Admission – The Movie

I spend quite a bit of time on flights travelling across Canada and around the world to meet our future boarding students. I am usually catching up on reading, trying to adjust for jet lag by sleeping or getting caught up on movies. I love movies. One I had wanted to see when it came out was “Admission” with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. The film revolves around a Princeton University Admission Officer played by Fey’s character. Rudd plays the director of an alternative school and has a student with an unconventional background he thinks Princeton and Fey’s character should consider.

Admission is a film I could identify with after sixteen years in admissions myself and its content could certainly prompt several blog posts. “The secret to getting in”, “the Admission process”, “parent hopes and dreams leading to over-programming their child’s lives” are but a few. Another is how callus the nature of admission decisions can become when there are more denials than acceptances. I have seen it reduced to formulas or schools using a test score as a cut off when there is too much demand. (I will reserve another post to deal with this one.)

Near the end of the film, Fey is telling an interviewer, “I worked in college admissions for 16 years. I used to spend my days passing judgement on young people who were way more together than I was at their age.” I have felt this exact sentiment when the reason for the denial has simply been too many other more qualified candidates.

Luckily, thankfully, partially due to the rural location of LCS, its smaller size and being one of Canada’s “best kept secret” CAIS boarding schools, our demand usually runs in the three to five applicants per boarding space. If it gets much more than this, I feel there is a recruitment problem in our materials or communications with families that does not help them to self select whether or not we are a “best fit” for them. Marketing independent schools isn’t about ‘going viral’ to get a million applicants, it is about attracting the type of students in the right measure that will build upon the values of your community. Don’t get me wrong, a million inquiries would be great provided we had the personnel available to manage parent and applicant expectations sufficiently to allow appropriate self-selection. You want to remain an Office of Admission, not the Office of Rejection.

Life in Admissions can be exceptionally rewarding and also filled with incredibly sad situations. Near the end of the film the Princeton Admission Officers are flip charting a list of the top negative and positive reactions they get from the applicants while making phone calls on their decision day. It’s not far from the truth from an independent school perspective and I cannot imagine the range of emotions some of the real life Princeton Admission Officers must go through or even some of my US boarding school colleagues that work to a March decision day where all boarding decisions are communicated on a single day. The process avoids schools being played off against one another by candidates and makes life in the Admission Office easier and more predictable for office staff. A big challenge is estimating the number of offers to over offer accounting for the students that will choose another school they are hearing from the same day. This happens in larger day school centres in Canada as well. As soon as a certain number of students decline offers, Admission Directors can begin going to wait listed candidates.

LCS works on a rolling admission process where we gather completed applications and have monthly Admission Committee meetings rendering decisions. Rolling or defined decision day admission processes can be a clue to how closely you may want to look at a school’s materials to see if it truly is a best fit for you or your child. A single decision day may point to a volume issue due to a prestige brand, or where not enough families are realistically able to figure out their chances of acceptance leading to many families being disappointed. Imagine Princeton of the movie but on a smaller scale.

Did you see the movie? What did you think of it?