Search Results for: communication center

Respect is a Two Way Street

Working in the Communication Center (where my student team and I field all incoming emails and phone calls to the admission office) is an education in stopping blame and rudeness at the door, and re-framing the underlying feelings with words that are still kind. Whether it’s trying to dodge finger pointing, diffuse a dicey situation, or keeping ourselves calm and kind after being asked the same question for the hundredth time, you learn a lot about how we as a society choose to  communicate with each other.

One afternoon I was speaking with a frustrated, and angry, parent. The family was trying to schedule a campus visit on a day that we were at our maximum capacity (per fire code regulations). We could not overload the tour for extra guests, which is I understand is frustrating for families who are trying to make travel plans. I explained to the parent that we get many calls every day asking to overload the tours (which we can’t), so an exception in one person’s case would be really unfair to others. After what I thought was a successful navigation, though disappointing conclusion for the caller, the parent threw a pointed jab at me and the school and hung up. After a sigh, I had to go back to work and answer more calls. I tried not to over analyze the conversation, but in reality, it’s hard to let everything roll off.

The Snowball Effect

When someone is rude or unkind, it has an effect not only on our staff, but on other parents, students, and families who call our office. It makes my students and I less motivated to work, and less chipper on the next call. We regularly have calls where we need to “take a lap” afterwards. Usually during those breaks, I remind myself that the person on the other end of the line may be having a bad day, or things are overwhelming and stressful with trying to get into college and pay for it. While I know that I’m probably not the reason for the outburst, our team, including our student workers, still get our feelings hurt in the blast.

Even if we aren’t upset at the end of a hard call, the calls themselves are exhausting as we try to calmly, kindly and firmly give the correct responses. Calls often start with an issue… that’s usually the reason people call in the first place. The majority of problems are easy to solve and we move on. However, when the situation is dicey, it’s an intricate balance to give the caller options and resources while the ultimate conclusion is not what the caller came for. That’s why the parent’s comment in the situation I just described was hurtful. I tried to balance the situation and provide a well-informed and genuine response. The remark invalidated my work. But then… the parent called back.

A Surprising Outcome

One of our student workers waved me down. “It’s that parent. They’re asking for you.” No part of me wanted to take the call. After a quick glance for emergency exits, I mustered some fake enthusiasm, “Hi! Was there anything else I can help you with?” To my utter amazement, the parent genuinely apologized for the unkind words and tone. No one have ever done that before!

It was the first and only time anyone has ever called back to apologize for their rude behavior. In their apology, the parent recognized that while it was a frustrating situation, I was doing my job, and their annoyance had little to do with me personally.

It takes a lot to separate the message from the messenger, but we appreciate it when the caller can do that. Of course I would prefer for people to be kind in the first place, but sometimes things get away from all of us, and an apology speaks volumes to our willingness to see each other as people and not just nameless voices on the other end of a phone line.

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5 Essential Ingredients When Calling an Admission Office

At Tech we love formulas, and while not everything can fit into the magic of math and flow charts, I’ll let you in on a secret: there is a correct formula when you call the admission office. See, I’m the inside man. I work in the Communication Center, and generally speaking, I love talking to parents and students about Tech and helping solve the problems that come with going to college. I also train student workers. We work together every day and share insights about how to better communicate with our audience. Several months ago, I started to notice some emerging patterns and correlations – I am a Tech grad after all – regarding those frustrating or unproductive conversations, versus those where the caller left better equipped, and I or my students felt satisfied with our work.

So what is the formula? What pattern results in a positive experience with the Admission Office? Here are five essential ingredients to having the best experience:

Preparation

What you do before the call is as important as what you do during. In the most successful interactions, the caller has 1) called the right department 2) asked the right question 3) has the explanations and identification to help the process along.

