Admissions of What Matters

When my daughter graduated from high school last May we already had our professional foot solidly in the higher education door. Our experience with SUNY Plattsburgh, Paul Smith’s College, Merrimack among others, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect from colleges trying to get the attention of high school kids.
The viewbooks began to arrive, sometimes 3 or 4 a day, and I was able to watch my daughter decide what was worthy of opening and what went into the discard pile. Her choices sometimes baffled me, whether it was a color she liked or a photo or just simply that it didn’t look like all the rest. We made a deal that she would wait to throw anything away until we got to see it, even if it didn’t interest her. Her criterion for opening a piece was simple: whether or not it piqued her interest.
She knew she wanted to do something with animals or biology or maybe economics. So really, she was open to anything. If she set something aside without opening it, I’d look at it and ask her “What about this place?” or “This school looks like it might be a good fit”. She’d give it a cursory second glance, which would sometimes move a piece destined for the trash into the ‘maybe’ pile. Given that we are a design shop, if it was bound for the trash, I’d snag it and add it to the ‘Comparison Work’ examples that we collect.
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Eventually she narrowed her choices down to five, mostly based on the viewbooks received in the mail. We visited each school, taking the official tour, asking questions and sitting through the presentations. The best part was always talking with the tour guides, usually students who were enrolled in the programs that Julia was interested in. Honestly, the tours started to feel the same, but the tour guides were memorably different and eager to share their experience at the school (*by far the best weapon for Admissions). I was interested in the finances and logistics and Julia had more interest in whether or not there was a Starbucks on campus and what the food was like.
The decision was always hers to make; we simply wanted her to consider all of the options. She prioritized her applications and mailed them to her favorites. The acceptance letters arrived. We were in the homestretch until a University of Maine viewbook arrived. There was a female student holding a baby black bear on the cover. Julia didn’t even open the book, before blurting, ”We have to go here.” We drove the 7.5 hours up to Orono, Maine to look at the school, take the tour and talk with Admissions. She applied the night we got home, was swiftly accepted, and in August we dropped her off for her first semester. She is officially a UMaine Black bear.
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The lesson for me, as a parent and the owner of an ad agency, is that we may think we know what matters to kids as far as content and design go, but ultimately it can be a beautiful photograph that makes the difference between maybe and definitely.
Stay tuned……