7 Tips for Effectively Managing an Admissions Team


One seasoned enrollment manager offers practical strategies for making your admissions team high performing, high morale, and effective.

When I took on my role in 1997 as director of admissions at Elizabethtown College, the extent of my leadership and management experience consisted of serving as captain of my college track team several years before. While I’d worked hard as an admissions counselor and was beginning to feel a genuine connection to admissions work and higher education, I did not think of myself as a leader.

I suspect my experience is fairly common among those who find themselves (or will find themselves) in positions of leadership in an admissions office: lots of enthusiasm, little experience. Though I still make mistakes, I’ve learned a few things about leading and managing an admissions team.

But for this post, I asked my own team for some feedback about what does generally work, and what doesn’t. Responses to my inquiry resulted in my first observation about self-management and reinforce how important it is for admissions leaders to solicit feedback from team members!

I hope these observations are helpful.


Understanding the characteristics and acknowledging the complexities of the team is a must. Most admissions teams are multi-generational, ethnically diverse and comprise well-educated, passionate and idealistic professionals. The leadership approach needs to be tuned in accordingly and re-calibrated based on feedback from team members and changes in the composition of staff.

An effective leader will constantly assess his or her own performance—even when it’s painful. The book Fish! A proven way to boost morale and improve results by Lundin, Paul and Christiensen has a terrific chapter describing the need to “Be Present” that is very worthwhile for leaders and important in my own case.

I also need to remind myself that admissions teams want to be a part of something big, and remind them of how important our work is within the higher education enterprise and on our own campus. Finally, I should leave my iPhone in my pocket during meetings; it’s an awful habit and disrespectful, and my team is fully aware of my bad habit of checking it during team time.

Every leader will be criticized at some time for “treating Johnny different from the rest of us.” It’s a standard critique of leadership that frequently results in a homogenized approach to managing and leading a team. It is a mistake to respond by treating everyone exactly the same. Good leaders understand the difference between treating everyone exactly the same, and expecting work to be done most effectively given the various roles and responsibilities of the staff. Avoid the temptation to treat everyone equally; instead, focus on fairness. Each staff member brings different gifts and has a different role, depending upon the territory they manage, the goals they must achieve, and the expectations you establish for them.
Presence really matters. This year I moved my office into the middle of a corridor of counselors’ offices and have really enjoyed being in the middle of it all. Being around the team has enabled me to be part of ongoing conversations, mentor more readily, offer immediate advice, and witness what’s going on in the office in a way I’ve found to be really effective. If possible, position yourself as close to the action as you can.

This should not be mistaken as an invitation to micromanage. In fact, presence, and being present, should equip an effective leader with confidence in what his or her team is accomplishing so micromanagement is unnecessary. When I had an office in another areas of campus, I made a special effort to spend informal time with the admissions staff.

I believe admissions staff members, in particular, because of the amount of time spent off campus, finds it very valuable to have access to senior leadership and I think admissions leaders need to be intentional about getting into the middle of the day-to-day.

Many leaders think they need to fulfill the role of a therapist and in doing so they are illustrating that the care for their colleagues. While there are clear occasions when a little therapy is necessary, less therapy and more coaching is a much better approach. On college campuses we often speak of the necessary balance between challenge and support of students; the same is necessary in leading admissions teams. Use one-one-one meetings to coach your staff about performance.

In my experience, counselors place a much higher value on recommendation about how to do things better or more efficiently, than on the boss simply “feeling one’s pain.”

Email and other interruptions throughout the day can be overwhelming for leaders, creating the impression that it’s impossible to get work done. However, I would argue that responding to the emails and interruptions is the work of a leader. In fact, it takes on even more importance for admissions leaders. Make responding to your direct reports your first priority; their work is dependent upon your response. As a leader, you should prioritize leading your people above all.

For me, this means responding immediately to emails from direct reports. Because of volume and busyness I can’t always provide a complete answer, but I do try to acknowledge the note and provide a sense of when I will respond. Managing expectations about the timing of responses is really important and goes a very long way toward eliminating uncertainty; speedily responding to staff also keeps things moving along, which is more and more important every year I am in this career.

I am not a fan of meetings and never have been. I convinced myself that there’s too much to do. However, meetings are critically important and are useful when they are meaningful. And that is the leader’s job. An effective leader will make sure there is an agenda, opportunities for everyone to contribute and a clear timetable for each meeting. Undisciplined or forced meetings contribute to a culture in which meetings are considered a waste of time. Meet only when necessary and make sure everyone feels like the meeting is worthwhile.

In addition, in our increasingly virtual world, make meetings more accessible by Google Chat or conference call, to those who work remotely or travel. It’s important to maintain those connections. In the admissions office at Augustana College we have a standing weekly meeting for one hour on Friday mornings. We schedule the meeting to begin thirty minutes earlier than the normal work day and make every medium available for participants; at any given meeting with have participants join via our dedicated conference call number, Google Hangout and, of course, in person.

Most admissions staff members are what I would describe as “pleasers”; they want to do a good job, make a favorable impression, and really, really, really want to know if they are fulfilling the expectations of the leadership. Establishing clear expectations, periodically reminding people of those expectations and providing feedback is critically important. Use a team meeting to establish expectations, post them and revisit them throughout the year to make sure you are fulfilling your expectations.


This past year my team and I established team expectations, which are posted in everyone’s office and against which we measure ourselves. Our expectations of ourselves and each other can be viewed here. These shared expectations have created a culture of alignment that is very important.

I found out early on that leading people is enormously fulfilling, but difficult, and I have worked hard to develop my leadership skills since taking on that first role in 1997. In a sense, continually developing leadership skills is how good leaders should lead themselves—and is critical for anyone aspiring to lead an admissions office.__________________________