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Three Steps toward a High-Touch, Hospitality-Based Admission Process

By Nastaran Hakimi posted 11-10-2021 01:34 PM

A blog post by Nastaran Hakimi, Director of Enrollment Management & Institutional Advancement at Boston University Academy

When we want to feel empowered as admission professionals, we should remind ourselves that we are responsible for roughly 90% of the revenue our schools are generating. Our role is crucial to the business, and ultimately, the success of the schools that we represent but with that said, our responsibility to our customers should be anything but transactional. Families commit to ever-increasing price tags at our schools because, more often than not, they are swayed by our promises to know and care for their children. With so many fantastic independent school options, particularly in the most saturated markets, showing people the way they will be known and cared for rather than plastering the words on collateral and websites is the key to the most successful concierge-style admission processes.

While some of our offices are understaffed and most of us are constantly trying to do more with less, it is more important than ever to prioritize hospitality by making our guests (prospective families) feel welcome. In the wise words of restaurateur and entrepreneur, Danny Meyer, “hospitality is a completely different thing than service--it’s [consistently] asking how you made a recipient feel.” So, how do we make our families feel things? I’ve synthesized some of our best practices into three digestible action steps that are impactful, easy to adopt, and free.  

The Power of Using People’s Names

The admission process can be long, stressful, and impersonal. Some days feel like a revolving door of pre-teens coming in and out of our admission suites while waiting for their tours and interviews. While we may feel the monotony of the cycle through the sheer volume of students visiting our schools, an applicant’s visit is one of only a few for them. Making a point to know and address students directly by their names can quickly turn a stressful occasion into a warm and welcoming one. As someone with an unusual name, I am especially mindful of remembering the pronunciation of the more unique names we hear. After all, most of our programs boast that we get to know our students as individuals. The simplest way to practice what we preach is by knowing who is visiting our admission office and making them feel like a part of our community from the first hello. 

System for Personalized Follow-up

Almost immediately after meeting applicants, it’s crucial to begin the process of yielding them. Whether we ultimately admit the student or not, we want all prospective families to leave our schools either wanting to attend themselves or confidently wanting to recommend us to a neighbor, who might be a better fit. One way to create this feeling is to make our applicants feel heard and remind them you’re thinking of them long after their interview is over. Did they mention that they will be the lead in the school play later in the year? Are they excited for their role in the Nutcracker this winter? Will their art be on display in the local library? Create a system for your office that tracks these moments. It can be as easy as a Google sheet listing the applicant names, their impending accomplishment, and a date for follow-up. Put a note in the mail a few days before opening day reminding the student that you’re wishing them luck and that you are excited for them. I guarantee this will delight them.  

Ease of Process, Offers of Support, and Flexibility

We’ve made great strides since the days when families would submit their application forms via paper to all of the schools where they were planning to apply but our processes remain cumbersome and confusing. It is our job to make the process feel worth it. Offer phone calls and meetings to help walk a confused family through a part of your application, follow-up to make sure they were able to complete a step where they were struggling, and be flexible. We rarely know all the details of why a family had to cancel an interview at the last minute or why they couldn’t upload their W-2 form by midnight. While I believe in policies, deadlines, and rules (rules are great!), I also believe in being human and recognizing the delinquent form is not going to define the type of family they are going to become in your community. Grace and humility in response to a moment of stress might just buy us the goodwill to enroll a really stellar kid.

According to Dan and Chip Heath in their feel-good book, The Power of Moments, “a defining moment is a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful.” Don’t underestimate the power of a warm smile, quick email follow-ups, or a hand-written birthday card from the admission team to that awesome applicant you have to have!

Nastaran Hakimi
Director of Enrollment Management and Institutional Advancement
Boston University Academy



12-06-2021 09:29 PM

Love this, Nastaran! Great reminders in such a busy season!

12-06-2021 01:50 PM

Thank you for this, Nastaran!  Great suggestions here.