The year was 1990. A gallon of gas was $1.34, a new car cost about $16,000, and a new house cost about $123,000. Students were enthralled with personal computers, Nintendo Gameboy, and the Sony Walkman. It was also the year in which I graduated from college and my first “real job” as a college admission counselor for my alma mater. 

The following is a comparison of the college admission world THEN (1990) and NOW (2014):


  • Remember when we traveled to high schools to familiarize students and counselors with our institution? Now, technology allows us to rarely travel at all.
  • Talking to sophomores and juniors in the fall versus not beginning the conversation about the admissions process until students are high school seniors.
  • We use to carry catalog cases full of brochures and college catalogs. Today, we refer students to our website or pass out smaller marketing materials.
  • In the past, admissions reps had to make sure they had enough change for tolls and telephone calls on the road. Now, we have the convenience of toll transponders and cell phones.
  • I remember visiting high schools and attending college fairs with only fast food options available. I can travel today and still eat healthy (e.g. Panera).
  • Mapping out school visits using Rand McNally Maps/Thomas Guide versus using Google Maps and Mapquest.
  • Calling the university travel agent to make travel arrangements. Today, I use to book my hotel accommodations and transportation.
  • We once had to find the main office at a high school by searching for the flagpole or football field lights. Now, we use GPS or our smartphones.
  • Remember interviewing students at local hotels? I interview students via Skype regularly today.

Finding students

  • Student searches were conducted via direct mail and using business reply cards. Student search today is via e-mail or text (with personalized web pages).
  • We use to reply to responders using “Dear Student” and expensive viewbooks. Now, everything is personalized brochures and websites.
  • Remember calling prospective students using a box of inquiry cards (up to 100 contacts per day)? Texting prospective students is a primary form of outreach in 2014.
  • It used to be that the first contact source of inquiry was direct mail. The first contact source of inquiry today is the application (stealth applicants: not engaging with the college until s/he applies).

Finding colleges

  • Students had to search for colleges via large college guidebooks available in local libraries and high school counseling offices 20 years ago. Now, college websites are the most critical sources of information for prospective students.
  • In the past, students had to write or call an institution to join college mailing lists. Today’s students have all the information they need on the internet and request further information using online forms on tablets and/or smartphones
  • Don’t forget about the self-guided campus tours using a “Walkman.” Thanks to personalized videos, live chat, and smartphone apps, students no longer have to visit campus in-person. They can take online virtual tours.
  • Using Gopher (google it!) to look up information versus Google.

Office operations

  • Admissions teams once relied on manila file folders for application files (and lots of filing cabinets); hooray for document imaging.
  • Twenty years ago admission decisions arrived via mail. We had a large envelope for admits and a small envelope for others. Admission decisions today arrive via e-mail or text.
  • Remember when we created clever toll free phone numbers to promote our institution? Now, we work with a team of developers and designers to create clever micro-websites and their corresponding urls.
  • Designing a comprehensive and user-friendly inquiry card and application versus using Common App, Universal App, Fast Apps, etc.
  • Financial aid based on need versus financial leveraging models.
  • Being able to plan for the upcoming recruitment cycle soon after May 1; what summer?

So, it’s now twenty plus years later and what do I miss about the “good old days?”

  • Building relationships with influencers.
  • Visiting high schools, youth centers, and churches.
  • Getting to know the high school administrative assistants in the main office and guidance office so they will be more apt to book your college to fit your schedule first.
  • Getting to know the counselors and being a resource for them.
  • Being able to remember the names of principals and guidance counselors for almost every high school in a territory, and freaking out strangers when you were able to name these folks off the top of your head.
  • Knowing my territory: the local hangouts, local history, high school rivalries, and the like. One of the most helpful resources when inheriting a territory was getting the maps with the local restaurants, shopping centers and movie theaters marked along with the high schools.
  • Getting to know students from talking directly with them instead of reading about them through their submitted material and Facebook profiles.
  • Planning for an upcoming cycle in the summer.
  • Using as the office e-mail to communicate with students and parents before an institution e-mail was created.
  • Assisting in the creation of toll free phone numbers at two colleges

Andy Sison is a contributing author and Enrollment Operations Manager at Chapman University in Orange, California.


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