Setting the Pace- The Psychology of Admissions By : Richard McCulloch

Setting the Pace- The Psychology of Admissions



EP. 1 you and welcome to Setting the Pace with Tribeca and Dr. Joe Pace. Dr. Joe Pace from the Pacific Institute Education Initiative. How you doing today Dr. Pace?

JP: Good to be here.

RM: And I’m Richard McCulloch. I’m the president of Tribeca and today what we’re going to be talking about is the psychology of admissions. And as you all should know, Dr. Joe Pace, in addition to being chairman of the education initiative at the Pacific Institute. He’s also a performance psychologist. So this is right up your alley?

JP: I’m here for you.

RM: All right man let’s talk about admission. You know as a marketing company. One of the things that we always have to be aware of is the fact that we work very hard to generate student
interest to our client schools. Then once the student has expressed that interest is up to the admissions department of the different institution to get that student enroll. Today’s admissions
landscape is a lot different than when I started. You know not to date myself too bad or make myself to look too ancient. We didn’t even have computers when I started to do admissions. There was no caller ID, so when you made a phone call you’re more likely were gonna get
somebody that picked up the phone. But today’s admissions landscape is a lot different and I thought it might be good for us to start to kind of deconstruct what do you believe are some of the great traits for an admissions representative to be successful? So if you have to summarize what do you think of some of the core elements of the effective admissions mindset?

JP: Yes I think first of all, that person in admissions has to have what I call an intelligent heart. They need the IQ. They also need the heart and I believe that when a student signs up at a college, school, University. Theoretically they’re flying into the relationship with that representative.

RM: Correct.

JP: That person is has to be believable, trustworthy, connect with the student because, if you think about it, they don’t even know about but they know about the major or the curriculum. But they had not met the instructors yet. So they’re basing their enrollment on how they connect with the admissions representative.

RM: That’s true.

JP: If they have that intelligent heart. The idea is, I believe to, then in many of our schools in a way we provide such noble purposes. We help the students get into the school. We help them learn something for gainful employment. We place them and then we you know we change their lives. So to me it’s a very noble purpose and it starts with the admissions representative. I always used to say that the admissions representative is the students first love because even at graduation, and I think every employee in the school should go to graduation because it’s a big celebration many of these students bring 50 people. Because it’s many of them it’s their first. First in the family to graduate right and I think they’ll go right to the admissions person first because they’re going to say it’s because of you that I’m even here. And I think that’s key that admissions people realize how important they really are.

RM: Right. Right. And I think you know to your point about the intelligent heart and rapport building. I think that’s extremely important. I definitely, in terms of introducing the prospective student to the school, but you know sometimes what can happen when I go on campuses and meet with some admissions people. Sometimes what happens is that they spend so much time building rapport and that they’re not at the same time being very articulate in the value proposition of the school. And I was go do this as a new rep, I would sometimes spend so much time, was I’m a friendly person. I would get to know the person but they wouldn’t start school because when I had really done was make a friend, I didn’t actually make a student. How does one balance that attention to the intelligent heart with also being able to articulate the value proposition of the school? So that the person sees the value of enrolling and starting a school.

JP: Yeah that’s an excellent question. One of the things we teach at the Pacific Institute is words trigger pictures that give you emotions and feelings. You need the emotions and feelings to connect. So just reading a script or the IQ side, the intelligent part, of the intelligent heart is learning the courses or what you might refer to as the product. But I’m telling you that’s not why students sign up. They sign up because of the relationship with the representative. That person represents the entire institution and I feel like the words we use it’s the idea of using the correct word at the right time to create the right picture. Now how do you do that? Well part of it is you have to also be within your own personality, in your own style. You can’t really fake it because people pick it up. They pick up on the authenticity right away and they can tell whether or not you’re really being open and you’re more concerned about making the enrollment that day than you are caring for that student’s well-being.

RM: Correct

JP: So you have to be very perceptive and I think too that they walk into the school, things they see when they first walk in, already is in the subconscious. And they say, this reminds me of high school or nobody’s paying attention to me or that student doesn’t like me or I don’t know if I fit in here.

