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New blog post: Is social media is the new cocktail party for parents engaged in the college search? #emchat #admissions #highered

At Augustana College we use a number of tools to track what people are saying, writing and blogging about the college. It’s helpful to know what’s out there, to track trends and celebrate good news or prepare for bad news. These tools track all sorts of things, and an alert I received today really got me thinking.

Yesterday one of the alert services provided a link to a parent’s Facebook page on which Augustana was included. The parent had listed several other colleges and universities, too. The post, which I will paraphrase, includes a list of colleges this parent’s student is considering. Plus the post includes the academic and co-curricular interests of the student.

It’s a fascinating list of colleges—ranging from the super-selective to the local public university. The list includes 20 colleges in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and Wisconsin. Colleges range in size from 800 to 5,000.

What is most interesting to me about the post, though, is that the parent asks for advice on how to decide, compare and even negotiate with colleges.

Presumably, this parent is asking for advice from people who he trusts to be informed and have the best interest of his student in mind. However, the replies are what you might expect – both biased and anecdotally based.

I am very tempted to follow the parent, so I could continue to monitor the post. I am curious to see if anyone makes a good case for Augie among those who post.

I guess this really shouldn’t surprise me at all, considering how people use social media. But, this particular post may suggest a new way to gather information about colleges and the college search.

It seems to me that discussions on comparing and negotiating with colleges were once reserved for the cocktail party circuit. These questions were reserved for close friends or those who one knew had recently navigated the process. These questions were held in reserve—somewhat like one’s voting preferences. However, this post suggests otherwise.

While I know plenty of people who have queried their Facebook friends for dating, dining, vacation and voting advice, what do you think? Are you ready to ask for advice via Facebook about important issues, like your student’s college choice?

Please complete the poll below:

Let me know what you think? Is social media the new cocktail party?

W. Kent Barnds aka @bowtieadmission

Financial aid appeals: Tools for #admissions, financial aid and enrollment personnel to cope. #emchat

Enrollment professionals across the country spend much of the month of April responding to and reviewing appeals for additional financial aid. The flurry of appeals from prospective students and their parents has become part of the job. These appeals come in the form of letters, emails, phone calls and even personal visits to campus. Appeals are sent to multiple people (including presidents) and it would seem that no stone is left unturned when appealing for more financial aid.

Again, this has become the norm and a part of the process as natural as reading a viewbook or visiting for an open house.

Once upon a time I hated appeals. But, over the past 20 years, I’ve mellowed a bit. Mellowing does not mean I am any more generous in responding to an appeal and that I don’t say no! I’ve simply gained a greater appreciation for the process and the urge to appeal.

More often than not, the appeals are heartfelt and genuine. Students and families provide detailed information we can use to determine the worthiness of the appeal and it’s clear they’ve put some thought into it. It’s a pleasure to work with these families and we are frequently able to respond in a manner that addresses the appeal in an affirmative way. I really like working these families and find the conversations (and frequently the conversion to enrollment) very satisfying.

As gratifying as it is to work with the students and families who take time and care in crafting an appeal for more assistance, it’s not as much fun to work with the “let’s make a deal crowd.” Sadly, this group is growing and consuming more time; they won’t take no for and answer and sometimes are not even satisfied with a yes.  These students and families make multiple calls, send countless email messages, and leave voicemail messages at odd hours and they request a call back at an equally odd hour. These families are often well coached and know to “shop” the value of their argument for more financial assistance from stakeholder to stakeholder throughout campus.

Once upon a time managing these relationships and serving these families really got me down. I’d get frustrated and throw something; maybe even utter a swear word or two. But, over the years I’ve developed a couple of coping mechanisms to help me through.

Each of these items I keep on my desk this time of year as a reminder and to help me cope.  Here’s a picture of all of this great stuff and a description of how I use each follows.


Red Tape—I keep a roll of red tape on my desk to remind myself that I am in a service industry and I am here to serve the students with whom I work and the institution I represent. The red tape is there to remind me that I need to cut as much red tape in the process review appeals as quickly as possible. I can’t put up too many hurdles or add to the anxiety a family is already experiencing in this process. Cut the red tape, I say!

