admissions counselors: not in the business of rejection

When I was in high school I pictured college admissions counselors as bouncers at an exclusive club. I thought their purpose was to comb through my application for any excuse to reject me. You couldn’t blame me for visualizing admissions officers as hardened gatekeepers, given the focus from my colleagues in the news media on super-selective universities and students with perfect grades who are rejected by top state schools.

But about a year ago, I started conducting informational interviews with admissions counselors. None of them got into the profession so they could crush teenagers’ dreams. They like their jobs because they want to help students achieve their goals and reach their potential.

This week I had the pleasure of attending my first statewide conference of the Pennsylvania Association for College Admission Counseling. I didn’t hear any of the hundreds of admissions officers or high school counselors in attendance discuss rejection letters.

I was struck by how much people in this field emphasize the importance of helping students find the best path for pursuing post-secondary education. Admittedly, a large number of speakers discussed methods for recruiting applicants through methods such as social media, college websites and lists of ACT takers, and many colleges have been criticized for recruiting thousands of applicants who are not likely to gain admission.

Most of the talks I heard underscored the larger goal of helping students. In one session, admissions counselors from three private colleges urged us to lobby legislators for increased education funding and access to guidance counseling and rigorous classes. I heard several at the conference say they got into admission counseling after being the first in their families to attend college. The event’s keynote speaker, Angel Perez of Pitzer College, told his story of moving to a New York City housing project from Puerto Rico and being urged to attend Skidmore College despite low grades and poor test scores.

Unfortunately, I was only able to attend one day of the conference (I couldn’t ask my husband to be alone with our 6-week-old son overnight). But I look forward to becoming more involved with PACAC.

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