As an admissions counselor, or recruitment specialist, or whatever you want to call me, my new role involves a number of key job functions. In no particular order, I:
- meet with students and parents at campus visits
- staff admissions events
- push in to high schools to speak with students about our admissions process
- attend college fairs
- make out-bound contact with students via phone, postcards, and email
- answer in-bound phone calls, provide customer service at our office, and answer emails about transcripts, our admissions policies, financial aid… as the admissions office, we tend to be where people go if they’re not sure who to talk to so I also get a whole lot of questions that are actually the domain of other departments (housing, financial aid, registrar) but we’re encouraged to answer as many of those other questions as we can so people don’t have to bounce between departments which is SUPER irritating
Something that made me laugh is after I got hired in January, I was warned it was the slow season and things would get busy and the job would be harder in February when we had to get back on the road. I kept waiting for things to get ‘hard’ and… it never got anywhere close to what I consider having a ‘hard day’. I tease my coworkers about this because after 10 years of teaching, I’ve got all the skills I need to be successful at this type of job. Flexibility and adaptability are key, as well as good time management. But honestly, there’s also a lot of chill time in my admissions car (I routinely made 4-5 hour round trips) or just cheerfully plugging away at writing postcards to students with my headphones in.
So how does one become an admissions counselor, you ask? Well, that’s the thing: it’s not something you can major in in college. Higher ed degrees are graduate degrees, and on top of that, how can you know you want to work in a college until you’ve gone to one? It’s something most people tend to trip and fall into, sometimes because they were former high school teachers like me. Many of my coworkers were campus hosts (tour guides) while in undergrad, and we work very closely with them during our campus visits, so they get a feel for what the job might be like. And the thing is, outside of faculty, there are a LOT of positions in higher ed that are just like this. How many people grow up saying ‘You know, I would really like to become the director of housing at a public university’? Nobody, because as a teenager trying to figure out what you might want to do with your career, you have no idea that job even exists. You might FIND OUT it exists if you work in housing as an undergraduate college student.
And that is the difficulty if you are a high school teacher, counselor, or parent trying to help a student make those decisions, or a student yourself. As I went through our summer training sessions on the different programs offered by my university (over 150 majors,) a lot of programs are self-explanatory on the surface. Math majors do math stuff. Electrical engineers do electrical engineer stuff. Agronomy majors do agronomy stuff. But what can students actually DO with a degree in those majors? What kind of career options are available to them? And some things I’d honestly never even heard of, like bioinformatics or computational biology (which is basically using medical/biological data in research and being able to do the math that goes along with providing good data). But even once students pick a major and are looking for a career, there are nuances that they might not even be aware of. I am going to use my admissions department again as an example.
The admissions department at any university, as it turns out, is a beast. I work specifically in recruiting, but there are seven other different sub-departments of the main department and we all do related but vastly different jobs. If someone doesn’t want to be a recruiter, maybe being on our events team would be a good fit – the events team plans all our on-campus and off-campus events, from our gigantic 1000+ person admitted student day to a 15 person honors reception in an out-of-state territory. Or maybe they would prefer to be on our campus visits team, which helps coordinate our daily visits, manages our campus hosts, schedules everybody to handle all the personal appointments, and works with the colleges so that our visitors can have time with people in those departments as well. Then we could look at scholarships and financial aid. They review people’s FAFSAs, award merit-based scholarships, advise parents and students on how to complete the FAFSA as well as any other payment-based questions, and probably a bunch of other things I don’t know because we don’t work as closely with them. We have a whole department that works on our summer orientation program. If you’re less people oriented, that’s okay – we have an entire team devoted to our data management system, which helps us track all the different phone calls/postcards/texts/emails we send to students, their data as they move from a ‘maybe’ to ‘enrolled student’, and their application progress as they send in transcripts/test scores/etc. And then there’s marketing, which, wow. Our marketing team prepares all our admissions materials for us, creates email campaigns to send to students, somehow does some crazy magic with the data team to send certain emails to certain students at certain times to get the best responses from them and keeps our websites up to date. Oh, and our processors – without them, we wouldn’t even need to exist. They’re the ones who receive all the applications, transcripts, residency applications, test scores, basically any sort of paperwork, and somehow connect them all to the ~6500 applicants we get each year.
Honestly, if you’re not a people person, being a processor is a totally sweet gig (in my opinion). At my campus, they have a casual dress code, they just work with transcripts in an office tucked in the corner, and only have to work with people when my team has to bug them about a student who has a weird thing going on with their application (or needs something changed.) But teenagers don’t know these jobs exist. How do you even prepare for a job you don’t know you want because you don’t know it exists? I didn’t know it existed until I already took the recruitment job! (Or I might’ve applied for one if there was an opening, haha.)
And then there are really small one-shot people who do important things. In my office, we have one person whose job is to help prepare, pack, and drop off admissions materials to those of us who need it. She also manages our fleet of admissions vehicles, helps us arrange for service, does the trainings on rules for driving state cars, etc. It’s a great job for someone who likes to mostly work alone and wouldn’t mind something like a warehouse job, but with way less pressure.
So what is the point of this long rambling post where I mostly just talk about what we do in the admissions office? The point is, when we’re trying to guide students to picking a major and potential career path, we have to remind them that they are not choosing this one job forever and ever. As they enter college or their first job, their world will open a bit more and they will be exposed to new opportunities. Maybe then they’ll take a different job and again, find out about a new opportunity, and take that after a while. I think that kind of career path is much more common for people in their 30s and younger. A person’s world is always growing larger as they take new opportunities. I know 2020 is pretty awful right now and our world seems small, isolated, and ever-contracting. But it will get better, and the students we work with can take comfort in knowing that there is a variety of life experiences out there waiting for them. The world is bigger than they think.