Erase A-Hole—I work with plenty of pushy and unreasonable parents in this process. Some try to apply corporate negotiating tactics and some make threats about where their kid will go if we don’t act in a manner they’d prefer. Some ask to speak to someone else because of their dissatisfaction with my answer or unwillingness to accommodate their request. Some yell and shout (occasionally swear at me). Most think they are a lot smarter than anyone who works in admissions or financial aid. For these unreasonable and difficult parents, I keep a handy-dandy roller of Erase-A-Hole on my desk. While there are plenty of applications for this product, I use it as a reminder that I need to separate the students from the parents no matter how frustrating. A glance at my roller of Erase-A-Hole allows me to move beyond a frustrating call or shout-filled listening session with a parent to focus on the student involved and try to act in the student’s best interest.  Erase-A-Hole also make me laugh.

My little blue shovel—I don’t know how many of you have a little blue shovel, but I recommend you all get one ASAP. My father, a now retired Episcopal priest, introduced me to the little blue shovel many years ago. My dad told me that he carried one in his pocket and he’d get it out and begin shoveling whenever he was listening to something that simply was not believable. I suspect it’s no a coincidence that blue shovel has the initials of b.s. (It did take me some time to figure this out, though). Let’s just say that I find the blue shovel to be an important and useful tool when trying to discern the veracity of an appeal. Here are three examples during which the little blue shovel gets a workout:

Example 1: A family appeals for more aid “because they’ve received a better offer from another college.” When we request a copy of the award from the other college and the family responds that “it would be unethical” for them to share the other award letter, you might see that little blue shovel working over time.

Example 2: When a family appeals for more aid because XXX institution has offered them more financial assistance and “is now their first choice.” When we reviewing to which colleges the family has submitted the FAFSA and discover that claimed first choice college is not among them, you will see that blue shovel working.

Example 3: When a family tells me about the student who they know “who has the exact same profile and financial circumstances who received a larger financial aid award.” When we ask for the other student’s names and are met with crickets or the response of “It just wouldn’t be right to tell you that,” the blue shovel is at it’s best.

The blue shovel is a very useful tool!

These three symbols/coping mechanisms represent important things we cannot forget when reviewing financial aid appeals in the coming weeks.

First, we serve students and should not make the appeal process any harder than it needs to be. Cut the red tape and remember you provide an important service.

Next, even when working with a pushy, overly demanding parent remember that it’s the students on whom we must keep our focus. Do your best to erase a difficult conversation to do what is in the best interest of the student. Erase the thought and keep focused on the student.

Finally, make sure you dig a little to see if it is necessary to use your little blue shovel. You owe this to your college to protect the college’s resources and not get tricked into offered aid that is unnecessary.

Do you have coping mechanism you use during this time of year?

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission

My take on the #WSJ op-ed about #college #admissions? She might be one of us! #emchat

Last week a young woman got the college admissions world talking with an opinion-editorial she wrote in The Wall Street Journal. There have been countless tweets, retweets and posts about her essay, and many have chimed in with their two cents. I’ve heard praise and outrage about her essay, which you can read here (if you haven’t already).

Late last week a listserv associated with a professional organizations of which I am a member started to fill up with commentary about this young woman’s essay. While some posts were understanding (I won’t say complimentary), many more were quite critical of the author. In fact, I hope the author never sees the exchanges, because some even resorted to what amounted to name-calling and implying that the young woman as “homophobic” and “racist.”

I must admit to being uncomfortable with the exchange on this professional listserv, which is why I am using my personal blog as a forum to discuss this matter.

I know it may not endear me to some of this young woman’s critics, but I think her essay sounds familiar and represents something that permeates the “professional” discourse of college admissions more frequently than we might want to acknowledge.


As I read her essay, I read very clearly that this young woman is critical of practices viewed by others (we in admissions and college counseling) as being conducted with the best of intentions. I think it is this that has gotten under the skin of many; we don’t want our best intentions questioned.

