It is commonly discussed and lamented among admissions professionals that this time of year stinks. There’s a lot of pressure and waiting. Greetings of “how are you” are replaced by “how are the numbers.” This is annoying and one does get tired of answering the questions. The question defines the season in many ways. However, there is something else entirely that embodies this time of year for me and I suspect many of my admissions and enrollment colleagues from across the country.
I’ve been in college admissions and enrollment work since July of 1992 and it never dawned on me until this year how much this time of year reminds me of an episode from the great television program, Northern Exposure.
I know I am dating myself by discussing Northern Exposure, but it was cool, and had a bit of a cult following, before Arrested Development and The Office. I am pretty sure the new generation of admissions counselors would have enjoyed it for it’s odd characters and great storylines and suspect hat were it on today it would be discussed at college fairs, and on #emchat and #admissionsproblems.
What got me thinking about Northern Exposure last night was how bizarre I find this time of year. I mean there is this odd sense of helplessness (because 17-year olds are mighty hard to predict) and overwhelming responsibility to “make it happen,” which takes every possible ounce of one’s power of persuasion and saps physic- and physical-energy, non-stop. I suspect most admissions professionals nationwide feel similarly.
As I thought more and more about this odd time of year, I was reminded of an excellent episode from season two of Northern Exposure, titled “Spring Break.”
The episode’s storyline is as follows, “Temporary madness sweeps through Cicely as the townfolk await the ice meltdown and the arrival of spring.” You can read the whole episode review here.
Working on college campus for the last 20+ years this same thing occurs this time of year as we work diligently to enroll next year’s class. On a college campus the storyline might be something like this; “Campus leaders are overcome with uncertainty and anxiety as they count the tuition deposits from now until May 1.”
Do you see this similarity?
What the storyline from “Spring Break” does not describe is that in the episode all of the characters go crazy–temporarily. The whole episode includes stories of characters doing something uncharacteristic of how we’ve come to know them: the straight-lace one becomes a kleptomaniac; the superficial, not very bright, bombshell, dives deeply into classical literature; and of course, there is sexual tension among the couple of the show. They are overtaken by something beyond their control. It’s mighty funny and the tension and anxiety is palpable throughout. The tension continues until a moment when the ice thaws, spring begins, and, magically everyone returns to a normal state.
It’s a classic episode.
You are still asking, how does this relate to college admissions?
Well, because of the tension of the season and the long wait we have for “the thaw” of May 1, it is tempting to go crazy, too. While crazy probably does not include stealing or reading the Great Books as witnessed in Northern Exposure, it is likely to include an overwhelming temptation to micro-manage, to ask endless questions that have already been asked and answered, to offer endless suggestion, to fret, to be short with teammates and others, and generally act unlike oneself (or, at least, they way you really aspire to act). I think this is especially true of admissions and enrollment leaders who feel the pressure and want to act. But, I’ve also seen this occur just as frequently with admissions counselors who start to crack under the pressure of the job.
Even though this is the nature of the season (just like the thaw), we must resist the temptation to lose our mind, temper or compassion for the students we serve and our colleague. Instead we must do our very best and call upon our finest character during this time of year as we work toward our own spring break on May 1.
For kicks I’ve included a link to the last part, which I think is funny. You can watch it here and although you might be inspired by its celebratory nature, I recommend caution. I think a similar celebration might get you in a little trouble on your campus if you celebrate a great May 1 and your own thaw in a similar fashion. Enjoy.
Good luck to all of my admissions and enrollment friends and my your Spring Break (and eventual thaw) come speedily.
W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission