Interview rant and advice

I received a slew of questions about an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education on use of interviews in the admissions process. The main points of the VERY long article are:
1) Most interviews are really a sales pitch – a chance for the college or university to improve their chances of getting you to enroll
2) Some interviews do have an impact on the decision, but usually only at the margins
3) There’s no way to know which kind of interview you are getting – the sales pitch or the admissions impact – so you should assume the latter even though it’s likely the former.

I’m torn today between blasting the whole admissions process and offering advice on interviews. Since it’s my column, I’ll do both.

Blast: The whole admissions process is pretty subjective. I’ve found very few offices that have any idea of how to use writing samples, recommendations, or extra-curricular involvement in a way that they can then correlate to student success. As the article explains in some excruciating detail, college interviews as part of the admissions process tend to be even less useful than other admissions factors. You can trace that to all the research from hiring in the business world that documents how even experienced interviewers aren’t likely to learn much about how a prospective employee will perform. Fortunately, MOST of the decisions are made MOSTLY on academic records, so interviews, essays, and the rest count a lot less in the process.

 Basic: dress nicely – no flip flops (I don’t CARE if they’re Manolos – the admissions officer won’t know that!) and please, try not to wear clothing with the logo or name of some OTHER university. Speak clearly, be nice, play well with others.
 Advanced: Get to know the university or college by reading their propaganda (also known as the website and brochures), and be ready to explain with great enthusiasm all the reasons it’s your FIRST CHOICE. Be specific – extra points for obscure details on faculty and academic programs of interest. Practice interviewing skills such as looking interested and laughing at the interviewer’s lame jokes.
 Expert: The schools that really do know how to do this are looking for self-awareness, motivation, and leadership (the same goes for those that know how to use essays well). Hone your public speaking skills as if you’re auditioning for a guest spot on Glee.

Had a good (or really lousy) experience on an interview or advice you’d like to share? Let me know and maybe I’ll feature it in a future column. Be seeing you.


Colleges and Universities want YOU – part two

Time for even more TRENDY MARKETING EFFORTS FROM COLLEGES AND UNIVERISTIES FOR 2010-2011 (that probably won’t work).

VIDEOS Part I– Mason and three other schools led the way by introducing videos into the application process. Look for a bunch of other schools to follow and then lengthy, silly debates about whether this changes the whole admission process (it doesn’t).

VIDEOS Part II – Colleges and universities try to make their own versions of High School Musical as a way of getting you to notice them. Yes, Yale managed to create one that got some media attention, but that was YALE. Will “Ineverheardof” University be able to go viral with their similarly lame efforts? “Glee,” I think, has nothing to fear.

THIRD PARTY SERVICES – With and others taking over the dating world, it’s no surprise that savvy companies would find a way to do something similar for the often even more stressful process of finding the right school. Some of these programs are just silly, but others may catch on as the new way to search schools. Personally, I like MyCollegeOptions’ service the best, but hey – they publish my posts so I’m entirely partial.

BLOGS – The success of a few blogs (not this one) leads many admissions officers to believe that if only they create their own, suddenly their schools will catapult to the top of the rankings. You’ll see blogs continue to proliferate – mostly admissions officers whining two or three times a year about how many applications they receive and bragging ineffectively about how perfect their schools are. Warning – these tend to be sickly sweet and should be avoided by anyone with a strong gag reflex.

Sad to say, all of the cool, flashy technology in the world won’t make much a difference. Mason is not successful because I blog, include videos in our application process, or tweet. Mason succeeds because:
1) SHAMELESS PLUG: Mason is a great school – great location just outside D.C., incredible faculty, gorgeous buildings and campus, and intensely globally diverse – and if those are things you want, you’ll like it.
2) We tell our story. Sharing the information above through e-mail, travel to your schools, postal mailings, and websites. At the core, the most important part of this process is having a chance to check out the information about schools to see which may fit you best.

This answer, however, is boring. Most schools still hope that they can get around giving you GOOD information by giving you information in some new, creative, and “cutting-edge” way.

So prepare yourselves for brochures, college fairs, phone calls, postcards, and text messages along with new blogs, apps, friend requests, and videos with virtually no entertainment value whatsoever. Maybe I’m wrong about what you want to see, in which case I’d love to hear from you. In any case, my advice is to ignore all the propaganda and gimmicks and just try to find some great schools – there are plenty out there, whether they tweet or not.

Be seeing you.

P.S. – A special Mason prize to the person who posts the most outrageous technological marketing effort a college or university makes this year…as judged solely by me. As George Carlin used to say, “They’re my rules – I make them up.”

Colleges and Universities want YOU: Part One

For those of you who are nearing the end of your junior year in high school, it may be hard to imagine, but just a year from now you will more than likely have finished the admission process and decided what school you’ll attend.

In between now and then, admissions officers will be stalking you. This marketing onslaught has probably already begun as dozens, if not hundreds, of colleges and universities purchase your name and contact information and begin pummeling you with strident messages that suggest that your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are only possible at .

