What I Wish I Had Known My First Summer in Admissions Marketing

Andy Shaw

Summer has a special place in our hearts.

Beach trips. Barbecues. Finalizing a fall class while simultaneously jumpstarting the upcoming application pool. You know, the things we all looked forward to as kids.

I’m entering my third summer in admissions marketing as the director of enrollment communications at a private college in Pennsylvania after spending several years in web and social media at the college. In that time, I’ve already come to know how much different the summer is on a college campus.

Everyone disappears!

It get so quiet!

You have so much time to do projects!

Haha, we both know that last one is a joke.

How many times has someone not in admissions told you, “Summer must be a nice time for you to catch up, eh?” and you just stare back at them, baffled, as you stumble to list all of the things going on at once during these hot, humid months. Your meeting and event total might be down, but the push for deposits, the launch of the next year’s application, and the design of the upcoming enrollment cycle mean there’s nonstop work to be done.

There’s no catching up, then. That’s the first thing you discover in admissions. None of us get do-overs in enrollment, sure, but we all have the benefit of hindsight on how best to make use of those shortened weeks and quiet hallways.

Here’s what I wish I had known my first summer in admissions marketing:

Remember who you are recruiting.

It is easy in all of the talk of recruiting to refer to students as mere categories. A prospect. An inquiry. A person who never answers the phone but will answer texts no problem. The more you remember that each student has unique problems and experiences, the better. Personalizing the experience for them, and I don’t just mean with a first name, is what will make the difference. The best way is getting them on campus so you can build the relationship in person — I’ve learned how powerful that experience can be.

Organization is critical.

I had handled multiple projects at once before. But there’s nothing approaching the ongoing zaniness of an enrollment funnel. You have to be meticulous in noting what is going where to whom and why. At first, I was signing off on things that, in isolation, made sense, before I learned how you have to take a global perspective. I’ve also been adamant about adopting a project management system to help keep track of edits! Good God, the amount of edits that get lost in the email shuffle is frightening. Tighten up your process!

Plan for everything. Then take action.

Most admissions teams are going to take time in the summer to hold a retreat and plan for the year. But in enrollment communications, you also need to take that time, before all the events kick off, to do as much preparation work as you can. We’re ordering all the envelopes we’ll need for the year now, so everything is available and mailings don’t get delayed. We’re figuring out what giveaways we want to do and getting those ordered now. Planning isn’t just strategy sessions. It’s taking action when you have the wherewithal to pull it off. The last thing I need in November is to find out we somehow still need 40 folders for next week’s event and they take two weeks to print (happened!).

Students still do college searches in the summer.

Just because your interns disappeared and your campus is empty doesn’t mean high schoolers will wait until the fall to resume their college search. Have a method of filling up your social media channels throughout the summer. Students really do rely on your Instagram or Snapchat account to get a sense of who you are, and they won’t know you are short-staffed.

Meet with academic departments.

We started doing this last year and it worked wonders. It’s a simple 30-minute update meeting. The department chair or faculty tell your admissions team what new majors are coming, what kind of students thrive for them, what new courses are being introduced, and so on. It helps recruiters and communications staff hear it right from the source before the year gets underway. And the academic side feels heard and valued. Win-win!

Get your photos in check.

This is a great time to see what gaps you have in your photo library before publication deadlines and event marketing creep up. Do you have headshots of all the new faces on campus? Has a new major started and you never got around to getting a photo for it?  What photos do you need to retire because that same student has been in every publication (we all have one!)? A photo audit is a good project for a summer worker, if you have one. They can assign images to folders, if you haven’t gotten that far. It’s a lifesaver in the fall. And you can make a list to have a freelancer or campus photographer take care of as soon as faculty and students return.

In Summary:

It can be incredibly easy to have Memorial Day through the first day of classes go by without accomplishing anything you had set out to do. Take the time in May to plan. Approach the summer much the same way as you would a semester. And take advantage of the limited meetings and urgent projects — you won’t have that advantage come September, when you would kill for a few “slow” days (by comparison to July, at least!). We all know that summer is far from dormant, but there’s a difference between busy and productive. Make this summer the latter.

Andy Shaw is the director of enrollment communications and operations at York College of Pennslyvania, a private four-year residential school. He also is a speaker, columnist, comedian, and father of three toddlers.