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6 tips to boost higher ed team morale this summer

May 22, 2024

by Jeff Schiffman

If you opened any newspaper or browsed any website in the past year, chances are you were greeted with an article about the college admission process in 2024. You might have read titles like “The Most Confusing, Chaotic College Admissions Season in Years,” “Inside the Craziest College-Admissions Season Ever,” or “FAFSA setbacks leave colleges, students and others reeling.” Needless to say, it has been a year like no other. However, with all the chaos swirling around us, sometimes it can be easy to neglect the impact these challenges have on our internal team members. The admission and financial aid staff members in America have had an extremely tiring year. This summer is a crucial time to support our team’s morale and re-harness the power of joy by engaging in team-building activities and invigorating staff morale.

To help you celebrate your team this summer, here are six ideas that might come in handy.


1. Dinner at an Alumni-Owned restaurant

It’s important to offer your staff something unique and thoughtful to boost their morale this summer. Pizza parties have become emblematic of tone-deaf responses to employee morale and may not be the best choice. Instead, consider reaching out to an alumni-owned or affiliated restaurant around town and ask for an in-kind dinner donation for your team. The good news about the higher ed headlines shared above is that nearly everyone outside of the industry knows that higher ed is going through a tough time. You can use this to your advantage by mentioning it in your request to the restaurant.

Reach out and let them know your team needs a pick-me-up, and a dinner donation can go a long way in boosting their morale. You can even add a line at the end of your request that says, “We’re  always asked by visiting families where to eat dinner, so having my team eat at your restaurant will allow them to recommend you  to our visiting students.” Alumni are always looking for tangible ways to give back, and admission teams are a great place to start.


2. BBQ or on-campus picnic with a Plus One

The main idea here is not about the meal itself, but rather that the members of your staff are allowed to bring a guest with them. It becomes more challenging to harbor negative feelings towards  your coworker when you’ve spent the previous Friday afternoon getting to know someone special in their life. Meeting the plus ones of your colleagues can greatly reduce tension in the workplace. Whether it’s a significant other, a sibling, or just a good friend, organizing a fun activity on campus where everyone can bring someone they care about can have a remarkable (albeit somewhat temporary) and positive effect on your team.


3. A cross-team building event

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this year, it’s the importance of collaboration between financial aid, admission, and processing teams. Often, we tend to drift into our siloed workspaces in this profession, particularly during the busy spring season. However, organizing an event during the summer that brings everyone together under one roof can increase team-bonding and strengthen ties. You can consider activities such as paint-and-drink, volunteering, hiking, or group yoga classes. For example, I once took my team to an escape room (highly recommend!), and it was amazing to see how the financial aid team members approached problem-solving differently from the admission recruiters. We all bonded over this experience.

If feasible, organizing a sweat-inducing event can be an excellent way to  strengthen team bonds (no pun intended!) in a different way. Struggling through a challenging workout together is a surefire way to bring your team together. It could be something low-impact like hiking or bowling, or a high-intensity spin class. After a workout, we tend to be in better moods, and that positive energy can be contagious. The same goes for any type of community impact or volunteering event gets everyone involved.


4. Staff Share Outs

Through many of the challenges that higher education faced this year, it was oftentimes natural for senior leadership to have to take center stage: filling in staff on FAFSA and deadline plans, facilitating training efforts, and leading through the numerous headwinds. Flip the switch this summer and invite staff share outs either as part of your recurring meetings or as a part of a larger staff retreat. It is important to give your team members the space to share interesting things they have to say.

Professional development is not just about improving job skills, it is also about creating opportunities for staff to share their passions, ideas, and knowledge. For example, your Gen Z staff member could share the latest lingo and slang (that would be so drip and not suss), or a staff member could lead a group meditation and share the benefits of mindfulness in admission. The idea is to encourage staff to talk about what they already know and would be excited to present on. Bonus if you have folks from different teams present together or have people report back on what they have learned while attending a conference this year. If you get enough of these sessions, you can even build them together into a mini-NACAC / half-day retreat for your team. By providing a platform for staff to share their interests, you can create a more engaged and motivated team.

7 admission offices from across the New Orleans region

5. Bring in Guest Stars

Want to keep bolstering up that idea of a mini-retreat to something more than just your standard staff meetings? Consider bringing in some cool guest speakers. For example,  when I was the Director of Admissions at Tulane, I invited the CEO of the New Orleans tourism and marketing corporation to speak to my staff about how the city markets itself to the world. It was a captivating presentation, and my team was able to take away valuable insights  when promoting New Orleans to prospective students.

You might be surprised at how willing local politicians, business owners, campus leaders, or even experts from organizations like EAB are to speak to admission teams. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for their help. If you have any other colleges or universities in your area, consider organizing a community-wide event and inviting their admission offices to participate.  A few years back, we gathered all the admission offices in New Orleans for a day of learning, and I asked the mayor to attend… and guess what? She said yes!

Jeff Schiffman standing with Mayor and smilingEAB’s Jeff Schiffman with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell

6. Listening Tour

This might be the most important—but least tangible—suggestion of how to empower your staff this summer. Many organizations, including EAB, conduct employee engagement surveys to gather feedback on what brings us joy at work and where there is scope for improvement. While you don’t necessarily need to invest in a full-fledged survey, you can schedule a meeting or retreat where your staff can share their experiences and views on the challenging year we had. You’ll need something to get the conversation going (which is why survey results are a good place to start), but make sure you give them enough time to express themselves freely. It’s important to provide a platform where your staff can speak, vent, and be heard. As I always say, every day in college admission is either going to be a great day or a great story someday. Your staff wants to be heard, for better or worse, and giving them the space to do so is more important now than ever.


There you have it! Six ideas to help bring some much-needed joy to your team this summer; some more straightforward than others. You’ll notice that many of these ideas build upon each other and you can combine these ideas to create a more comprehensive plan. For instance, you can plan a two-day retreat this summer that kicks off with a dinner at an alumni restaurant and wraps up with a nice plus-one BBQ. In between, you bring in some guest stars, have a listening session, and support your staff in leading the content of the sessions. You get the idea. Remember, the ultimate aim is to bring joy back to your team, so have fun with it. Best of luck!

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