What I Learned as an Admissions Officer during College Application Week

“Ms. Full, I don’t know what this is asking.”  “Ms. Full, I don’t know what I’m supposed to put here.”   “Ms. Full, why do they want to know this?”  “Why are they asking me all of this?”  “This is stupid…I quit!” Recently I spent some time volunteering at a local high school during my state’s College Application Week, a program sponsored by the College Access Network.  Our task as volunteers was simply to help high school seniors fill out and submit applications to their selected colleges.  This was an amazing and rewarding experience for me, but also truly an eye-opening one.  I’ve been sitting on the other side of the desk all these years, placidly receiving college applications and not really thinking about the huge amount of effort it takes some students to get even this far into the college-bound process.  I’m talking about students whose parents do not have the ability or time to help their children navigate the procedures, and students who attend schools where even the most devoted and hard-working counselors cannot possibly provide the amount of one-to-one time necessary for each student.

It struck me that much of what I take for granted as an admissions officer might not be all that simple for even the brightest high school student.  For example, as I was helping students with their applications to various universities, I noticed that some of them had problems working through the computer-adaptive questions.  Questions that also required students to understand essential admissions terminology or university structure caused some of the kids to just stare at the screen in bewilderment.

There was the student who went down the wrong pathway while filling in questions and somehow found himself on the university’s graduate school application.  He had no idea now to maneuver himself out of it.  Another student applying to an out-of-state university found himself answering residency questions meant only for in-state applicants.

One student did not know how to distinguish among business programs.  “What is accounting?  What is management? How do I know which one to pick?”  One student was unsure how to approach a short-answer question that asked her to describe the contributions she could make to that particular college’s campus culture and community.  These were smart kids.  A bit of nudging, a few suggestions, and they were off and running toward the "submit" button.

So as I made my way between the computer terminals and kids urgently trying to capture my attention, it hit me:  there must be so many kids who truly need help with this. This alone … filling out the application!  And this is just the very beginning of their college admissions journey.  These kids will next endure many months of deciphering financial aid forms, understanding offers of admission and completing the other necessary steps toward college matriculation.  Schools are doing the best they can to help, but they are falling short.  Organizations at so many levels: national, state, private, philanthropic, are working to find solutions.  But what about the kids who need this help today, now?

I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know one thing: I can help one more student fill out an admissions application.  And then maybe stay in touch to answer more questions in the future for that student.

“Ms. Full, can you tell me what I’m supposed to put here?”

Logjam on the Pathway to College

Karen Full - @KarenAFull

I recently read an interesting blog piece in the Huffington Post by Patrick O’Connor, Cranbrook School's Associate Dean of College Counseling and a former NACAC president. The post is called Counselor Training, College Board, and the Circle of Huh. In it, Patrick describes the disconnect between the lack of graduate school training that school counselors receive in the areas of college and financial aid counseling, and these same tasks that counselors are expected to perform in their schools. We expect school counselors to inform their students and families about college admission and financial aid, yet many have really never been trained in conducting this particular part of their job. Patrick has been urging communication between legislators, school board leaders and counselor graduate programs in Michigan to address this problem.

The blog references a 2012 College Board survey of school counselors called True North: Charting the Course toward College and Career Readiness. Read the executive summary of this report. In a nutshell, the majority of school counselors in the U.S. feel inadequately armed to guide their students through the college search and selection process.

Do your state university master's degree programs in guidance and counseling include courses that cover these topics?

Think about it: particularly in low-income school districts, where most parents are also not equipped to guide their children toward a future that includes college, who else can students turn to for help with the college admissions process, FAFSA filing, and scholarship searches? That is, if guidance counselors could even realistically find enough time to work with each student, given that the national student-to-counselor average ratio for public secondary schools last year was 421 to 1, according to NACAC's State of College Admission 2012.

Read more about these issues on the NACAC Issues and Advocacy page.  There is great information to be found here about the Pathways to College Act, which would create programs in low-income school districts to assist students with college readiness and preparation.

Urge your state and federal legislators to support funding and training for college counseling.

Karen Full on Twitter @karenafull

#EMchat Gives Back


#EMchat is a little over a year old and I can honestly say that the higher education professionals that participate in our weekly chats are some of the most intelligent, genuine, and caring people I have ever "met".  I use quotes around the word met because most of us have never met in real life, but I consider our friendships as real as it gets.

This past Monday, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast around 8 pm CST.  As I sat in my home in Texas, thousands of miles away, my thoughts were on my friends in harm's way.  I felt helpless.  I became painfully aware of all of the people I talk to via Twitter everyday that live on the East Coast.  Tuesday morning arrived and I knew that we had to do something.  I knew that not only the #EMchat community, but the #highered community as a whole could come together and give back.

So, Alex and I have been working like crazy to organize #EMchat's first community project!

We are proud to announce: #EMchat Gives Back

#EMchat Gives Back is our opportunity to do our part to help raise money for the American Red Cross.  We have contacted the American Red Cross and #EMchat has an official 3rd Party Fundraising Agreement with them to raise money for their Disaster Relief Fund.

Thanks to Joseph Dalfonso (@JDalfonso_BU), Social Media & Web Marketing Coordinator at Bradley University, we have someone designing the graphic for the t-shirts! (Thanks, Joseph!)

We are looking for businesses that want to partner with us on this project.  If you're interested in sponsoring, please contact me as soon as possible via Twitter @EMjennielle.

We will be taking pre-orders of the t-shirts as soon as we have a graphic, but until then, fill out this poll to let us know if you're interested in making a difference by purchasing a t-shirt for $20.

[polldaddy poll=6657136]

The American Red Cross has granted #EMchat permission to use it's logo for the #EMchat Gives Back initiative.