The New England Patriots: 5 ways they are like the perfect admission office

OK, I can admit it. I am a Baltimore Ravens fan, and have been since the team came to Baltimore in 1996. I am, however, also able to spot things in other teams and organizations that I find to be really effective, and give them proper due when they are warranted.

As I was watching the big game last night, an epiphany hit me like the zing from an Old Bay Chicken Wing (trust me, you HAVE to try them). The New England Patriots are the perfect embodiment of what a great admission office is.

I know that sounds crazy (and it’s really painful to write), but I bet when you look at how these pieces come together, there is a REALLY compelling connection to the cogs in the gears.

  1. The Organization has a clear vision of the type of individuals who succeed.
    Think about your school. You have a great idea of the kinds of students who do well with you, and you know as an admission professional when an application comes across your desk if you would take them (all things being equal) pretty quickly. There is a mentality in New England, and they know “Patriots” when they see them, and actively recruit the kinds of players who fit the mold and the culture.  At your school, you know the exact types of kids you are trying to recruit, and are not shy about putting out there who would be successful on your campus.
  2. Leadership relies on data for decisions.
    The coaches watch hours and hours of film to know what to do for building a game plan and they do it in such a way that is mapped to the weaknesses of their opponents AND the strengths of their team.  There is no game plan or strategy put in place that hasn’t been truly vetted and built over multiple scenario tests. Your admission office shouldn’t take out an ad in a newspaper or on the radio “on a hunch” or because it “seems right”. Decisions have to come from data to be effective.
  3. Every opportunity requires a tailored approach.
    You never see two identical gameplans from the Patriots. They treat each opponent with a sophistication that is tailored specifically to who they are playing. In fact, there are times when you literally can’t distinguish the team from week to week, because they are using very different approaches in consecutive games. For your admission office, do you have a “one size fits all approach” or do you tailor your approach and strategy to each prospective family you face. Your success rates for yield will increase dramatically with the time spent tailoring the approach to each family. (That fact comes from a survey I did with SchoolAdmin and AISAP)
  4. Put your players in a position to succeed.
    You never see the Patriots asking a player who is not gifted with blocking to do nothing but block. They find the best uses for their players and give them every opportunity to be successful. In your office, you may have team members who are great with data, but not as good with the process, or you may be the ONLY member of the team, and are great with families and terrible with managing the numbers. Putting the right players on the right seat “on the bus” of your office is more important that just “hiring more help”. You need to have the right personnel operating from a position of strength, while pushing them to work on weakness whenever possible.
  5. Vision drives success.
    Without an organizational mantra, there is little chance for success. You’ll never hear a member of the Patriots talk about individual successes or looking ahead to another opponent. The entire team is focused on doing the best job you can, today. That leadership comes from the top, and is modeled brilliantly by the head coach (and the owner). If your head of school can distill the vision of quality through to your office’s work, there is no limit to the successes your school can attain through enrollment management.

This is probably a post for another day, but I found the thought poignant enough to capture here: Admission offices are the chief caretakers of the school’s brand, yet seldom have any control in how the brand is executed on a day in and day out basis on campus.  The Patriots all care for and advance the organization’s brand AND are able to control the messaging and set daily examples of how to live in the brand.

Thankfully, football season, as has the main admission season, has come to a close. As teams and admission offices gear up to start the next campaign, think about how your office can learn a few lessons from the Patriots and how they conduct their business every day.

It is cliche’ to connect sports and business, but in this case, our work is deeply tied to mission and mantra, and that’s something that the Patriots have cornered the market on.

What do you think? Are there any other lessons to be learned in connection to your office?

Science, with a soul…

So, I was really thinking about the other side of the admission funnel today: The students who AREN’T going to get the thick letter from your office. The families who WON’T be getting the good news through your online portal in a few days. I think about what that conversation around the kitchen table is like.

It was really on my mind, as today is my daughter’s birthday. I got to see photos of her on social media in her school, having a great time with her classmates, as they celebrated with her in their own, silly ways. It was positively heartwarming to see the look of joy on their faces, and to see her look so happy on her special day.

Then, it hit me. There are students all around the world that aren’t going to be in their first choice school.  How do we in the admission profession serve those families, who perhaps wanted more than anything to join our school?

We have been talking to a lot of schools about process management, and especially about visualizing their entire onboarding journey with a family, from first touch all the way through enrollment. Many schools, however, don’t actually have contingencies in place for those families that aren’t a good fit this year. There isn’t a “break up”, per se,  that lets the other party down nicely when a place is not going to be offered. Perhaps it’s time to think about that differently.

I remember how much it upset me as an admission director when a family that we were sure was going to enroll just…didn’t.

If you’re in admissions, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about, right?

The questions in our office that arose of “why, and what could we have done better” seemed to hang in the air for weeks after decisions were due. Sometimes, the family will tell you, and usually they don’t. They simply just go on about their lives at their new school. For those families that DON’T get their first choice, it may be time to give them a good “break up”.

As you consider your admission process map, consider the output when the student doesn’t end up getting the good letter. We invest so much emotion in the care and understanding of our prospects, that we owe it to everyone in the  process to take care of and to be honest with our families.

Admission work is the intersection of science and soul.


Make sure you care for all parts of your prospective families journeys with you.