college academic recruiting

This weekend I finished my share of recruiting phone calls that my department decided to do. We were a little late this year, but we still feel it’s worth it to make a connection with potential physics majors. The whole process reminded me, though, of the great difference between academic and athletic recruiting for colleges.

At our physics majors seminar, we have students give presentations on their research. This year my colleague decided to formalize the talk introductions by interviewing them ahead of time. He asks them to describe themselves, and he pays particular attention to how they decided to come to Hamline. I’m always struck by the differences between the athletes and non-athletes. The former usually say something like “I was recruited by coach fill-in-the-blank . . .” while the latter have stories that are all over the map. Notably, it’s rare for one of the latter to say “I was recruited by professor fill-in-the-blank.”

I’ve had some interesting conversations with a physics major who happens to work in the admissions office. He’s not an athlete (note, all I mean by that is he’s not on one of the varsity teams here) and he’s frustrated by the big difference between campus visits for athletes and non-athletes. He tells me how the coaches are heavily involved in the visit, including doing the tours, pairing the prospective students with current students on the team, and really getting to know the students and their families. The non-athletes have visits coordinated by the admissions staff, where faculty are scheduled for short office visits. Tours are given, usually, by student workers in the admissions office.

For a while now, my department has been trying to figure out how we can borrow from the athletics model to help our own recruitment. We’re certainly willing to make phone calls, and maybe we’d even be willing to go on recruiting trips. The biggest problem we run into is that we want to recruit physics majors, but students don’t often know what they want to major in, or they are (rightly) told that they don’t have to decide before they come to college. Compare that to a coaches job: they know that the students they’re looking at have already made the commitment to their sport. The coach can have contacts with them as early as ninth or tenth grade and have a pretty secure notion that, should they eventually come to Hamline, they’ll be coming to play that sport.

I’ve found it’s pretty easy to get faculty to put some time in for targeted recruiting (meaning, working with future physics majors), but it’s a little harder to get faculty to participate in general Hamline recruiting. So what does your school do? Do you think borrowing from the athletics playbook (pun intended) is a wise move? Do you think that doing so would wrongly have students choose majors too early? Should I spend my Saturday afternoons doing something other than making 40 phone calls?

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
This entry was posted in physics, teaching, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to college academic recruiting

  1. Joss Ives says:

    How have you been identifying the potential future physics majors in the first place?

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      we certainly look at preferences they indicate (“physics” or “pre-engineering” on various communications they have with the admissions office) but we’ve also looked at decent math ACT scores for a possible phone call.

  2. Lawrence University has a physics recruiting program that is absolutely top notch. They bring prospective physics students in for a weekend of lasery goodness, getting us very excited about physics and Lawrence. We staid in the doors with physics majors and got the royal treatment. If we had a physics major at Stout I’d model recruitment on Lawrence’s program.

  3. I haven’t thought much about this for undergrad majors, but based on the flaws I’ve seen in grad student recruiting, a more personal touch definitely seems worth a try.
    My personal undergrad recruitment did involve a faculty member taking me out to dinner during my campus visit. I’m not sure that I would have ever said that it played a major role in my decision (money always wins), but I think it may have made the decision easier.
    I also think that the physics major has to sort of sell itself, just by being transparent about what it really means to be a physicist. If being a physicist is really a draw for these students then I see nothing wrong with trying to show what your department has to offer them.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      The “money always wins” point is a great one, Adam. In fact, that’s why we ok with being so late this year. Basically we’re reaching out to students who have already committed to Hamline and getting them to more strongly consider being a physics major. However, that’s a little bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul, right?

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