RM: So I guess it puts a lot on us and this is where, I think at times management needs to understand that the role that people play in the admissions department, they have to balance many different things. They have to be able to communicate in a friendly manner. They’ve got to engage but at the same time they have to have substance in what they’re presenting in terms of the school.

RM: Today we’re talking about the Psychology of Admissions but we’ve done these series of videos because we want to have higher education conversations. Many of the topics we discuss tend to focus on career focused education but at the end of the day any type of higher education can benefit from, hopefully what we’re having conversations about. And one of the things that I’m going to bring your attention to, as we continue the conversation, is that if you haven’t had a chance please visit our joint venture, which is That’s a place where the Pacific Institute in Tribeca we’re working together to collect student stories that really reflect the motivations and expectations of students that have chosen different career education paths to realize their careers. We’re very happy to be partnering with the Pacific Institute and Dr. Pace on that. So let’s get back to the subject at hand, psychology of admissions. So one of the things that’s important I think, for a lot of the admission reps to understand and representatives of professionals in the admissions field to understand, is that I think there is part of your role as an admissions representative is not only to enroll the student but to prepare them for success. And what that means is that I think you have to be able to let that perspective student understand what’s going to be required to be successful in the school. And I think sometimes admissions people may be a little reticent to get too into that because it might be. “Oh what if the person isn’t feel like they’re prepared or ready.” How do you think we can better prepare our admission representatives to not only enroll students or prepare them for success?

JP: Yes I think that a relationship is key and that they have to feel it that my best interest, we have our best interests in mind. Now it’s a mindset that admissions reps need to have besides just enrolling the student. It has to do with how do we support these students many of which are first-generation going to college. So sometimes I believe that we become parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters to some of these students who don’t have maybe the support at home. So it’s more than just showing them the curriculum and talking to them about what their career is going to be. It’s movement quarter to quarter, term to term based on the picture they have. So we’re constantly painting pictures for them and I believe that the admissions rep needs to stay connected to the faculty. And because these students, the first person they met was the admissions rep, and I think that what’s important is some of the social benefits we help students with. I mean, in a way, if you think about what we do, we’re kind of a social service along with helping them get gainfully employed. We train them, but I think deeper in this whole intelligent heart piece is the heart. It’s about the heart. And I think the admissions reps that have the heart and truly want to help students, it just shines. I mean right away they know. And they’ll have more enrollments than anybody else.

RM: Yeah and I definitely think that we have to look at the educational offerings that our institutions in a holistic manner and even though there could be some pushback in terms of, are they social service people and are we here to you know fix all their language problems? Not necessarily however to not acknowledge that we’re dealing with first-generation learners. We’re dealing with people who may not have necessarily had the best high school experience. They’re not necessarily cut out to thrive in a didactic classroom environment. I think there needs to be a certain level of empathy. A certain level of understanding learning styles, that your admission represents don’t necessarily have to focus, on totally but be aware of. For example, we talked about payment picture. You brought it up again. That’s a theme that’s come up in the past. That connection between the educational offerings and what the admissions representative knows, I call it, this is between product knowledge and product understanding. And how important do you think it is for the admissions team to have product understanding?

JP: Critical. They need to know, for example, in the medical assisting program, what type of courses, what’s going to go on in there. Give them a picture of what to expect and sometimes it needs to be very realistic. I mean, for example, students who are going into medical and then they find out they need to draw blood and they can’t stand to draw blood. They’re really going to get scared and maybe drop out. “I didn’t realize that we had to do this and that”. So I think it’s important you know it also be realistic in understanding the “product” of a curriculum. It’s key. And that way then you can keep painting pictures based on that. This is where the baton pass them to faculty members. And I think that another key, most admissions reps have questionnaires. What if the faculty and staff, unless there’s some form of privacy, why wouldn’t we let faculty and staff know about these students? From a point of view of their first and their family. If they have two children. What I think some of that information would. It’s like passed on to the faculty that then could understand that student better. And know what to expect.

RM: And I think that’s something that we will probably have to delve into it to another episode, because I think the more that your faculty understands the students that they’re servicing; the
better they can be prepared to give them an outstanding educational opportunity.

