The Other Side of the Submit Button

Holding a HS College Admissions Case Study
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College Admissions Case Study 101:


2018 was the third year that my school hosted our annual College Admissions Case Study event and it was a huge hit for the third year running. Not familiar with a Case Study? Don’t worry – I am going to walk you through what it is and how to run your first one over the next few minutes.

Be sure to check out some of the links above and below for resources, tools and other tutorials I use to make it run super smoothly. It does take some planning, pre-thinking, and a little luck/networking, but running a case study is not THAT difficult if you realize the huge benefits for students and parents in your community. I am working on a full Case Study packet that I hope to have available on my Teachers Pays Teachers store before the end of the school year (it is a LOT of work to put together three full fake Common Apps complete with transcripts, essays, and such). So check back to see any updates.

Ok….so what is it?


A case study takes a group (it could be all students, all parents, or a mixture) through the process that a general admissions team may use when deciding to admit, waitlist or deny them during the admission committee review. You can think of it similar to the series I posted on the other side of the job application process – letting people see past the mysterious veil that hides the behind the scenes steps. Often there are many assumptions and false beliefs that exist about college admissions, so this event helps families see how difficult the process actually is and that (spoiler alert) it is not always the candidate that has the best grades or seems like they are an easy admit who get the spot. The college reps (who are essential to this event) will lead their groups through about an hour or so of reading, evaluating and ranking about 3 fake applicants. The group discusses what they noticed about each applicant, how the application meets the fake university’s admissions priorities and which will make the best fit for the school.


How do I get started?


I would highly suggest partnering up with other local schools. We have used this approach with very high success in my area. I have created a counseling coop with our two comprehensive public high school counselors and two of our local private school college counselors to provide an extended reach for both students and college reps. Having more cooks in the kitchen, in this circumstance, is often helpful to spread the work out. The planning process often takes most of the leg work for the counselors. We start about 9-10 months prior to our planned date. The first step is to pool your connections and reach out to find college reps who are able and willing to come to your event and lead the different case study groups. This event cannot happen without them. We use a short survey (using Google Forms or TypeForm) to garner interest from both the NACAC Listserv and the College Admissions Counselors Facebook Group (closed – must request access) – both are excellent resources. In our first year we had about 6 reps attend (which we thought was pretty good for our first go) and since we have had 8. Almost half have been return guests each year and they represent a very wide variety of schools. This provides value, insight and depth to the conversation. We usually give reps an idea of a weekend (we target one that is close to some of our larger regional fairs if possible so they are already in the area) when asking if they can come – but know that most have not finalized their fall travel plans in March/April. You will also want to try to aim for no more than about 25 people per rep – 15 is often better – so you will have to plan ahead or limit your attendees. More on this later.

Once you have a good list of reps – you have to find your materials. We have used the following as a great starter resource and case study samples from RACC – the Regional Admissions Counselors of California:

Getting people signed up.


In my opinion (and experience) pre-registration is essential for a smooth event. Not only will it help you ensure that groups run smoothly, it also will help diminish the “college hunting” and “family packs”. We have some reps attend from schools with more “clout” than others and often students/parents will try to weasel their way into the groups with those reps. While not a bad thing – we are very clear that this event is not a college fair and not really about any specific colleges (they do speak some about their own practices at the end of the event…keep reading). We use random assignments to their case study groups and often purposefully do not put parents and kids in the same group together. This does two things – the kids feel free to be themselves and they also get to have two different experiences to talk about later. You will get a little flack for it – but trust me – stick with it. Much worse the other way.


There are many ways to go about getting registrations in both high and low tech modes. We have chosen to use Eventbrite for each year we’ve hosted the Case Study. Eventbrite is a powerful event registration tool often used for things like concerts, but for our purposes (as of this writing) – it is also a FREE and pretty simple way to manage your registrations. For a full walkthrough on Eventbrite – please check out this other post on my blog:

Using Eventbrite In Your School: The Easy Event Management App

I didn’t sign up to be an event coordinator…

I am not quite sure about you, but when I got my Masters for school counseling – I didn’t realize how much event (and test) coordination would tag along with the job. I typically dread processing registrations, sign ups and getting info out to attendees for things like parent nights, test prep workshops, and most recently – a community college case study. It just wears on you.

Luckily, I rediscovered and re-purposed a great online program (and yes – there is an app for that) that takes 75% of the headache of event planning away!

With Eventbrite – there are a few tools that are useful to use before and after the event happens. Before – you can easily plan and send reminders, updates or info (like the digital copy of the case study to review in advance) straight from the platform. You also can export attendees in to an Excel file to create name tags (more later), ask specific questions of each registrant (like if they are a parent or student, what grade, what school, etc) and much much more. This helps with your post event data analysis and planning for the next year. Attendees can also register and then cancel their registrations if needed up to the event.

Due to our rep amounts – we did limit our groups in advance to 25 per group (multiply by 8 and you get our max attendees of 200) and set our ticket amount to that maximum size. When we do it again – we will likely add about 1/8-1/4 extra on top to account for the last minute “something better came ups” and no shows.


The weeks leading up to the event


The weeks leading up to the event contain mostly logistical items. Someone should connect and confirm with the reps, provide details (and the case study sample in advance) and have a point of contact. We created a short Google Slides presentation with info about our fake college, overview of the event, intro slides (with room numbers) for each rep and then a final tally slide to review the case study decisions. Nothing too fancy, but enough to have on the screen while people talk. We also print out name tags using the export feature from Eventbrite and Excel. One step that is more advanced that I choose to do is to randomly assign group numbers. I typically will simply sort by first name (not last) and then use the autofill feature after entering the total amount of groups (1-8 in our example) for all attendees and then re-sorting by last name. This effectively randomizes it for our purposes. We also send out the digital copy (PDF) of the case study that I condense into a simple package (you can download below) and request that all attendees review prior to the event (most don’t) and also for them to each print their own copy (most don’t) or bring it digitally (surprising amount do). Each school (4 for our example) will print about 25 packets to have on hand for those who simply do not have a copy. That usually is sufficient and we get better each year.


The Main Event


The day of (we do a Saturday afternoon) we usually set up about 2 hours in advance. People will check in about 30 minutes in advance up to the start and receive a name tag. We try to check in on Eventbrite, but we were pretty relaxed about it this year and used the printed nametags to gauge numbers. Starting in a large room (our auditorium) we introduce the concept of the day, talk breifly about the fake school and introduce our reps. This takes about 15 minutes. The groups the go to their classroom they are assigned to and the college reps will lead the groups through their process (each does it slightly different and that is perfect – it represents how colleges read too) which takes roughly an hour and forty five minutes (more or less) and come up with their decisions after much discussion.

The groups will return and we run a 30 minute debrief where each rep reports out their group choices – it is a room full of suspense and surprise – and a little about why they decided that way as a group. We then ask each rep to talk briefly about how their own institution would have approached a pool like the fake students and which would fare best in their process. Finally – we host about 15 minutes of Q&A with the audience. I make sure that students are asking the most questions.


The After Party


While we public schools cannot fund adult beverages – our private school partners can. We provide the space and for the past three years – we have hosted an evening happy hour following the event with some hosted apps and a drink. This provides a great thank you to your college reps and allows some great opportunities to mingle and talk shop/life. We’ve been told that our event is one of the better they go to and are glad that we get reps asking to come back year over year. We do ensure that we have variety, but it is also nice to have some consistency too with some of our excellent reps we have come out who are proven hits.

Below take a look at just a few photos from our event this last year – it was a lot of work, a lot of fun and a lot of learning.

Are you going to host your first Case Study?


I hope you are and I hope that this post was helpful to your planning process. If you have questions – please reach out. If you host one – I’d love to know how it went, see photos or learn about a creative way you approached it. Please leave a comment below or shoot me an email.

The Other Side of the Submit Button: Holding a HS College Admissi…

time to read: 13 min

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