  • When folks have called us erroneously (we were once asked if we could help sell a mink coat…) I wonder if they Googled it first. This is everything from the mink coat lady, to asking about programs we don’t offer or contacting us instead of Alumni, Athletics, Financial Aid, etc. It’s part of our job to help redirect calls, but we don’t love bouncing people around, or feeling like we can’t help at all.
  • Why does it matter if you call with a question versus a scenario? Our job involves problem solving, but when I don’t know what the problem is I don’t know what details I’m looking for in the story. The question first helps us know what to look for, and it helps us be more efficient if we have to redirect your call or have the answer on hand. For example, in January, a lot of applicants were having trouble submitting a document. Call volume was really high, and we knew about the problem. Applicants were under the impression they were the only one with the issue, and they would begin with a story instead of the question. Most of time, I could clarify one or two things and get an answer to them quickly and clearly without needing the longer explanation. They had a quick answer, and I could help the next person in line.
  • Sometimes explanations and stories are necessary. Ask your question first thing, but be prepared when we have to ask you clarifying questions. This means the context of why you are asking and having the proper background and identification information (like your GTID).

Be Nice

You’ve done all the prep work – now it’s time to call. I cannot emphasize enough – be nice. In Kindergarten, we were taught that when you are mad or anxious, take a deep breath (count to 10). When you engage us, you can let know your emotional status, but know we want to help you, even if the answer is an infuriating “no”.

This really is very helpful for the caller. The minute a call comes in, we are there to help you, but the more abrasive the person on the other line is, that desire to help starts draining, and I or my students just want the call to end. The reality of being nice is that it will take you further.

Call

Sometimes when people are asking questions, it’s too late to be asking questions. Once there was an applicant who had a discrepancy in his application. He called a couple weeks after decision release – which was too late for us to edit anything. Calling a month or two earlier would have ironed out the issue, and avoided a frustrating scenario. If you see a problem – and you can’t find the solution online, count to 10 and give us a call.

Communicate with the Applicant

If the student can call themselves, do that. If not, communicate with them before calling. I have had scenarios where I talked to mom, dad, mom, applicant, dad, and then the applicant again. I felt like I had entered a Days of Our Lives season finale, but I couldn’t drag everyone in a room and fanatically cry for everyone to tell the truth to each other. Students – talk to you parents. Parents – talk to your kids. Students – do as much as you can on your own. Parents – let them.

Email

Anyone – send an email. We get through most of the emails every day. Bad phone connection? Email. Expensive to call? Email. Mad? Email (then don’t send it). The only thing we ask is to please include your name on the emails, and past correspondence.

Conclusion

It should be said, formulas have variables, and one you can’t help is the human factor. For example, you do everything right, but my stomach is playing games with my temperament, and I get short with answers. So instead I promise you this, whatever capricious version you get on the phone, my students and I are working in this office because we love Tech, we value higher education and we care about students finding the right university to attend.

Say It Again!

Last November we made a plan for the blog.

We looked out at the spring and created a log.

To various staff we assigned certain weeks.

We wondered how to improve–what are the necessary tweaks?

That’s when we realized we really need you

To tell us how to be helpful, encouraging, and true

We really want to know what you think,

So please help us out and visit this link.  

In our original January blog plan, we were only going to send out the survey this week without any additional message or content surrounding it. But I convinced my sweet, amazing, beautiful editor/communications manager if we put the link in three times, y’all would still do it. Maybe it is from reading so many amazing applications lately, but I decided to go for four. Love you, Becky.

Decisions, Priorities, and Goals

Saturday we released admission decisions. As I write this, I have 164 emails in my inbox. I am going to give you one guess at how many are from students/families who were admitted… right—that would be one less than your number of guesses.

Here are some of the subject lines: “Concerns for admission process” or “Broken system.” Most of these messages include details about a particular student’s statistics and how they either compare to our published middle 50% ranges or to other students they know (or have heard from a second cousin twice removed) who were admitted.

At the heart of these notes (gentle euphemism) is a plea for the numbers to dictate, or a desire for admission officers to point to one particular reason why, the student was not admitted. We are never going to do that. Not because we aren’t willing to be transparent or because we are not good people (despite a few emails with some creative language asserting that opinion).

Ultimately, it is because holistic admission is completely counter to isolating numbers, sorting data in a spreadsheet, or putting all rationale for a decision on one single factor. Ultimately, both application review, and certainly admission decision-making (particularly at the macro level), are driven by an institution’s priorities and goals.

While I was listening to music on the train earlier this week, I came across a song that I had not heard in a while, “Say It Again” by Don Williams. I took particular note of that tune because it was such a stark transition from the songs that preceded it (“With My Own Two Hands” by Ben Harper and “So What’cha Want” by the Beastie Boys). Word to the wise: shuffle your full song history at your own risk. I’m not recommending you download “Say It Again” but the refrain stuck out to me: “Come on. Say it again.”

Since I was not supposed to really write anything this week (because of the survey), I decided to provide you a few greatest hits from the archives, as well as a couple quick listens, that may be helpful.

  • Admission: It’s Not Fair. This post further explains the concept of institutional priorities and mission, as well as how they dictate admission decision. Audio version here.
  • Handling Those Decisions. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with my friend and colleague, Mark Stucker who is a college counselor at KIPP-Atlanta and also has podcast called “Your Collegebound Kid.” In episode 49 and 50, we talk about how decisions are made, as well as how you can respond and take action once you have been admitted, denied, deferred, or waitlisted.
  • Be Cool. Another blog from the archive, particularly for admitted, denied, and waitlisted students, so I went back and recorded an audio version.

Have a great week. (Oh… and did we mention the survey?).

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Breaking Down The Admission Team: Week 4: Wide Receivers and Running Backs

One hot August night during college, a friend of mine (who happened to be the starting center on our football team) and I got pulled over by a cop who immediately started berating us about the speed limit and asking why we were out so late and if we had been drinking (we had not). My friend handed over his license and registration to the officer who grabbed it and headed back to the patrol car.

Through the rearview mirror I saw him stop, turn, and come back to the driver side door. “Listen. Going to let you off without a ticket tonight. But be safe, slow down… and good luck this season.” I was pumped! Win, right? But my friend had a different reaction, “Man. If I were a running back or wide receiver, he would have recognized me right away. #linemanproblems

Yep. That’s how running backs and wide receivers roll. They are the face of the organization. It’s their name and picture on websites and cards. And so it goes for Fantasy Football. Along with the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers have the big names, the featured press conferences, and the long interviews– but with better celebration dances, bigger personalities, and generally warmer demeanor.

Well, my friends, I’ve just described admission counselors (though typically with fewer tattoos and less ability to evade speeding tickets, especially in places like Waldo, Florida. Ughh… still bitter). Counselors are the faces of the college. They are the ones who travel around the country and meet thousands of people each year at schools, programs, and coffee shops. If you visit campus, they are the ones who give the presentation or meet with you and your family.

Who are they?

1- Like many of the star running backs and wide receivers in the NFL, most admission reps who are recruiting and doing first/second read on college applications are in their 20s or early 30s.

2- They generally get into admission because they love their alma mater, so they typically start out working there. Others may simply be intrigued by Higher Education or love working in a college environment. Others may be buying time before grad school– and more so lately they are doing both simultaneously.

3- They are affable and generally extroverts who have good public speaking, communication, and relational skills. Those who don’t have those skills get a ton of practice refining and improving all of these within the first six months on the job.

4- Like RBs/WRs who are asked to be versatile and flexible in their routes and game plans, the same is essential for admission counselors. They walk into schools around the country not knowing exactly what to expect. “Today you’ll be speaking with four kids for 10 minutes.” Next school: “We are putting you in the auditorium. Thought you could speak to our 10-12 graders for an hour about college admission and maybe your school for max five of those.” Next: “We don’t have any students for you to see today, but we are short-handed in the cafeteria. How are you with prepping veggies?”

Admission counselors get into this field because they love students. They want to have a positive impact and believe they can in this role. They enjoy meeting new people, and love experiencing new places and opportunities. They are curious, open-minded, positive, genuine, bright, and passionate. They see the best in others. An added bonus is they want to have fun while accomplishing all of that.

counselor-picThere is no shortage of jokes, laughs, dance moves, and big personalities in admission offices around the country. I realize this may be slightly self-serving, but I believe these are some of the very best people you’ll ever meet.

Why Should You Care?

Unfortunately, in recent years, the stress surrounding the admission process has increased. Much of this is due to more students applying to more colleges, but it’s also correlated to financial costs, family pressures, and competitive, achievement-centered high school environments. As a result, “getting into college” has become more transactional and less relational. But that does not have to be your experience. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind when interacting with an admission counselor:

When meeting in person…
When an admission counselor shows up at your school or you meet them on campus, remember that they simply want to talk to you and help you. These are not judgmental folks. They’re not perfect and they don’t expect that from you. So ask your questions and listen, but also relax. Talk about the things you love in school and in life. Share your personality. Allow them to make connections with you and for you by being genuine. You’ll learn a lot more from that than from asking them to quote the library’s book sharing policy or what percentage of kids study abroad. Sure. A running back can answer questions about offensive schemes, but what you remember from interviews are the stories. Ask good questions.

On your application….
An admission counselor is the kind of person you want reading your essays and reviewing your application. Remember what you know about them: they are positive, and they naturally see and are trained to look for upside. On your application, they are listening for your voice. They want to know you and want to be in your corner. I’ve asked high school students to close their eyes and describe who they think is reading their essay. The typical response is a white, middle-aged male who has spectacles, patches on his tweed coat, and snarls as he opens his red pen. Look at a few of the staff websites or office social media accounts of the universities you are interested in (not the actual counselor’s Instagram, mind you— that’s weird). Check out Google images for “admission counselor.” Mean people? Nope. Running Backs and Wide Receivers.

So whether you are working on an application right now or planning a visit to campus soon, keep these admission counselor traits, motivations, and personalities in mind. While this won’t change the low admit rates at UPenn or Pomona or University of Michigan, it hopefully puts in perspective that these folks see themselves as being on your side. And that makes all the difference.

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Breaking Down the Admission Team: Week 1: Defense/Special Teams

I’ve written before about our office’s Fantasy Football league. At one point,  everyone was working at Tech, but now many are now at other schools, or other departments around campus. The weekly match-ups bring banter, side bets, entertaining emails, and group texts with heckling emojis.

If you have played Fantasy Football, you know that while a game may occasionally be won or lost due to one player, championship teams are those that have balance and strength across all positions.  You can limp through the season with a good kicker and running back but that inconsistent tight end will eventually lead to your demise.

The strength of a team is equally important in college admission. Over the next few weeks I’m going to walk you around our office and introduce you to our team. Who does what, and when, and why? While admission offices, just like Fantasy Football leagues, are set up differently, the concepts and roles, as well as the challenges and advice, we’ll cover are applicable at any place you’re applying to or visiting.

The Communications Center (aka Defense/Special Teams)

If you call our main phone number (404.894-4154) or email our primary address (admission@gatech.edu), you are going to reach our lead staffer, and Tech alum Katie Ruth Landers ’09  or one of our current students. We employ around 10 students, and two or three of those will be working at any given time in the Comm Center (“Calm” Center). They provide help on everything from “I’m driving down 85 and see Georgia Tech but think I missed my exit,” to “My transcript was sent a week ago and I don’t see it in the checklist.” 

This group does a phenomenal job. They have full access to our student information system, so they can see all documents and assist with functional application questions. Beyond that,  they can discuss campus life and student-centered questions from a very current perspective. They field approximately 90% of the calls and emails that come in, which keeps our admission counselors available for recruitment travel in the early fall and spring, and application review in the late fall and winter. It’s been said that offense wins games but defense wins championships… in this case that’s 100% accurate.

I know the value of the front lines from personal experience. My first job in college admission was at Wake Forest University. I don’t think I even had a title and I know I didn’t have an office, or even a cube… It was more of a nook.  My job was to answer emails, field phone calls, and occasionally (and I mean very occasionally!) they’d actually let me talk to families that were visiting (as a recent UNC alum, I was basically a last resort). But that training could not have been better for me. I was asked every possible topic under the sun: directions… transfer me to the Chemistry office… does Wake Forest have Psychology… and, naturally, what are my chances of getting in?

The “Calm Center” Checklist

Check the Time.  On average we receive about 1650 emails and 1500 calls each month. That’s about 80-90 of each per work day. Calls from students average 3 minutes, and it’s longer when it’s from a parent (data on parents pretending to be students is not kept). The busiest call day of the week, by far, is Monday. Part of that is catching up from the weekend and part is because people come into the week with a task list and emotions (probably generated from the Sunday Meeting). The heaviest window on a daily basis is between 2  and 4 p.m. We answer every call, even if that means  asking you to hold briefly. We know your question and situation is important, and we do everything we can to ensure you talk to a person who can help quickly. But it’s good to understand their environment lots of lines ringing, emails pinging, etc. Now that you know the heavy windows of traffic, consider reaching out on a Wednesday at 11 a.m. In talking to colleagues nationally, and after reading articles on normal email traffic, this is a normal pattern and thus applicable no matter what school you’re contacting.

Check Yourself. “What do I think the impact of this will be?” Asking this will help you figure out how to phrase your question and determine who you need to talk to. Often, callers realize they’re talking to a current student and then demand to talk to a counselor– even though all they need is to know is if a document has been received or when a decision is going to be available. Folks on the phones all have access to all the same systems. Insisting to be transferred to a full-time staff member only takes that person away from reading your application.

Check The Website. MANY times a day we get calls about information that is online. This becomes particularly heavy around decision release and deadlines. Questions like: “Is the deadline really October 15?” “Are you going to release the decisions any earlier than January?” Every Monday we meet with our Communications Strategy Team. We hear what Katie Ruth is getting in the Comm Center, we talk about websites, publications, emails, social media, etc. If you are reading it and calling to hear a human voice confirm that information (“I see this on your website, but just wanted to see if that’s right..”), I implore you to trust yourself. This also applies to driving. If you come to a stop sign, please read and take heed. Safety first, friends.

Check Your Pulse. The staff and students answering your calls and emails are in place to help you. Remember that when you call. We know that your particular situation is important and we are going to help you solve it, regardless of whether that’s because something appears not to have arrived or you want to know about Greek Life. So before calling take a deep breath. This will help your tone and heart rate simultaneously (a win-win!). The folks on the other end of that call or email, whether or not they’re admission counselors, share the same bathrooms, break rooms, and hallways as the deans, directors, and others who are making decisions on your application. That’s not a threat– that’s reality.

I’ll never forget the time I was hanging out in the Comm Center and someone called and immediately started cussing out one of our students. Professionally and calmly she kept asking him, “Sir. Can I have your daughter’s name please?” Finally, as he was shouting, he gave it to her. “Oh, hey Mr. Johnson. It’s Grace. Yes, from the church youth group.” BAM! Reality check. You never know who may be on the other end of the line… and remember that in a year or two, it may be you (or your student) answering the call and taking the brunt of someone’s anger.

I have said before and will continue to reinforce that admissions is a human process. People applying, people reading, people making decisions, people answering phones and  emails. Following these tips will not only help you get good information quickly but will likely allow you to learn something from the folks on the other end of the phone. After all, a human exchange goes both ways.

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