Emotional “Banking”: Evaluating Unfit Applicants

Vol. 12 No. 10

admissions eletter Vol12 No10 sunsetfamily

Not too long ago on our Admission Directors e-List, one director shared an awful bind she found herself in with a prospective family. During the tour, there were several “red flags” that the student was not developmentally ready for her school’s program and would probably be denied if the family applied for admission. Her question for the e-List: Should she deny the student before even receiving the application, or let the family pay the fee and follow normal processes?

To answer this question, we need to introduce the idea of "emotional banking."

Any time you’re interacting with any prospective family—whether it’s on a tour, official letters, or informal email—you’re investing in a relationship with the parents and the child. You’re essentially “banking” goodwill toward a time when you might need to make a “withdrawal,” which could be anything from asking for a substantial initial deposit to ultimately rejecting the applicant.

The goal is not to become emotionally “bankrupt” with the family in question. An emotionally “bankrupted” family will become bitter and antagonistic toward your school, creating negative word-of-mouth. However, even as you make “deposits” in a relationship you suspect will be cut short, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be (tactfully!) upfront and honest about probable outcomes of the application procedure, especially in extreme cases.

ISM also advises the following points to keep in mind while evaluating and interacting with unfit applicants.

  • Again, be open and honest with the family. It’s best to be transparent with everyone, but in these situations—when a process can require time-consuming materials collection and a whole lot of hope—it’s important to give families a realistic expectation of their chances. Transparency in this stage of the process demonstrates your respect for the family’s time and resources and continues to strengthen the relationship between them and your office.
  • Remind the family that the application fee is nonrefundable and pays for the evaluation of the student’s application. When you've mentioned that a child has little chance of becoming an accepted student, sometimes the family will still insist on applying. Remind them of the financial investment (however small) involved in applying. They might think twice about going through the process—especially in light of the likely outcome you've offered.
  • Allow the family to apply. Even if you think it’s a waste of time, you’ve already done your best to help the family make an informed decision. Take a deep breath, and then treat this family and prospective student as you would any other. Perhaps you’ll see something to change your mind, and perhaps not. Following procedures now might save you and the school a lot of heartache down the road, as well as “banking” more respect and positive thoughts with the applying family in a worst case scenario situation.
  • Understand what your school can and cannot provide to students. Just as every student is unique, not every applicant will be suitable for your program. Some students will require more time, attention, and resources than your school and faculty can currently provide while maintaining the same level of quality education for all students. Knowing what your school is able to accommodate (and what it can’t) before evaluating applications can help you counsel families appropriately.

While denying unsuitable applicants is part of every Admission Officer’s job description, it can be a difficult one indeed. To avoid “bankrupting” your relationships with your applicants, continue to be honest with the families, allow them to apply, and then—if they want help—work with them to find alternatives for the child so that every student will have the supportive education he or she deserves.

And who knows? Maybe after another year of growing up and experience, you'll find that this particular applicant will be perfect for your program. You'll be glad then that you saved up enough in that family's emotional bank account to merit a second chance!

Recruiting (and re-recruiting!) mission-appropriate students is the Admission Office's top priority; class composition affects everything from school culture to the success of capital campaigns. If you're seeing a dearth of suitable applicants, it's time to revamp your office's plan of attack. Attend this summer's Advancement Academy and sign up for the Admission Track to learn how to attract, maintain, and retain those all-important family relationships that impact every other part of your school.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for School Heads Vol. 10 No. 10 Build a Sense of Community in Your Parent Relations Effort
ISM Monthly Update for Admission Officers Vol. 11 No. 4 Wait Pools: Not All About the First in Line

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 33 No. 1 The Admission Funnel: Interview Tactics
I&P Vol. 25 No. 3 Recruiting Potential Students Through Your Summer Program

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