How to win friends and influence people during the high school visit

How to win friends and influence people during the high school visit

Johnston, Maureen

With the end of November approaching, the on-the-road recruiting season for college admission draws to a close.The bright young people who learned to negotiate the perils of traveling in unfamiliar towns to high schools with unimaginative names (Central,Western, Eastern), which must eventually all look alike, return to their familiar campuses and empty refrigerators.They hang their “good suits” in the closet for now. There will be on-campus programs and interviews.The recruiting goes on. But at least they are on their own turf.

Allow me a few minutes to comment on what happens when you are on my turf.

As a seasoned high school counselor, I fantasize about an admission director one day asking me to assist in training a new crop of road warriors. It has never happened, although I do appreciate the opportunity to submit a written evaluation to the few schools that routinely request them. In my 21 years of college advising, I have met with hundreds of admission representatives who, I am sure, were eager to be seen as professionals and wanted to leave their high school contacts (students and counselors) with a positive impression of the college they represented. Unfortu- nately, the opposite can happen. And, while those who correctly note that I have never worked in a college admission office might disregard my comments, I believe the view from my side of the desk provides me with some insights that may help the college recruiter rookie.

The newly employed representatives, who arrive at my office door with brief cases full of view-books smelling of new ink, come well equipped with information about the college they represent. They can answer questions about majors, residence halls, athletics, meal plans, and programs abroad. Yet they are often hesitant or vague when asked about admission criteria and financial aid… but the student and the high school counselor can research these topics later. The admission office representatives know the facts about their schools. However, in the area of professional niceties and in the more challenging task of establishing a rapport with high school students and counselors, I find some college representatives lacking. I would like to offer a few suggestions for a successful high school visit.

High schools, as you may remember, run on a strict schedule and we are stingy with our allotted time. High school counselors (and students) ask for time from classroom teachers in order to arrange a meeting with a college representative. Sometimes the classroom teacher capitulates unwillingly to this request and the student has some academic consequences for the class time he missed. The representative who arrives late and still expects to see students will be disappointed. The students arrange to come at the specified time. They need to return to their classes promptly after the half-hour interval. There is no “wiggle room.”

Frequently, we receive calls on the day of an anticipated visit from a representative who wants to rearrange her time. Again, we go to great lengths to let students know when you plan to be here. We post it. We publish it. Forms are submitted, signed and returned. Our guidance secretary is a key person in this process. Without her, applications and transcripts aren’t mailed and your poster isn’t displayed. Treat her kindly. It amazes me that a twenty-something college representative is rude or dismissive toward a secretary who has worked in guidance for many years. No, we cannot accommodate you earlier or later. If you do arrive significantly early, we are not going to be available to chat with you and we may not have a space available for you to do paper work. Find a coffee shop nearby and arrive at the appointed time.

In my office, the three counselors have, combined, over 30 years of experience. We all went to college, graduate school and numerous workshops sponsored by NACAC. We do not need to be told that a student applies for financial aid by completing the FAFSA. When speaking with the counselors about college admission, your presentation should not be the same one you make to the students. Assume a broad base of knowledge about college admission and speak to the unique aspects of your campus we might not be familiar with. We are also interested in how our graduates are doing at your college. If your office has the capability to give you this information, we appreciate you doing your homework. Come prepared with data about our students who applied last year. Who was admitted and who was not? How does your school handle your wait list? Explain your early decision, early notification and scholarship deadline date policies.

My “pet peeve” is college recruiters making broad generalizations about campuses other than their own. It isn’t proper etiquette to criticize or denigrate other colleges. You may be a strong proponent of the small, private liberal arts college (as I am), but it is not necessary to highlight the appealing aspects of your school by contrasting them with those of the comprehensive public universities. We have room for both types of institutions, and many students are considering Big State U as well as Friendly College. High school students are anxious about college; it is cruel to add to their trepidation, telling them classes at large public universities have 300 students and are taught by graduate assistants with foreign accents. I hear this story from more than one earnest liberal arts college recruiter.

Speaking of generalizations, please be aware that high school students are not all cut from the same bolt of cloth. Among the students who gather to hear you describe your school are future artists, architects and anthropologists. Not all are interested in frat parties and football games. It seems admission office representatives (especially alumni) often dwell on the social scene of campus life, as if this information “sells” their school to the high school student. Similarly, I observe an increasing trend toward quoting the starting salaries of recent graduates. These numbers do not mean much to a high school senior. They are not yet worried about the job market. Their concerns are far more immediate: the A.P. Physics test next hour, the basketball game tomorrow night, the SATs next Saturday and finding a date for the Christmas dance. Save the statistics on job placement for the parent programs.

Being a college admission officer is a demanding profession, requiring one to have encyclopedic knowledge of one’s institution, the personality of Oprah Winfrey, the sales acumen of Bill Gates, and a bloodhound’s sense of direction. Each year, I encounter representatives who do their colleges more harm than good by being unprofessional in their attitude and demeanor. With some thought and attention, you can avoid common mistakes. Like they told you in speech class: know your audience. High school students are eager and anxious about making the right decisions for the future. High school counselors are often responsible for a myriad of tasks in addition to college advising and have limited time to devote to this important aspect of their job. The admission representative can be a help or a hindrance in the process.

Best wishes for a successful recruiting season. I hope to see you next fall, with your updated application materials for our files, a new pen for me and a bagel for my secretary.

Maureen Johnston has a 28-year career in Catholic secondary education, as a teacher, counselor and director of guidance. She is currently the director of guidance at Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan and is a member of NACAC and Michigan ACAC. She is the coach of the Quiz Bowl team, winner of the Grand Rapids Metro League title in 2002 and 2003. She earned a B.S. in Secondary Education/English from Indiana University and a M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from Lynchburg College in Virginia.

Copyright National Association of College Admissions Counselors Fall 2003

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