I get a lot (A LOT) of calls from other institutions trying to figure out how Mason breaks through all of that noise. These generally take two forms:
A) Tell us what really cool marketing trick/gimmick/fad is working for you, or
B) Please come work for us, as clearly it’s your brilliance and innovation that makes the difference.

As you’ll soon see, most admissions offices haphazardly lurch from trend to trend in the belief that there is a technology out there that will move them ahead of the other admissions offices in the race for you attention. In an attempt to prepare you, the next couple posts will be composed of my list of TRENDY MARKETING EFFORTS FROM COLLEGES AND UNIVERISTIES FOR 2010-2011 (that probably won’t work):

TWITTER – Seems as if everyone who is ANYone has started tweeting, and admissions officers are jumping on this bandwagon with gusto. Never mind that the data indicates that your parents are a lot more likely to use Twitter than anyone your age, or that if you do, you’re more likely following Justin Bieber than any admissions officer. Will you really pick a school, or even look at one, based on a tweet, or is this more of a twick?

FACEBOOK – Of course, this isn’t really new, but in an all-time high for creepiness, admissions officers will seek to friend you in ever greater numbers. If you maintain good privacy on your site (and police your friends’ habit of tagging you in unflattering photos) and you want to friend an admission dean or two, by all means feel free. When they friend you, however, it just seems kinda…ewwwww.

APPS – For the parents who periodically read these posts, “apps” means applications. Not applications to college, but applications for technology platforms and products. Watch for some colleges to introduce their own Facebook and iPad/iPhone apps this year in an attempt to be ultra-cool. But will a Mason app ever compete with FarmVille? Nah

IPHONE TOURS – I have had at least three companies bugging me to create a campus tour that you can download to your iPhone so you can use it when you visit campus. Really? REALLY? You fly across the country and come to campus, and instead of an actual student as tour guide I should have you follow your PHONE? Maybe…

Stay tuned – the second part of my list, with even more obnoxious efforts colleges and universities are investing in to woo you is still to come.

Be seeing you.

May 1 – commitment and tantrums

Like most admissions deans and directors, I spent most of the day yesterday, the May 1st national enrollment confirmation day, tracking student commitments to my institution. For many years, May 1 marked the end of admissions officers’ anxiety; at that point, we pretty much knew who was (and who wasn’t) coming to our colleges and universities.

Not any more.

Admissions e-lists are filled this time of year talking about “melt,” which describes the number of students who commit to our institutions but never enroll. That number used to fairly small and consisted largely of students who had major changes in their circumstances, mostly health- or wealth-related.  Each year, however, more students are willing to commit to more than one institution. Admissions officers whine about this, calling such students unethical, and rely on guidance counselors to police the issue.

Around this time last year I suggested that colleges and universities accept, and even embrace, this “double-depositing” and pretty much got flamed by a number of colleagues for such a shocking concept. Here’s a sample of what I wrote:

“I really like when the argument gets all fired up as a debate on ‘ethics’. It seems particularly charming that the same universities that are sending massively manipulative marketing materials (oh how I love alliteration!)…then call students unethical for not being able to make up their minds by May 1 … it isn’t unethical, it’s a purchasing decision…You can place deposits on any number of items (say a car, just to draw the comparison most likely to inflame my colleagues), and decide NOT to make that purchase without being in the least unethical, can’t you?”

I was right, this unhinged people, although not one actually gave any reasonable argument for saying it’s about ethics.  Still, I recognize that simply accepting multiple deposits from students is unlikely to be embraced. So instead, a few new suggestions:

To make this all more open and honest, here’s some radical thinking. Perhaps the May 1 deposit deadline could go be a date for half-refunds. June 1 could become the new final deposit date. Between the dates, colleges and universities can openly do all the things they try to do on the sly now – renegotiate aid packages without academic or fiscal justification; promise better housing/orientation/classes to those who commit sooner; threaten to kick, scream, and hold their breath if the applicant goes elsewhere, etc.

Admissions officers will, I’m sure, cry that June 1 is far too late and blah blah blah about all the ways this would become the wild west instead of a carefully considered process of helping students find best “fit.” New flash – melt is growing because of OUR practices more than any change in ethics among students and families. If we can’t clean up those practices (and recent history says we either can’t or won’t) then let’s at least try to make the process more transparent.

At the same time, and I know how unpopular this will be, colleges and universities should significantly raise deposit fees (many have been at the same level for over a decade while tuition has skyrocketed). With deposits being such a small percentage of tuition, some families see an economic percentage in double depositing.  Remember, these deposits get used toward tuition and housing bills, so the only students who would pay more as a result are those that double deposit. 

In the meantime, my thanks and congratulations to all of you who decided to commit to Mason. You made the right decision. Now you’d better stick to it, because MY tantrums are REALLY loud.

Be seeing you.