While I don’t defend the examples she used (which some have described as racist and homophobic), she engaged in the sort of critique I see all the time as part of “professional” discourse. These critiques might be veiled, subtle or simply implied, but they are there all the same. The critiques are by those who don’t like something that they consider to be an objectionable practice—a practice that others are using with the best of intentions. I see this all the time. Some examples of topics that generate similar discourse include: the rankings, “crap application” programs, the role of international agents, financial aid gapping, the elimination of class rank, deemphasizing standardized testing, the College Scorecard, affirmative action, for profit college and universities, and many others. What each of these has in common is that someone, somewhere, at some time envisioned a practice or program with the best of intentions, but probably did not explain the intent very effectively to those who criticize a practice they don’t like or don’t understand.

Sound familiar?

In my view, it’s a mistake to be too critical of this young author without doing a little self-reflection about how we react (sometimes in a public forum, too) to practices we don’t understand (or like). We offer critiques in similar fashion (my guilt on this is my own reaction to the College Scorecard and the outrage that I expressed).

Again, this young author sounds a lot like us when we criticize a practice we don’t fully appreciate or understand.

However, what we do well in these situations is engage in a dialog to develop a better understanding. We don’t resort to name-calling or applying our personal lens of the world without giving a professional colleague the benefit of the doubt that they are doing something with the best of intentions. 

I wish we’d offer this young author the same respect even if she has offended.

A final thought on this matter is the larger point of her essay, which I don’t believe was to whine or to satirize or to be mean-spirited or to dismiss privilege or entitlement, but was to convey a perception that admission to the most selective colleges in American is no longer based exclusively on merit. We dismiss this perception at our own peril. To ignore it is dangerous. This perception is perpetuated when we focus so much time on admissions rates, and hear (and provide) quotes about how similarly credentialed all of the applicants are, which is why it is necessary to look for distinctions among them. The process has become increasingly confusing, and misinformed perceptions have become a reality.  Let’s be honest about this, these impressions of the process, which many have attributed to the author’s youth, are not limited to this particular high school student, but have been informed by adult perception of the admission process.

You get the picture, don’t you?

As professionals, we should take a moment to reflect on the big picture, rather than the small stuff around which the critiques of this young woman are centered.

This entire incident reminds of the timeless Pogo cartoon entitled “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission




Questions that really matter when making a final #college choice. #highered #admissions #emchat

For those students (high school or transfer) who have applied to colleges and await decision or have offers from which to choose, it’s crunch time. National Candidates Reply Date, May 1, will be here before you know it and you the question, “where are going to college” will increase in the coming weeks. While it is increasingly common for students and parents to explain, “financial aid and ‘bottom-line’ cost will be the determining factor.” And, while I don’t want to minimize the importance of affordability, I do think it is worth noting the many other things to consider, which ensure a great college choice; these are the harder, more elusive questions that must be asked.

While each college or university will do its very best to present a persuasive case to choose their institution, I think there are some important questions to guide students and parents through the nest few weeks. These questions focus on general attributes associated with the college experience.

Ask yourself these questions about these important areas in the coming weeks to ensure you pick well.


  • How will the location of the college I am considering benefit my learning?
  • Do students generally stay on campus, or do they often go off campus for class trips, internships, jobs and fun? Can the college I am considering provide meaningful and plentiful examples?
  • What is special about the area? What distinguishes it from other locations among my college choices?

Four great years on a campus

  • Do students live on campus or off? Will this matter? What are the housing options available? Specifically, what are the housing options available for first-year students? And, does that nifty residence hall I saw on my tour (where I really want to live) cost more?
  • How many student activities, fraternities and sororities are there? What are some examples of very active student groups?
  • Can I achieve the necessary balance of being a great student and a great athlete (or something else) at the college I am considering? How?
  • What are the chances that I will graduate in four years, not five or six? Will the college I am considering, guarantee it?

Hands-on, high-impact, valuable learning

  • How many students have internships? Are they local? How much guidance will I have in finding an internship if I want one? Does the college I am consider provide any data describing why an internship is valuable?
  • Will I be able to study abroad? How do I handle to additional expense of studying away from campus? What programs and services does the college I am consider provide to help me explore options and make study away a reality?
  • Does the college I am considering offer any special academic experiences that might help me stand out to gradate school or employers?