EP. 3
RM: One of the things I wanted to tap into is, and part of my function is going to campuses of course we provide marketing but we also support admissions, and when I’m talking to some admissions people at certain institutions. One of the things that’s been interesting to me
is I’ll ask them how much do you believe in your school and their school’s mission? And some of them really hesitate and the way they respond. You can tell that they have some concerns. You can tell that they are not a hundred percent convinced that the educational opportunity that their school is given to the prospective students it’s not up to par. And they just don’t feel as
invested as they should. How do we get an admission professional to perform in an environment in which they’ve done that institutional bias? Is it even possible for someone to be effective in the admissions roll but they don’t buy into what’s going on at school?

JP: I’m going to say no. That first of all, subconsciously we communicate a lot non-verbally and subconscious and another person can automatically pick up whether you believe, that’s the word, in what you’re doing or you believe in this institution. Belief is in research becoming more and more important because believing is key. If you don’t believe then nothing really changes. Well let me ask you this question or make this comment. Let’s say, when I owned my schools, I can tell you that my daughters, my nieces, they all graduated from my college here in South Florida.

RM: Wow. Wow.

I bring that up sometimes to people and they don’t say it but they might put the head down. So I would say, “would you send your son or daughter here?” And they just kind of like “I don’t know”. Well that’s a dead giveaway. Isn’t it?

RM: Correct.

JP: So how do we get that belief system? I think a lot of it, Rich, is also understanding the mission, the vision. What so like what our career colleges per say? What we do, you know, we changed lives. We help people. Not everybody has the patience for that.

RM: Right.

JP: And not everybody’s cut of that mold. You could get the best “salesperson” in the world, and they’ll never work in admissions.

RM: And you know it’s interesting, to your point, that I just think that a lot of times when there’s situations do happen. When you don’t see that vibe from the admissions professional. It’s not necessarily because it’s not happening in the school, but we’ve talked about this in the past, when you’re operating in silos and they’re not totally abreast of what’s actually going on within the classroom. They don’t know about the fantastic outcomes, if they are and the fantastic outcomes at that institution, they tend to hear. Because one of the things I remember, even been starting out as an admissions person, is students were very vocal when something went wrong. And so what they hear all the time is what went wrong on the teacher that didn’t do that, or this or they’re spreading a rumor about something that’s really not indicative of the whole school, that becomes reality to them. And don’t you think or do you think that some of the opportunities to increase admissions buy-in is by increasing the communication throughout the whole academy?

JP: Absolutely I think the more meetings you have between admissions and faculty. Faculty being the deliverers of this, but also the staff, because you’ve got to take into account financial aid. You’ve got to into account career placement. All of them have to have the same picture, I believe, of just what this institution is about. And I’ve been around this industry so long that I can tell you schools I go into. I can tell immediately if they’re on the same page or not. I think a big part of it is just the idea of taking the time to make sure that these admissions folks believe in what they do. How do you tell them? Well first of all, it’s a gut thing. You kind of know, and you can also tell, I believe, by enrollments. I can tell you, right now, the representatives that have the greatest enrollments have a big heart, they care, they go out of their way for the students, they want to support them, they help paint the picture and then they do as much as they can to make sure all the staff are on the same page with with what this mission, vision, what we do here, that’s such a noble purpose.

RM: Yeah and I can’t stress enough and I’m hoping a lot of people that are watching really take the time to really speak to their admissions team. To speak to other members of their staff. Do you have that continuum of a consistent painted picture? Does everyone understand what everyone else is doing? Do your Admissions professionals truly understand and know what’s going on in the classroom or are they relying from anecdotal feedback from other students to really show them what it is? And you know once again we talk to how product knowledge versus product understanding. When they look at that catalog and see the different courses, do they understand how these courses lead to career preparedness and employability but the students that they service?

RM: We have been having a very robust discussion about the Psychology of Admissions. Now we’ve talked a lot about the actual admissions representative or admissions professionals and attitude reflects leadership. So considering some of the issues that we’ve talked about, what are some of the key traits you think is necessary to properly manage and motivate the admissions professionals in today’s higher education landscape?

