Holding On During the Summer

The summer is flying by. Besides hoping those deposited students show up at registration or orientation, what are you doing to ensure they all show up this fall?

Realizing the overdone-ness of this analogy, I intend to use it to make a point. Don’t rule me out yet. The process of recruitment has load of similarity to a courtship. At this point, you’ve met and decided on mutual attraction, you’ve gone out together to see if it’s more than a feeling, you’ve proposed with an offer of admission, your new life partner has accepted your ring with a deposit and now you and he or she are planning a wedding that will take place in late August or early September. Three months isn’t a lot of time for this.

You both have a million details to care for. Many of them are transactional: insurance, health-related forms, agreements, deposit on your new residence and the like. They’re tasks to check off in preparation for better days ahead for you both. They’re details and some of them are unpleasant. That’s life. But you can choose to make them fun by doing them together.

My point is this: you’ve invested so much in developing and building a relationship with each member of the incoming class, it seems that you would want to make these countdown weeks the best part. You’ve done the work of acquiring a commitment (and assuming retention is important to you, it is a lifetime commitment) from every student. Why shouldn’t these glory days leading to matriculation be the best part of your relationship with the incoming class?

One practice we see of concern is the decision to hand off your new partner to another team; once they’re deposited, student development or academic affairs teams take over. Each of these teams need to part of your ceremony and they certainly bring the right additions to your relationship. But during these critical months of multiple deposits (engagements) and last-minute decision-making, why hand your new partner over to strangers? Be certain you deliver a smooth transition for deposited students and their families to new players in the experience. The enrollment team should be a visible part of registration and orientation events.

Thinking back to our own wedding, we had some vivid disagreements during planning, but TJ and I also had a ton of fun getting ready for the big day. These next weeks should be fun for your new students and you can help make it so. Make them feel welcomed and treat them as they are already part of your community. Celebrate days and weeks until they arrive on campus. Send them tokens of your “love” for them. Keep them informed about what’s happening on campus; even the news you take for granted is likely of high interest to new students and their families. Let them know they are welcome to visit campus again and again during these months just to become more comfortable with new surroundings. Give them suggestions of things to look for that they may have missed on their initial campus tour. Help new students make memorable experiences that help them envision themselves as part of your school. This is a great time to connect them with alumni as well. Paint the picture of graduation early in their experiences this summer. Provide them with reasons to be already proud to be a Cougar/Logger/Knight/Bulldog/Scottie/Panther/Bullfrog/SeaUrchin/Platypus.

Your extra effort in the next few weeks will give you greater confidence in your intention to overcome the summer melt you may have experienced in the past. We know you’re tired, but this is not the time to let up.

Take a day off and keep at it.

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Rick Bailey

Rick is the Principal and founding partner at RHB.