Putting me at the center or it all

  • Will smaller classes benefit me in the field I wish to study?
  • Do faculty member in every major fieldwork one-on-one with students? What are some examples that the college I am considering can provide?
  • Will faculty members make time to talk with students about their future goals and career plans? Who advises students to make sure they take all of the required courses to ensure on-time graduation?

These questions can be asked of all colleges a student is considering and are equally important (if not more so) than the “bottom-line.” 

What other questions might be useful?

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a @bowtieadmission

New blog post: Tough questions about #tuition cuts and freezes. #highered #college #admissions

In the last few weeks there have been several reports of colleges that are cutting or freezing tuition. Here’s a pretty neat announcement from Belmont Abbey College and here and here are announcements from Wittenberg and Mount Holyoke about tuition freezes. Given the growth in tuition (and the media attention surrounding the high cost of higher education) these reports have been met with a great deal of praise (as they should be).

However, I have to admit to being very curious about what these colleges are doing (or stopping) in order to freeze or cut their tuition?


So far, I’ve not read much “inside higher education” commentary about these practices. I think the silence is because so many higher ed. administrators are hesitant to heap on too much praise or criticism.

In this case, too much praise could elicit calls to do the same; and, too much criticism is pretty dangerous because we all may need to follow.

I am hesitant to write about it myself because my “crystal ball” is so cloudy about the vexing problem surrounding the perception of high cost in higher education.

However, I offer a couple of questions I’d like to have answers to so I can be more thoughtful in responding to those who are asking when we will follow the lead of the freezers and the cutters.

If I were a journalist covering all of this (which I am not), I’d ask the following questions?

  • Will the net-cost to attend change or remain the same for students?
  • Will you be reducing institutional financial aid? If so, by how much?
  • Do you expect to net more revenue per student (or overall)? If so, how and why?
  • Is this a short- or long-term plan?
  • Will this reduce a student’s need to borrow for college?
  • Can you project future increases?

If I were a student or parent of a student considering one of these college (which I am not), I’d ask the following questions?

  • Are you making cuts to any programs or services in order to do this? If so, which programs?
  • How will my experience be different from the experience of a student five years ago who was paying more to attend?
  • Are you cutting financial aid in order to do this?
  • What will future increases be?

As a college administrator, I want to ask.

  • Does your plan entail growing enrollment and therefore making up for lost revenue by attracting more students? (Do you have the resources and facilities to accommodate growth without adding to your expenses?)
  • How will you continue to offer financial aid to increasingly financially needy students?
  • How will you continue to offer pay raises to faculty, staff and administrators?
  • How will you meet inflationary demands on operating budgets and operating expenses—particularly benefits, health care and energy?
  • How will you maintain your physical plant without increasing revenues to address plant depreciation?

I know higher ed. is competitive, but it would serve us all to know how the cutters and freezers are doing what they are doing. They probably know something the rest of us don’t. I want in on it.

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a @bowtieadmission

New blog post from @bowtieadmission: What does it take to recruit students to majors within the humanities? #admissions #highered #college #humanities

As a graduate of Gettysburg College with a major in political science and minors in Spanish and history, I am a passionate advocate for the liberal arts. Following my time at Gettysburg I’ve devoted my career to promoting and advancing colleges with a historical emphasis in the liberal arts (Elizabethtown College and Augustana College).

However, there have been several occasions when my commitment to the liberal arts has been questioned. These questions often focus on recruitment and promotional materials and typically involve accusations of deemphasizing or not fully appreciating the humanities. Throughout the last nineteen years I have often heard that we “just need to market the humanities better.”

I agree. But, I am still struggling with what exactly that “better marketing” looks like. (I suspect most who are calling for better marketing may also be struggling with the vision, too.)

A little more than a year ago, Daniel Fusch, of Academic Impressions, contacted me to ask for my reaction to some media attention about the decline in students majoring in the humanities. He asked me for my views on what could be done. You can read Daniel’s piece and my comments in the article, “Recruiting for the humanities.”

Daniel based much of his piece on an essay I’d been working on for years and I thought I might share it with you today.

