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When I somehow stumbled into a successful run for rush chair of my fraternity, at the height of our process we were sifting through 200-300 potential new members a year. After tons of deliberation and the very real “slide show meeting,” I think we ended up bidding around 50 of them — some arbitrary number that we arrived at because we thought that was the largest pledge class we could sustainably manage without destroying the house capacity or losing a lot of them to attrition.
Of the guys we didn’t want, most were picked up by other houses, some probably got shuffled to the next cycle, and a few might have been sent back to the dorms unlikely to ever get a bid. It’s how the matchmaking process works; you only have so much capacity.
But between arguments with the treasurer that we couldn’t do both a houseboat weekend AND the Disneyland trip and the social chair announcing that we were cutting an end-of-term rager because there wasn’t money for rent-a-fencing in the budget, I thought back to the numbers we had coming through rush.
Not to be crude, but a fraternity is sustained by its members, and every member is a “dollar amount” in dues coming in every term. That’s why bigger organizations have bigger houses and better parties — because every body is a direct investment in the growth of the fraternity. Each potential member I saw was potentially that much more money for our treasury.
But because we couldn’t handle a pledge class that was too big for us (that’s called “unsustainable growth,” kids) we were left with a lot of capital that we were never capitalizing on.
So here’s the question that occurred to me: is there a way I could have profited off the incredible demand to be a part of my exclusive club without actually owing anything to our “customers?”
What if we charged an admission fee?
Stay with me here.
While I was rush chair, several of my friends were applying to law and medical schools. I think that between the two of them, perversely, law schools were more fair and transparent about their admissions process. It was my friend’s hair-pulling experience with med school selection that seemed the most similar to my rush scenario.
You have a place with extremely limited admission spots balanced against an unholy amount of interest. Your average MD school will receive upwards of 7,000 applications for around 100 spots. Even the osteopathic (DO) schools get 4,000 applications for the same number of spots, and those are mostly viewed as safety net institutions. When applying to medical school, you will pay upwards of $100 to each school and then most likely never get an interview.
The idea here is that the money is paying for the staff to review the unending mountain of paper. But what if it wasn’t? What if these schools filtered 99% of their applications with a computer and used the extra money each year to cover gold-plating the dean’s private bathroom?
It got me thinking. I had a similar amount of interest in getting into my house. I fully intended to never talk to some of those people again, but I would still gladly take their money to pad our budget if they gave it to me.
So why wasn’t I charging them for the privilege of getting a “look?” And moreover, the medical schools ask for EXTRA money for candidates they are semi-serious about (called a “secondary application”). I could double charge desperate people that I was 100% sure we wouldn’t bid just because we’d have them on the hook. It wouldn’t even be (as) morally questionable, because the way rush works in our house was that a member could decide they really liked you even if the Rush Committee was like “no.” So, if anything, they were paying for more face time.
The main argument against charging admission fees is that for smaller fraternities, they’d lose a lot of interest because the price reduces demand. To that I say, yeah. If you’re a smaller house, this plan is not for you. For a demand/shortage economy to work, there has to be a premium brand with such scarcity that people desire so much they act irrationally.
I’m not trying to force a change in the game; I’m just saying jump on an untapped revenue stream if you got it. At my campus, Panhel already charges $100 a prospective applicant. They use the money to fund advertising and rush activities. You could use it on a house trip to Vegas.
If I had instituted an application fee for our chapter that year, even if I lost 80% of our applicants, I still would have made our pledge class and netted a cool $4000 to $5000 in the process. $2500 if I dropped the price to $50. You could definitely buy some booze with that.
Sure, it’s risky, because I could have easily driven away everybody and tanked rush. But I have to ask you, how much do you stand by your brand? Mine’s pretty strong. I think I could get us to take the plunge. If it works, the other houses will start doing it too, and now it becomes a normal thing.
Once this practice is accepted, you’re looking at revenue streams upwards of $10,000 as you get your regular numbers back, and you’re providing absolutely nothing in return. It’s genius.
It’s time to embrace the unfair monetization of the U.S. education system and put it to work for you. Stop giving away your product for free.
Charge applicants admission fees. You can call them “administrative processing” fees if it makes you feel better. Or be honest and go with “Pay up, pledge” just so everybody’s on the same page..