional fair, but I still believe there is value in “showing the flag” and having those face-to-face conversations with families already in the pipeline. Our next challenge is to figure out how to assert a presence more efficiently, especially with a smaller staff.
What do you do to capitalize on feeder school relationships for recruitment? What strategies would you recommend for cultivating and supporting such relationships?
Applicants from feeder schools are essential to the health of our applicant pool. These are well-prepared kids from tuition-paying families. This fall, we took the initiative to commit to visiting every private feeder school in New England that have sent us an applicant in the last three years. We also decided that, when we could, we would send a different person from our office to make those visits. We went this route to provide our staff a better understanding of the schools. While I know enough to not to hang my hat on one good month, we have had a great October. Whether that is directly related to our recent travel, I probably can’t say yet, but I do know that because of the travel, the families have had a better interview experience while on our campus because of our connections to their schools.
Does your office manage the financial aid process? What is your office’s role in the financial aid process?
Financial aid is housed in our office, and I would urge any school implementing an enrollment management model to move financial aid under admission’s umbrella. Spending financial aid resources wisely requires that the decision makers have an intimate knowledge of the needs of the school, and the strengths of the applicant pool in a context of available and limited financial aid resources. Eric Long, Tabor’s Director of Financial Aid, and I work very closely to leverage every dollar we spend in crafting the incoming class. Our mix of using financial aid to create access, to meet institutional needs, and to meet enrollment budget goals, requires a constant tweaking that can only be accomplished if the financial aid director reports directly to the director of admission, and the two have a very close working relationship. Although having limited resources makes our work difficult, it is in this context that some of the most rewarding and interesting work is done. Just as every admission decision is actually a confirmation of a school’s mission, every financial aid decision is an advancement of that same mission.
Do you use a common application?
Tabor has enjoyed using the Standard Application Online (SAO) for a number of years. I believe our good fortune and smooth operation with the SAO stems from the fact that it is the only application we use. We have no paper application and no complicated, costly vendor relationships. Because it is our one application, our office staff has become very facile on the processing end, and they have a great working relationship with SSATB’s application support staff. Our end-of-cycle surveys make it clear that the majority of families find the SAO either better or comparable to all other application choices available. We aggressively promote the SAO as being respectful of the family, and especially the applicants’, valuable time.
Does your office have an admission committee that consists of members outside your admission staff? If so, how do these non-staff members supplement the admission process? Tell us about the composition of your admission committee.
Tabor is blessed with a faculty that is highly-invested in the admission process. We have approximately 20 volunteer admission committee readers. They are divided into various sub-committees by grade, boarding, day, and international. Each sub-committee is chaired by someone from the admission office. Each application is read by no fewer than three committee members and the sub-committee chair. Most committee members have been reading the same grade level for years and have a deep understanding of the sending schools.
The committees use a blind rating system, which is reviewed annually. They share their blind ratings at weekly meetings which start in mid-January and run through early March. After some discussion, the committee arrives at a final rating, which is essentially a recommendation to me. I then meet with each committee chair, and we review each decision. I probably change about 10% of those committee decisions. After all, teachers are an optimistic and empathetic group!
This protocol leaves us with a list of rated applicants by grade and gender. We then use yield statistics for each segment to determine where on our one to 10 scale we need to draw the “acceptance line” for that particular segment of the applicant pool. After some horse trading above and below that line, we then go to print on decision letters.
What training (if any) do you do with your staff/faculty/other readers to prepare them for application review process?
We are lucky to have a very experienced group. When we do have new readers, the committee chair meets with them to explain our rating system and rubric. We also give them a lighter load for the first two weeks. It is interesting to see how rookies will rate applicants differently than veterans. For good or bad, rookies’ ratings tend to fall into line with the rest of the committee’s after a few weeks. Last year, we started to input all of our individual committee reader ratings into a database. We intend to analyze the efficacy of the rating system vis-à-vis students’ classroom performance. We are only into our first year, so I don’t have results yet, but it should prove interesting. More importantly, I know committee members will find all their hard work spent rating and deliberating more valuable when and if the data support the process.
What are your office’s biggest challenges when dealing with readers/reviewers from outside the admission staff? How do you address this?
As a group, committee members are empathetic and optimistic. They are usually more likely to undervalue testing and grades and to overemphasize some of the more non-cognitive aspects of the application. This is ironic on the one hand given that they are all classroom teachers who rely heavily on assessment, and understandable on the other, given that they are all classroom teachers in a 24/7 boarding community. My experience shows that they are happy to leave the job of pragmatist and realist to me. We have so many return readers every year, that it must be a suitable arrangement.
When do you begin your strategic planning process and marketing planning each year? How is marketing and strategic planning incorporated into your admission office practice?
Tabor is currently in the midst of an aggressive long-range planning process. Not surprising to anyone who has been through a school-wide long range planning process before, one key strategic goal is to “prepare and execute a plan to increase selectivity of our incoming students.” We have been fortunate that the Board is fully supportive of the goal, and is developing a nuanced understanding of “selectivity.” There is no empty rhetoric in this case, and the next three to five years should prove to be an exciting time in Tabor’s admission office. So, for the next few years, the strategic planning process will never end.
Name of School: Tabor Academy
Type of School: Coed, Boarding/Day
Andrew McCain, Director of Admission—Andrew has been in secondary school admission for 22 years, beginning his career at the Tilton School in Tilton, NH. After serving in the admission office for five years, and another two years as Tilton’s Dean of Students, McCain returned to Tabor, his alma mater, where he has served for 16 years as the Director of Admissions.
Wiley Wakeman, Associate Director of Admission—Wiley graduated from Tabor in 1968, then he returned to teach mechanical drawing and naval science from 1973-1984. After a break from teaching, Wiley returned to Tabor in 1996 as an Associate Director of Admissions. Currently, he and his wife, Michele, are dorm parents in Bushnell House, where they live with their three children, one of whom graduated from Tabor in 2006. Wiley serves as the coach of the crew team.
Eric Long, Associate Director of Admission and Director of Financial Aid—Eric in his seventh year in the Tabor admission office. He has worked in the Kimball Union Admissions Office and is a coach for the women’s ice hockey team and JV golf.
Bobbi Krein, Associate Director of Admissions—Bobbi joined the Tabor Academy community as the Associate Director of Admission in July 2013. Prior to Tabor, Bobbi was a college counselor at New Hampton School and she recently served as the Director of Secondary School Counseling at Whitby School in Greenwich, CT. She also founded Krein Educational Consulting, an independent school and college-counseling firm. In her 23-year career in independent schools, Bobbi has served as Director of Admission at Lawrence Academy and Olney Friends School. Bobbie has also served as Associate Director at George School and Kimball Union Academy.
Leslie Geil—Admissions Assistant
Nita Howland— Admissions Assistant
Helene Sughrue and Derek Krein—Part-time Interviewers