I am interested in your thoughts on this subject and welcome your comments.


W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission

What does it take to recruit students to majors in the humanities?

This tome has been in the making for years and I thought it might be a good chance to clarify my commitment to the liberal arts and offer my views on how to make traditional liberal arts programs more attractive within a very competitive and often “drive-by” marketplace.

The fuzziness of the liberal arts does not help

Whether we (advocates for the liberal arts) like it or not, we cannot ignore conventional wisdom, which suggests that “liberal arts” is often viewed as nothing more than a proxy for “small, expensive and private.” Within the general college-bound public, the understanding of the liberal arts is fuzzy (small, expensive, etc.) at best and distorted (focused exclusively on fine arts) at worst. Despite our best intentions, noblest desires, and most sincere efforts, the higher education community at large has been unable to adequately educate the public about what the liberal arts is and what liberal arts colleges do.

The problem of limited understanding of the liberal arts is compounded by virtually every college across the nation possessing their own heartfelt definition of liberal arts. Furthermore, at any liberal arts college across the nation it would be a struggle to gather ten people in a room and come up with a consensus definition of the liberal arts—let alone a definition that would resonate with and attract students. As depressing and discouraging as this may be, it is largely a condition that is out of our power to successfully and positively influence. So, holding out hope that we alone can define the liberal arts is probably not a wise strategy.

However, giving up is not a wise strategy either.

Liberal arts+ helps, but only at the “corporate level”

It is my opinion that liberal arts colleges that have professional programs enjoy some advantage, not to mention distinction, in the marketplace. The combination of liberal arts programs with professional programs seems to be a fairly powerful combination and strengthens both programs at the same time. But, with some intentionality any program can distinguish itself.

Several years ago, I attended a conference during which admissions people were offered two minutes to describe their institution in front of an international audience of 150 conference attendees. At the time, I was working for a small college in Pennsylvania of about 1,500 students. I began my presentation describing my employer as “a small, liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.” I then thought to myself, I just described 60 of our competitors! It was critical for me to find some way to distinguish the college for which I worked from the other 60 smallish, liberal artsish colleges in Pennsylvania.

Because ours is an academic enterprise, first and foremost, I looked for features of the academic program that distinguished the college from others.  First, liberal arts colleges offering professional-oriented programs, regardless of the combination of programs, enjoy some immediate distinction from other liberal arts colleges, at least in the crowded world of marketing to college-bound students. One can think of this as “the liberal arts+” advantage.

While I recognize that this may have been libelous for liberal arts purists for whom the liberal arts and its breadth means everything, it has been interesting for me over the years to watch “pure” liberal arts colleges develop cooperative programs (engineering, medicine, business, allied health) and professional tracks (pre-law, pre-med, articulation agreements for CPA and MBA, etc.) to compete with colleges that are more professionally-oriented. These “pure” liberal arts colleges have done so in order to compete for the very best students, who often seek a “strong major” above anything else in choosing a college. This liberal arts+ advantage is often cited by admissions officers who are charged with the task of distinguishing a college from many other places with very similar characteristics. It would not be uncommon to hear someone at say, that “We offer majors in all of the traditional liberal arts, science and humanities with some distinctive program offerings for a liberal arts college in areas like business, occupational therapy, communications, education and social work.” These + majors offer a distinguishing characteristic for the college that is meaningful to a new audience, which may often begin with the following “I know you are a liberal arts college, but what makes your college stand apart from the rest?”

If we chose to compete at the institutional/corporate level by deemphasizing our academic programmatic distinctions, we will choose to compete based exclusively on the college’s reputation. In most cases colleges outside the top 50 national liberal arts college or top universities will lose most battles to colleges perceived to be a “tier above.”

Competing at the “corporate level” is tough.  Places with greater resources and name recognition, will with much greater frequency “win” the student who is undecided or who wants to study English, history, anthropology, Spanish, Classics, philosophy or political science. Unless a traditional program is markedly different (i.e. foreign language study at Middlebury, music at Oberlin), it is unlikely that a college will compete on anything other than prestige and reputation.

