One of my favorite things to tell groups of prospective students and their parents, back when I gave admissions presentations was this: The true value of higher education is the development not of precise skills, but of ways to think about oneself and the world.

“I wrote my senior thesis on T. S. Eliot,” I’d tell them, “but it’s not like I run around quoting The Waste Land at work.”

Actually, I could be doing just that, since April often feels like the cruelest month in enrollment, and never more so than this year. The unimaginable scope of the current pandemic has left us all exhausted, and many institutions under terrible financial strain, with continued uncertainty as we look ahead.  

I’ve recently returned to reading Eliot, and last week reread these lines from Little Gidding (written in England in 1941, at the height of the Battle of Britain – a time and place where many people felt similar uncertainty about the future):

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

In other words, now is the beginning.

So, where is Fire Engine RED beginning? We started by addressing one of your most important challenges – leading in the new world of remote work. Earlier this month, Shelly Spiegel (our founder, CEO, and Chief Creative Officer) offered a free webinar for admissions and enrollment leaders on how to effectively lead a remote team and efficiently execute remote operations.

We have continued to launch Search communications to high school juniors, sophomores, and 9th graders – and their parents. We’re doing so with confidence because we recently surveyed nearly 2,000 younger students (those preparing to enter college in fall 2021, fall 2022, and fall 2023) across the country, and their outlook on their futures is decidedly optimistic.

Indeed, reviewing the results reminded me of the greatest joy of admissions work — frequent exposure to the student excitement and optimism.

Among our findings (note to our clients – more detailed results will soon be arriving in your inboxes):

  • While juniors reported increased geographic constraint in their college searches, sophomores and 9th graders are busy expanding the geographic reach of their college searches.
  • Nearly every cohort of surveyed students indicated they are more likely than they were in December to want to live on campus. Perhaps being sequestered with their parents has inspired them to leave the house…
  • Nearly 80% of juniors, and well over 50% of sophomores and 9th graders, are still hoping to take the SAT or ACT as soon as testing dates are available.
  • Only a handful of students – fewer than 30% of juniors and under 20% of younger students – have already identified a top-choice college.

In short? It’s still the beginning of the college search process for the vast majority of younger students. Despite the ongoing turmoil, they still want to go to college, and they still want to hear from you.

So while this is certainly not a time for unsubstantiated optimism, it is a time for action. We’re grateful to have the chance to help students, and our clients, move ahead.

Read more by Jeff:

Keep Calm, Act Expeditiously, Look Ahead
First, Tie Your Shoes
What Enrollment Professionals can Learn from the Airlines and Fire Engine RED
What I Wished I Knew About Student Search When I Was Dean


Jeff McLaughlin is the Executive Vice President of Data, Strategy & Analytics at Fire Engine RED. He has led Fire Engine RED’s data team since 2015. Prior to joining Fire Engine RED, he was Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN.