As a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees, I was saddened to hear of Yogi Berra’s passing earlier this week. Not only was Yogi a tremendous ball player (he won 10 World Series and was named MVP three times during his career), he was also a war hero, a manager and a philosopher

In fact, it was Yogi’s quirky wisdom that many will remember him for. But few college admissions professionals realize that his Yogi-isms could help them reach their goals. 

Here’s a list of the top ten words of wisdom from Yogi Berra to college admissions professionals:

1) You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.

Are you trying to increase applications? Improve selectivity? Increase yield? Maybe you’re looking to increase diversity, or reach more international students? All of the above? Success starts with a plan. If you go into your admissions season without a clear sense of what you’re trying to achieve, how will you know what you’re doing is right?

All too often, we encounter admissions counselors that don’t have a clear sense their KPIs for any given year. Establish a clear set of goals and objectives for your admissions office to make sure everyone keeps their eyes on the prize. Before you do anything, make sure you understand your institution’s strategic plan and you’re deploying tactics that will help execute on that strategy.

2 ) You can observe a lot by just watching.

It’s all about processing and analyzing the world around you. In other words…look at your data. What does your data tell you about your current prospects and incoming students? Where are they coming from? What are they interested in learning about your institution? Where are you successfully connecting with students and where are you not? Where are your recruitment dollars seeing a return and where are you wasting money? Use your data to figure out what’s working and what’s not.

Have too much data? Start with the basics. Make sure you have a good understanding of your historical conversion, admit, yield and matriculation rates, and then dig deeper to see where you can spot any emerging patterns.

3) It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.

Do you find yourself running into admissions officers from competing institutions at the same college fairs year after year? Are you trying to engage with students on social media, just like everyone else?

It’s crowded out there, and students have a lot of options. And many of them are struggling to figure out why one option is better than the other. Elevate your game by eliminating some of the noise for the students you want to reach. Don’t just treat each student to the same one-size-fits-all messaging. Personalize your interactions. Make sure you’re keeping track of your interactions so you can deliver better service to students each time they connect with your institution.

4) No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded.

There are students out there that are right for your institution, but they don’t even consider you as an option. Maybe they don’t think they can get in. Maybe they think they can’t afford to go if they do get in. Maybe they think you’re just not that in to them. Or, maybe you have students that are applying only because they know about your brand and that’s it. Regardless, you may be missing out on students that would be a great fit because they think your institution is out of reach for them.

Mismatching is a huge problem for students and institutions. Make sure you’re connecting with the right students and presenting them with all the all the resources they need to make an informed decision about your institution. It’s in your mutual best interest to learn early whether it’s going to be worth continuing a conversation.

5) Never answer an anonymous letter.

It’s hard to build a relationship with someone you’ve never spoken to before. Stealth applicants are no different. Not only do they make it difficult for you to focus your attention on those applicants that are engaged, they make predicting your yield really challenging.

Try to minimize the anxiety of dealing with low-yield stealth applicants early on in the search process. Try to solicit some response from your pool of suspects to narrow your funnel as soon as possible. Use your data to build a profile of the types of students that are responding to your message and build out some basic personas to help make those stealth students a little less stealthy.

6) If you ask me anything I don’t know, I’m not going to answer.

The best way to attract students is to establish trust by being honest, open and transparent. Sometimes that means letting them know when you don’t think your institution is right for them. Other times that may mean admitting that you don’t have all the answers. 

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know,” when a student or parent asks you a question. Commit to finding an answer and get back to them quickly.

7) It’s like déjà vu all over again.

Feel like you’ve been there, done that? It’s true that experience can make your job feel predictable, but sometimes that’s a good thing.  However, don’t get complacent. Just because things seem similar year after year doesn’t mean they’re not evolving. Pay attention to the slight changes and watch your data (rule #2) to spot any new patterns as they emerge.

8) The future ain’t what it used to be.

The world is changing. The same tried and true methods that worked in the past may not work in the future. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas and techniques, but be mindful of shiny new object syndrome. Pick a few new tactics that you can measure success quickly. 

Also, as accountability measures and performance-based funding become a reality for many institutions, remember that you’re in this for the long run. Don’t just think about which students are most likely to enroll, but which students are most likely to succeed.

9) We made too many wrong mistakes.

Mistakes happen. It’s what you do about them that matters. Not every campaign will yield results; not every experiment will work. Failure is not always a bad thing as long as you fail fast and learn from your mistakes.

10) It ain’t over till it’s over.

Like the baseball season, the college admissions season is long and arduous. Don’t let early setbacks deter you from course correcting and finishing off strong. There’s always something you can do at each stage of the student lifecycle to impact your results. It ain’t over till it’s over.

Thanks to Yogi’s infinite wisdom, your admissions season doesn’t have to be a mystifying process. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be on your way to admissions enlightenment. 


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