I've only been working in the office of admissions for about a year and half, but already I've been in multiple situations where being an admissions counselor simply is not enough. The students, guardians, and school administrators I've come in contact with need information, support, and sometimes basic necessities (food, clothes, shelter). It's overwhelming. Someone should have warned me. I thought I was just going to be a recruiter AKA road runner, presenter, and app reader.
Like many, I occasionally contemplate my life's purpose and ever since I started working in admissions, my questions have received answers quickly. I encounter students "in need" or guidance counselors who are more than just advocates. He or she cautiously share's details with me of the students they've found guardians and sponsors for. One counselor spoke of how a particular parent was ill but the dedicated and optimistic child cared for his/her parent until death; only to witness the passing of their other parent and/or sibling shortly thereafter.
I've met and heard stories of students who have drug addicted guardians, ran away from home to avoid physical abuse, and have overcome abandonment and homelessness. It disturbs me the trauma inflicted upon
America's youth our youth. Their recounted tales amaze me. I'm always wishing they were fiction and not fact.
After hearing these stories I am routinely left in awe of each student's performance. Occasionally you'll meet those students capable of staying at the top of their class despite such intense negativity, but often I find myself being asked and/or compelled to help those whose grades have suffered. Their situations are time consuming, complex, and usually out of my area of expertise; regardless, who can deny the cry of a teen in need. I mean they requested help for a reason, right?
I'm admittedly a conflicted admissions counselor. I've searched, but there's no handbook to be found. In many offices there is at least (sometimes only) one of me. As a conflicted counselor I'm overwhelmed. I feel as though my contact sheet should extend beyond financial aid and residential life to social services and transitional housing shelters, food and clothing banks. If it did, where would I even start! Who's around to train me. Can one even be trained to handle such unpredictable encounters?
Sometimes my conversations with self are so absurd they're laughable. As a compassionate person if my income weren't so limited and if the ties binding my hands could loosen just a tad, you might find me on the front page of your local newspaper -- announcing my adoption of ten plus 16 & 17 year olds for the last few years of their childhood.
Maybe it's because my heart is heavy, but in these situations my head usually wins. In real life I avoid over extending myself and remain conscious of my legal and office boundaries. All of this is not in my job description and it is for this very reason I call myself a conflicted counselor -- I'm conflicted because I feel as though I have to choose...
- Do I spend extra time counseling troubled or disadvantaged students -- sharing transfer strategies and financial aid information? Or do I give them the bare bones standard outline filled with higher ed jargon and just let them figure it out?
- Do I report admissions essays of physical abuse and rape to social services? Is that even allowed? Was this covered in my training? And if I do what will be done -- to both me and them?
- Do I follow up with students I'm concerned about despite the 5,000+ other applicants requesting consideration to the program I read for? Or do I let them get lost in the shuffle and hope my prayers suffice?
It's questions like these that consume me. It's situations like the ones I've described above that I wish I could prevent. Hopefully by now you understand. The "needs" of each student we interact with vary. The most extreme cases cannot be settled with a regurgitation of admissions criteria and campus stats alone. In closing I would like to ask (or remind) all counselors to BE INTENTIONAL. You never know who your words might inspire. You never know who your smile will warm.
We're gatekeepers. Mysterious admissions counselors. To some even nobodies. However to the one student that needs you, you are a door opener. You can connect them to the support they need to capitalize on the opportunities offered on your campus. If that's not an option, you can at least help them get safely and successfully elsewhere.