JP: Yes I think, first of all, the relationship is important and and the idea of being able to have admissions people, not only understand the programs or what you might call the product, but to understand the vision and the mission of changing lives, one student at a time. It’s different and I believe, our sector. I think it’s different because we have been doing this for years. I mean as
far as a family atmosphere, we care. But if the admissions people don’t believe in that or think, “I’m just gonna roll another one and go home today.” It’s important too, is that we keep admissions representatives motivated. So one of the things, who motivates the motivator? One of the things they say on airlines is that if you’re traveling with an elderly person or a small child, in case of the emergency, oxygen masks will fall. First put the oxygen mask on yourself. I mean if you travel with your children and they are small. I think the natural tendency is to help them. However you put it on yourself first because if you pass out who’s gonna take care of them and who’s going to take care of you? And so you have a team of admissions people that need the oxygen mask. They need to personally develop themselves, professionally develop themselves. Feel a real pride about what they do changing lives. They need to keep motivated. Another big thing I found out about, all research out there, even with large companies that we work with in the Pacific Institute, large fortune 50 companies. They say that the number one of what employees are looking for is a family type environment. Where they feel like I can trust you. You’re my brother. You’re my sister. We work as a team. They love going to work. That type of culture can be created with the right techniques. At the same time to me, the front line is always the admissions representatives because they are the Marines. They’re the first ones in and the ones that help get things moving.

RM: Yeah. Absolutely and there’s another layer in terms of management of admissions professionals that we’ve talked a lot about. Some of the qualitative things that helped to influence or move the needle with performance from the admissions team. However I think some of your conversion statistics are performance indicators and and it’s almost like a thermometer. When it’s over 98.6 degrees that means you have a fever. You’re gonna have to do something about it. And when you look at some of your conversion data. It’s a good indicator to that management professional and the admissions person. That hey this person might need some help here. This person might need some help there. One of the key conversions I see has been challenged in the last few years that I’ve been looking at this. Some of the interview rates and those interviews becoming enrollments. And one of the things that I theorize is that because we’ve come to evolve into a more digital landscape but we communicate by text, email and other nonverbal ways. The art of conversation has been lost in a lot in the admission professionals. They might be able to reach the person on digital platform to get them to come into the interview but then now when they’re forced to have an actual one-on-one interaction that’s where some of them suffer. How are institutions and admissions managers in management, how should they attack that reality that maybe some of their people need some help with the art of conversation?

JP: I think that’s a very valid point. One of the things we know is the impact of a presentation. Okay I don’t know whether you know this but 55% of the impact is visual. In other words what they see. Who they see or who we’re talking to. Something like 38% is vocal, the tone of your voice is very important. Only 7% are the words. The actual written words or that what we call the the verbal. So if you think about it, 55 and 38 is 93. 93% of the impact of a presentation, if you’re going to connect with me, is what I see and the tone of your voice. It’s only 7% the material. For example, a student comes in and I can get them the catalog and say here go home and read it. I mean that’s only 7% of the impact. So why bring that up is because I think everything’s important with an admissions. Right. I think how they’re seated. How they greet people. Their body language. Whether they’re welcoming or not or sit there with their arms closed. All those things affect the subconscious so a student leaves and they don’t come back. Call a no-show. Maybe they don’t even know why. Okay maybe it was because everything matters. So they walked into the front door and they see a mess in the in the reception area. I always call the receptionist the Director of First Impressions. Because you form a first impression in like the first two to five seconds. If they’re sitting there too long and they’re being ignored so to speak. Not consciously but you know people are walking by. So they’re already in their subconscious going “click click click click click. Yeah this place isn’t right for me. I don’t feel like I belong here.” They’re already scared anyway. Think about how many calls it took to get them in there. Then they’ll walk around and and our teachers are very welcoming. I’ve been to a school where the admissions rep would walk around with the teacher or with a student, and the teacher would close the door right in front of you. All of that is so key. So yeah, first impressions.

RM: So I think based on what we’ve discussed today on psychology of admissions. First of all I’m so happy that we had this conversation, especially giving your background Dr. Pace. And I definitely encourage everyone that’s working with the team visit the Pacific Institute Education Initiative. Find out about Dr. Joe Pace. Have him come to your campus and help you out. These are very important conversations we’re having and the bottom line is we respect the student journey and we’re hoping that this higher ed conversation series is helping you as institutional leaders and owners really have some good conversation with the people on your staff and in your institution. Once again please visit us at and share some students’ stories. We want to help all the people in our sector become better schools.