Colleges are more likely to successfully compete for and win those students who want an environment similar to that which is offered by the institution with a greater reputation, but wish to study communications, accounting, music therapy, education, business, social work, communication sciences and disorders or occupational therapy. In these cases, it is possible to compete for students at the departmental level rather than at the corporate level and the distinctions of the program can and will transcend the prestige factor.

Majors in the humanities need a hook

It is my opinion that traditional programs in humanities need to do more to develop distinguishing features and shape those features into meaningful benefits to students in order to compete at the department level. They need to develop a “hook.” Some will say, “you mean a gimmick.” Nope, I mean a hook; just like the hook needed to capture the attention of a peer review committee for a journal or a publisher considering a book proposal.

Majors in the humanities need a hook!!!

I contend that most majors in the humanities have a built-in hook, but it is not always emphasized in a way that resonates and equips the major to stand out sufficiently to attract students.

The proposition for studying English, history, music, art, languages, religion, etc. needs to be strengthened by the hook or several hooks in order to successfully articulate why the program is better and different here than at a place that might win the typical reputation battle described above. This will become increasingly important as demographic shifts occur and colleges further professionalize their curriculum based on market conditions.

We need to identify why studying in the humanities here (at Augustana College, which is where I work currently) is different or better than studying elsewhere.

Some suggestions for majors in the humanities

I offer the following suggestions for the consideration of those in the humanities:

  • Develop a common and distinctive element within all of the humanities programs (i.e. require a semester abroad as a major requirement in order to fulfill a degree in the humanities)
  • Develop a team-taught core course(s) for all humanities majors that provides a basic cross-disciplinary overview and introduction to the humanities and humanistic approaches
  • Promote and emphasize cross-disciplinary collaboration within the humanities
  • Offer significantly greater curriculum flexibility (have fewer required courses within specific majors). Many students who are interested in the humanities resist too much structure of required majors and may want to explore several areas of the humanities.
  • Create a general humanities major that enables a student to design their own program within the humanities in consultation with faculty mentors. Some students attracted to the humanities may be motivated by greater flexibility in shaping an interdisciplinary major within prescribed parameters.
  • Create partnerships with professional programs to make it easy, attractive and meaningful for students to earn a major or minor in a humanistic discipline. (Make your case to your colleagues for why a major or minor in your discipline will inform the professional program a student is studying)

None of these things may be particularly innovative. But, the suggestions are grounded in the idea that we need to be able to offer some meaningful symbol that we can point to that represents to the market that the way we deliver instruction in the program better or in a more distinctive than any another place. Another way to approach this is to ask the question, what does a student get from studying history at my college verses what the same student may get at college?

The bottom-line is that we need to find a way to compete at the departmental-level in areas that are common from campus to campus. If we don’t compete at the departmental-level and offer something distinctive to our students we are subject to the marketplace’s perception of reputation.


Good Fit Scholarship Recipients Announced: People Choice Gets Nearly 6,000 Votes #admission, #scholarships, #socialmedia, #highered

For the past several years Augustana College has been sponsoring one of the niftiest scholarship competitions in the nation; The Good Fit contest.

The scholarship competition is pretty straightforward. We give students who visit campus and Augustana tee-shirt and then provide with some general guidelines about where we’d like to see them in an Augie tee-shirt. The submissions are always great and have ranged from the site where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address in Gettysburg, PA, to country fairs and the Super Bowl Village, to photos of prospective students on rival campuses.

Last night we announced the winners for the year (all listed below) and I think the photos are just great and capture exactly what we want from this contest…creativity, initiative and a whole lot of fun.

We have winners in the following areas for the Good Fit T-shirt Contest, you can see their submissions at  www.augustana.edu/goodfit


  • Action Shot winner
  • At Another College winner
  • In a Famous Location winner:
  • With an Alum winner
  • People’s Choice winner with nearly 6,000 votes

Check out the photos at www.augustana.edu/goodfit

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the people’s choice winner this year  received nearly 6,000 votes. WOW!!!

The credit for this idea goes to Meghan Cooley, director of recruitment communication, and the rest of the admissions staff at Augustana College.

What are your thoughts about this contest?

W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission