College Admissions

Admissions Trends 2016

On Friday, I interviewed a fellow St. George's School Alum, Adam Choice. Adam and I had the chance to reconnect via LinkedIn, and found we were both in the same field! 

The Packer Collegiate Institute Admission Team

I went to Brooklyn, New York to learn more.

I went to Brooklyn, New York to learn more.

Adam Choice is the Associate Director of Middle and Upper School Admissions, partnered with Sheila Bogan, Director of Middle and Upper School Admissions at The Packer Collegiate Institute. To call Ms. Bogan and Mr. Choice a team is an understatement! Why? This "powerhouse" Admission Team fills & exceeds their enrollment goals each year!

What is The Packer Collegiate Institute's Secret to Full Enrollment?

We’ve been full every year. (Mr. Choice has worked for The Packer Collegiate Institute for two years, and Ms. Bogan for five years.) Once our deadline hits, we are full. We don’t do summer admissions. We shoot for 90 kids for 9th Grade every year.

Where do your Applicants live? What is appealing about Brooklyn Heights?

All over the city. The majority of 9th Grade for instance, 60-65% are from Manhattan. The rest of our student body is from Brooklyn. Some students commute from Long Island, Jersey City, and Hoboken. All five boroughs! Brooklyn Heights is easy to get to from all over the city, which gives The Packer Collegiate Institute a lot of geographic diversity.

Did The Packer Collegiate Institute struggle in Enrollment during 2008?

Though many schools got hit from the 2008 crisis, we were able to sustain our numbers. Every year our number of applicants increases. Sheila said there were roughly 200-250 applicants 5 years ago. This year, we had 400 applicants just for 9th grade. 


Traditional Marketing

The Packer Collegiate Institute does not market as much as we did at St. George’s School. (Adam worked for St. George's School's Admissions Office from 2012-2014). I only do a handful of School Fairs for The Packer Collegiate Institute each year. For St. George's School, I went to School Fairs all over the country.

The Packer Collegiate Institute uses pamphlets and magazines to provide basic printed information. We are currently working with our Communications Office to make the printed material look less "old school," and enhance them.

Admissions Trend 2016: Digital Marketing

We are in the process of updating and sprucing up The Packer Collegiate Institute website. I believe a website is key. We need more visuals to brighten it up. That will have a huge effect. We don’t have a lot of things we’re mailing out. Our name is out there already, and we are lucky enough, by word of mouth, to get so many applicants already.


I go every fall to the SSATB Admissions Conference. I like to hear and see what other schools are doing. I attended meetings on marketing and strategy. 

That is where I learned how important it is for Communications & Admissions Offices to collaborate.

I remember one particular school was putting out videos and posting daily on social media. Some schools only do a video for accepted students or big events. This school was putting something up everyday, and saw only positives in gaining applicants, popularity, and getting their name out there.

Social media is huge now for admissions & communications offices.

I think the relationship between Communications & Admissions is crucial for the whole, especially as we venture on to the 21st century.

Further Research

Before interviewing Mr. Choice, I spoke with Gowan Group's President & Founder, Chris Pryor, to discuss the firm's services regarding Enrollment Management, Admissions, and Communications. I pulled several articles to help me formulate my interview questions with Mr. Pryor. 

I listened to this podcast from Blackbaud K-12, by Peter Baron. I learned how Admissions and Communications Offices were evolving, as Mr. Choice mentions above. Additionally, Admission Teams are now comprised of people who wear multiple "hats," with job requisites in digital marketing, data collection, and more. 

In 2014, edSocialMedia and Caylor Solutions both make strong arguments in favor of effectively allocating School Admissions Budgets to inbound marketing. By utilizing social media and inbound marketing strategies, schools will see an increase in enrollment, and a decrease in costs. 


Schools are moving away from traditional marketing, and lowering their budget. Admission Teams use few informational printed materials, proving significant changes in reaching new families and students. Without a strong social media presence, schools will fall behind, appearing dated, and leaving a poor first impression. Prospective families, who gather most of their preliminary research online, must see an updated website. Lacking digital identity will negatively impact branding and enrollment this year, and for years to come.

  • Include digital marketing in your budget this year. 
  • Host a Professional Development to better verse your Director of Communications across all social media channels. 
  • Foster collaboration between the Communications and Admissions Departments.

Gowan Group would like to thank Mr. Choice, Ms. Bogan, and The Packer Collegiate Institute for allowing the firm to share this interview with our readers. 

To learn more about The Packer Collegiate Institute and Mr. Adam Choice, visit their website here.

This interview and research is by Hailey Feldman, Director of Digital Marketing, Gowan Group.



Adding Context to Data

Here is another excellent post from John Pryor. John offers his insight on how to analyze data and add context to make data more relevant. Gowan Group has recently been discussing this topic here on our own blog. While flawed in its research, the NYT article does reference some reputable independent schools that offer solid advice from their college guidance offices. Below is John Pryor's most recent post:

Too Many Applications? Think Again

"Do we have a problem with too many high school seniors applying to too many colleges?

That’s what the New York Times thinks.  A front-page article on Sunday (November 15, 2014) about college admissions (Applications by the Dozen, as Anxious Seniors Hedge College Betsclaims that a lot of high school seniors these days are applying to “more colleges than anyone would have previously thought possible.”  The sidebar proclaims that there is “a perfect storm of ambition, neuroses and fear among high school students.” Yikes!

Well, there must be pretty good data behind this, right?  It was on the front page of the New York Times, after all.

To shore up this claim, the reporter cites two high school seniors, one who applied to 29 colleges, and another who applied to 18. Two cases. An N of two.

OK, that’s the human interest side (we have names, a back story, and in one case, a picture of a young woman on her laptop, presumably writing application number 29).  What else? A high school staff member tells a story of one person who applied to 56 schools.  Naviance (a company that, among other things, has a web-based program that helps high school students with the application process) says that 1 student in the US has 60 colleges they are thinking about applying to.

So far I am not really impressed. Two interviews with students and two examples of hearsay.

Finally we get some actual data based on more than a few conversations.  The reporter tells us that the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has a survey that says that in 1990 nine percent of college freshmen had applied to seven or more colleges, and by 2011 (which the reporter tells us is the most recent data), this had risen to 29%.  Now we’ve got some data.

Only it’s not quite right, as this is not a NACAC survey, it’s the CIRP Freshman Survey, which NACAC clearly credits on their website as the source. It looked very familiar to me, since I directed the CIRP Freshman Survey for eight years, and provided the information to NACAC at the time.  We would typically have around 200,000 students represented in the CIRP Freshman Survey database each year (note to reporters, that is not a “2,” it’s “200,000”).

While the source is wrong, the numbers cited are correct.

Even though the reporter did not actually use the most recent data or the most relevant data.  Figures for the class entering in fall of 2013 (not 2011) have been released, and the percentage of four-year college first-year students who applied to seven or more schools rose to 31.6.

But wait, seven schools isn’t what this is about. It’s about 18, or 56, or maybe even 60 if that student using Naviance applies to all the ones being considered.  The CIRP data doesn’t tell us about such high numbers because we topped out the available responses by asking about 12 or more applications. And that’s at 5.9% of the college freshman for 2013.

So make a reasonable guess about how many of those are sending 18, or 56, or even 60 applications.  It’s not very many, is it?  And that same database tells us that the median number of applications per student is still just, well, four. Which seems pretty reasonable.

Why is this on the front page of the New York Times?  The headline was “Applications by the Dozen, as Anxious Seniors Hedge College Bets.”  And while the article does have quotes from guidance counselors that explain that this is not a good strategy, that wasn’t the headline, was it? Why not have a headline of “A Very Small Number of Anxious Seniors are Sending in Too Many College Applications in a Practice that May Actually Hurt Their Chances of Admission”? The message in the headline is that some seniors are hedging their bets by applying to a lot of colleges. Who doesn’t want to hedge a bet?  That’s good.

But this article is not good. It’s playing on the fears of already anxious students (and as a father with a high school junior, it’s scary to their families too). I expect better from the New York Times.

So, don't worry that we have hordes of students applying to 59 (or 60!) colleges. Worry how to pay for college these days. That's the scary part."

Visit John Pryor's blog at Pryor Education Insights.