The Conflicted Admissions Counselor

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.


Multicultural Recruitment and Retention: Staying current in a changing world

Hey everyone! I'm excited to be writing my first post in what will be a three-part series over the next couple months on multicultural recruitment and retention. I often get asked how a middle class White girl from Southern Minnesota got involved in this field, so I wanted to give you a little background before I delve in!

My passion for all things diversity-related started during my college years, when I found myself intrigued by the offerings of the Gustavus Diversity Center. Learning about different backgrounds and cultures quickly became a passion of mine. When I started my first job and was assigned the St. Paul Public Schools as part of my recruitment territory, I immediately sought out as much information as possible about the students I would be working with. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area has approximately 60,000 Hmong Americans, making it the largest metropolitan Hmong community in the country. I knew I would need to learn a lot about this population, so I read every book I could get my hands on, talked to current Hmong students at the college I worked for and found a "gatekeeper" in the Hmong community to help me make connections.

I knew that almost every college and university wanted to increase their population of non-White students and spent significant amounts of money recruiting from diverse communities. What I soon found out was that very few colleges were thinking about what it would take to retain these students, which is where my second passion was developed. You will notice I will always say I work in "multicultural recruitment and retention" because it is my firm belief that you cannot have one without the other. I consider myself incredibly lucky to now work at an institution that allows and encourages me to both, which has made it possible for me to develop strong relationships with the students I recruit during their time on campus.

Over the course of this series, I will look at best practices in multicultural recruitment and retention in higher education and share some ideas that I have been able to implement at my own institution. I look forward to learning from you as well and encourage feedback, questions and comments along the way! Feel free to connect with me via Twitter (@jhiscock) to continue the conversation and networking!