“They just acted completely, extremely unprofessional on the phone.” Brandi Bretthauer is a college admissions insider who recruited for Ottawa University. In this week’s issue, she shares why students wouldn’t get in, how not to act with an admissions rep, and how exactly students should vet out their admissions counselors.
Exclusive Insider Interview: Former admissions officer, Ottawa University
SocratesPost: Brandi, what’s your background working in college admissions?
Brandi: I am a first generation college student in my immediate family. So neither my mother nor my dad went to college. It was something that my mom really promoted and encouraged. I went through school and did my associates program, my undergrad program, then my master’s program. My first job out of high education was in finance. And that was in 2008 when the universe within each economy was plummeting. I had gotten laid off at that point, had gone to a recruiter. I said “I want to get into higher education.” And they’re like, “Well, you can’t do that a year out of undergrad. You don’t have any experiences.” I walked out of there and said “I’m gonna show her.”
And I did get a job as an online recruiter for an adult program at Ottawa University, a private Christian University.
SocratesPost: What were your responsibilities as a recruiter there?
Brandi: We built out their entire online division. The ground program started to model us, our processes and procedures and all of that. I was a recruiter for the online adult program for two years. And then I was promoted into an academic advisor position. And that’s more or less the retention side. The recruiting is more or less the sales side. They don’t call it sales in higher education but it’s sales. Then I moved into the retention part as an academic advisor, where as soon as the students started a program, I worked with them until they graduated.
They don’t call it sales in higher education but it’s sales.
SocratesPost: What did you work on with your students as an advisor?
Brandi: On what their graduation plan looks like from start to finish, helping them enroll, anything you could potentially think of during that process from start to finish. I helped facilitate that process. About a year into that, we did a round of layoffs and I inherited ground students as well. So at that point, I was serving both online and its ground adult students. As an academic advisor, I did that for another two years. And at that point, we went through several different layoffs. And finally, I got laid off there. I went over to an advertising agency that specialized in higher education. I started as a recruiter there doing what I did previously. But at that point in time, this was an advertising agency. Universities would outsource the recruiting efforts. Then I transitioned over to what they call an account manager.
…at that point in time, this was an advertising agency. Universities would outsource the recruiting efforts.
SocratesPost: In what ways, as an advertiser, would you help universities find students to attend?
Brandi: Essentially, I was optimizing campaigns for universities to get their leads, to call students and make sure they’re qualified, and try to get them to recruit. So I was the in-between person between a university who wanted qualified leads — I’d call and get them to come to the university — and the affiliate that went out and got the leads. I was that middle person who optimized campaigns, said this is a bad lead, a good lead, what made him a good lead.
SocratesPost: What are some examples of these campaigns?
Brandi: I looked at lots of numbers all the time to make those campaigns. For instance, if you just search on Google “higher education”, you might have an advertising that pops up and that will lead you down a sales funnel. And I was the one who said “we’re looking for this demographic. Students are searching for psychology programs.” I loved the numbers and the analytics of it.
SocratesPost: You’ve been on both sides: recruiting and retaining students for universities. What are the biggest differences between the two?
Brandi: It’s just recruiting is much more short and sweet and to the point whereas the retention side is a long process. You’re within anywhere from two to four years, depending on how long it takes them to complete a degree when they’re coming in. There’s just a lot more moving pieces and a lot more to juggle on the retention side than there is recruiting. For recruiting, you get to know the person, you build the know like trust factor, you answer their questions — what are they looking for? What do they want? What do they envision in the future? You’re listening to them, you’re pulling out their pain points, and then you’re matching.
On maybe a rare occasion, I couldn’t help them but I gave them a referral to a really good university that does offer that program so that it was much shorter and sweeter, whereas the retention side it’s a much more of a longer process. You’re meeting with them every term talking to them about what classes you’re taking, how are your classes going, what problems are you having? And trying to balance how many classes to take with financial aid.
SocratesPost: When you were recruiting students, how involved were you with reviewing their application and making admissions decisions?
Brandi: So as an undergraduate student, the admissions process was really streamlined. You fill out an application and and that’s about it. We’ve had that discussion, it’s a good fit, then you start, and then I would start them in their first course. And it’s pretty streamlined. If it was a graduate student, there was more documentation on the front end that I needed to collect, their essay, their GMAT. But then, after I collected it, it went to a board who said yes, you’re approved or no, you’re not who came back to me and said yes or no. And then I would send out an email and a phone call saying you’re approved. This is this is what we need to do next.
SocratesPost: What were the reasons why people wouldn’t get approved by the board?
Brandi: Usually, it had to do with GPA. They didn’t have all the documentation, the GMAT didn’t look good, or their essay was just horrible, but it wasn’t too often that’d happen. Usually at that level, if you’re wanting to go through the process of getting a graduate degree, generally the students have already been through the undergrad program. They’re more familiar with the process. It didn’t happen too often that they would be denied.
SocratesPost: What do you think was the biggest challenge in recruiting students to Ottawa University?
Brandi: It really was about timing. Right when the whole online thing took off, it was foreign concept. People asked, “are employers going to look at me differently with an online degree?” It was a new concept. “What are people going to say?” “Is it as rigorous?”
SocratesPost: What other challenges did you encounter?
Brandi: You had to paint that picture of what this university is like. It’s different when you’re driving, you live in a town and you’re driving by, you can reach out and touch it. I think that selling process is easier when people can reach out and touch it versus when you’re not buying something that’s tangible. Service-selling is, in general, harder than a product type that you can reach out and touch. So then you ask what is already service-based, you know, university education is service based, but then you take away the brick and mortar buildings, that adds an element of complexity, which I believe can be overcome just by relationship building and just getting to know your prospect.
SocratesPost: Do you have any stories of encounters you have with prospective students that were either very positive or very negative. And as a takeaway, you might tell someone to never do this while talking to a recruiter?
Brandi: I can think of a couple. They just acted completely, extremely unprofessional on the phone. That happened occasionally just because of the nature of how not every lead is going to be a good lead. They didn’t want to go to school in the first place. So then when you’re calling them, they’re going to tell you exactly how they feel.
SocratesPost: When speaking with an admissions officer or recruiter, what clues should a prospective college student look for to ensure that their target colleges are good matches?
Brandi: I would ask, “how does that conversation feel?” whether it be in person or on the phone. Are you feeling welcome on the phone? Are they asking you questions about you? Your goals, short term goals? Or are they just trying to cut to “Oh, you want to be in management? Okay, great. We have a management degree. Let’s sign you up like that.” In my opinion, that’s not how a reputable, authentic university operates. It shouldn’t be a transaction-focused conversation. It should be a relationship focused conversation, where they’re focused on what you want to do. I believe it should be a relationship focused conversation to make sure that whatever program they’re after is going to be a good fit.
…that’s not how a reputable, authentic university operates.
SocratesPost: You were in higher education during a tumultuous time, with the financial crisis. People say higher ed is currently going through another transformation. What are your thoughts on the future of higher ed?
SocratesPost: Where does that put traditional college education?
SocratesPost: What should higher education institutions do to stay afloat then?
SocratesPost: That’s true. Is there anything colleges can do to stay relevant?
SocratesPost: What projects excite you now?
SocratesPost: Your path now seems to allow you to do what you wanted to do before as a university director, but couldn’t. Is that right?
SocratesPost: What advice would you give to those aspiring for college?
SocratesPost: Thanks so much for your time and insights today, Brandi.