Engaging Alumni in the Admissions Process

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Engaging Alumni in the Admissions Process

Attendees at Wisr Summit Series events are increasingly eager to learn not just how peer institutions engage their constituents, from incoming students through alumni, but how they engage them early. Grace Chapin James, Deputy Director of Admissions at the University of Chicago, shared some of UChicago’s tips and tricks for engaging parent communities and alumni in the admissions process at the Portland Research Institution Summit in July 2018.

The Impact of Family Legacy and Alumni In the Admissions Process

Even when controlling for location and academic preparedness, the yield rate of University of Chicago alumni’s children is higher than the general yield rate. Establishing a clear legacy definition in the admissions process is critical to engaging alumni parents without setting unrealistic expectations. At UChicago, legacy means parents, step-parents, grandparents, and step-grandparents who attended either the undergraduate college or graduate programs. While affinity may differ depending on whether the relative was an undergraduate or graduate program alum, these family members represent potential alumni who can play a role in recruiting incoming students.

Alumni parents receive specialized communications that encourage them to share their UChicago experience with their high school student. This includes:

  • Letter reminders about key application dates
  • FAQs about the application process
  • Special yield letter emphasizing affinity for admitted legacy applicant parents
  • Dedicated Admissions office liaison

In all marketing communications, the Admissions team publicizes that “Legacy status, like any unique factor in a strong application, can sometimes add an extra boost if a student is highly qualified but ‘on the fence’ for admission”. Not surprisingly, however, given their greater financial and emotional investment, response rates from alumni parents are among the highest across stakeholder groups in the admissions process. In fact, parent response rates – even when the parent is not a UChicago alum – are higher than alumni response rates.

Alumni as Admissions Ambassadors

There are a number of roles alumni volunteers can play in representing their alma maters and recruiting prospective students. A few examples of how an alum can partner with the University of Chicago in the admissions process include:

  • Assisting an admissions counselor at a local college fair
  • Participating in training to learn how to serve as a model ambassador. In the “Me Too” era, ensuring prospective student safety is a top priority. It’s just one reason the University discontinued their in-person interview process. This training also involves learning how to speak about the University holistically, as some older alums may have had a different experience from what an incoming student can expect
  • Presenting about their work to highlight future internship sites or employment opportunities. With the intense focus on career outcomes, incoming students want to know that their investment in college will be ROI positive. It’s also an excellent opportunity to showcase what a UChicago student can grow into post-graduation

To support these alum volunteers, UChicago Admissions and Alumni Relations collaborate in producing an alumni newsletter (written by the Admissions team), and the Admissions team distributes an alum volunteer that clearly outlines expectations for volunteers representing the University. A few alumni can go a long way in boosting application rates

Admissions is Changing

The University of Chicago is in the process of redesigning their admissions process, with several notable changes, including:

  • Removing the SAT / ACT test requirement
  • Introducing an optional two-minute video introduction opportunity open to all students (replacing the optional alumni and on-campus interviews)
  • Providing new free mentoring technology in partnership with Wisr to further alumni mentorship and support for first-generation and low-income students
  • Providing students who are the first in their families to attend college with a $20,000 scholarship over four years and a guaranteed paid internship for their first summer

The Empower Initiative driving these changes is intended to expand access for first-generation and rural students, enhance financial support for those who serve our communities, and enable student agency and ownership in the college admissions process. These changes also impact the ways alumni volunteers will engage with prospective and admitted students moving forward. As more and more universities make efforts to bring their admissions process into the 21st Century, Alumni Relations and Admissions professionals have an opportunity to collaborate and reimagine the role of alumni engagement.  

Co-founder & President

John Knific is co-founder and President of Wisr. An entrepreneur who is passionate about what education technology can do for students, John's on a mission to tackle the big challenge of getting students connected with jobs after college by engaging alumni.

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