Enrollment Management: The New Era of College Admissions

Get the inside scoop on enrollment management and the reality of the current admissions landscape.

A dozen seasoned admissions veterans sitting around a large, stately conference room with a palpable aura of intellectual sophistication wafting through the air discuss the merits of each applicant to the college: personal essay, extracurricular activities, recommendation letters, grades, standardized testing. Everything is given equal consideration as part of what is referred to as holistic review.

Wouldn't it be nice if that were really how college admissions officers made all of their decisions?

Wait a minute. I know what you're thinking: Isn't that how they actually do make admissions decisions? Isn't holistic review what I keep hearing about at college information sessions and in informational brochures?

The reality of the current admissions landscape is that admissions officers, namely deans and directors of admission, are under tremendous pressure to satisfy a wide range of institutional goals often referred to internally as institutional priorities. These might include:

  • Enroll exactly the right number of students. Too few and the college loses precious tuition revenue. Enroll too many and there may be insufficient space on campus to house the additional students.

  • Stay within budget. Colleges have limited financial aid dollars to allocate to students; spend too little and risk losing out on great students, spend too much and it can mean the dean or director loses her job.

  • Enroll students from all 50 states (or as many states as possible).

  • Increase racial and ethnic diversity.

  • Enroll more lower-income students to enhance access to higher education.

  • Enroll more higher-income students to help the college's bottom line.

  • Raise average standardized test scores.

  • Enroll more international students.

  • Don't enroll too many international students.

  • Become more selective.

  • Enhance the colleges position within national rankings.

  • Find the right student-athletes to enroll to turn our basketball team around.

  • Enroll more female computer science majors.

Almost any conceivable goal at a college or university manifests itself first in the form of an expectation or demand placed squarely on the shoulders of the admissions office. In light of these pressures, colleges do not have the luxury of simply admitting students they like. Admitting students they like or the most deserving students academically doesn't ensure there are enough female computer science majors on campus or that there is an adequately-talented goalie on the women's lacrosse team. And admitting all of the most accomplished students with the strongest grades or highest scores most certainly doesn't ensure that a college will come in exactly on budget.

Enter stage left: The era of enrollment management. Enrollment management is the means by which colleges employ data, strategy, and a range of tactics to efficiently manage the colleges overall enrollment in light of constantly evolving institutional priorities. In layman's terms, this just means that colleges don't admit the most deserving students; they admit the students who best meet the goals and needs of the college.

If you want to learn more about early decision and why you need to think about building a college list and an application strategy check out: Early Decision Explained.

About the authors:

Brook Wolcott is the Founder and Managing Director of Decoding Admissions, LLC, an independent college counseling firm based in Santa Monica, California. Brook graduated from Hamilton College.

Kyle Graham is the Co-Director of College Counseling at Marymount High School in Los Angeles. Previously, he worked as Associate Director of Admission at New York University and Assistant Dean of Admission at Hamilton College. He earned his undergraduate degree at Hamilton College and holds a masters in higher education administration from New York University.

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