A Counselor’s Year in Review
One of my favorite things about working in education is that my life functions in cycles. Since I first walked through the doors of preschool, each school year has brought new faces, new challenges, and new beginnings. Last summer, I made the transition into an entirely new role when I moved back to Nashville and began working in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Vanderbilt. Almost 10 months later, I find myself reflecting on this new journey and marveling at the extraordinary accomplishments of both this university and its future students.
To put it simply, an admissions counselor’s job essentially consists of two phases: recruitment and selection. When my fellow new colleagues and I came into the office last July, we were immediately launched into the process of recruitment. Specifically we were charged with planning three months of travel, coordinating college fairs, high school visits, and other events throughout our territories.
My first official trip was the Vanderbilt Road Show, a five-day, four-city marathon that took several groups of counselors all over the country in the middle of August. I traveled with fellow counselor Nicole Molina to California and Texas to try my hand at delivering the Vanderbilt information session. It was a fun chance to practice the art of juggling rental cars, hotels, flights, materials, and an airtight schedule, as well as my first chance to visit Dallas, which was part of my recruitment territory this year.
Once Road Shows were over, I was out on my own. I spent the next nine weeks bouncing between Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas, reaching out to as many prospective students as possible. By the time I returned to Nashville in November, I had visited 66 high schools, participated in 26 college fairs, and added 27 pins to the U.S. map I share with my office mate. I had spoken with hundreds of students, given away thousands of brochures, and brought back some pretty excellent stories (like the time I almost got to meet Mark Cuban, or my quest to find a Panera in every city I visited).
Once the recruitment season had ended, the selection process began. I returned to the office to find a giant stack of applications on my shelf, waiting to be read. While you might think reading thirty 15-page files a day for four months straight would get tedious, I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the cycle. Counselors typically read applications from the students in their respective territories, so I was able to get to know many of the students I met on the road by evaluating their files.
Between all of my territories, I read an enormous number of applications this year. Some made me laugh out loud, others made me cry, and every single one impressed me beyond belief. When we tell you that the applicant pool is getting more qualified every year, you better believe it; you don’t have to be a veteran counselor around here to understand how remarkable these students truly are.
The next step was committee, where I brought a handful of files to a meeting with members of our leadership team and did my best to prove why those particular students should be members of the Class of 2016. I was not oblivious to the tremendous weight of this responsibility, and I studied those files like they were calculus note cards on the night before the AP test. At the end of the day, some of those thick manila files had been placed in the Admit pile, and others had been slated for Deny, but I felt proud that the committee process, my preparation, and our leadership’s compassionate judgment had done justice to the amazing students they represented.
If you’re thinking at this point that jet setting and application reading are the only things that fill an admissions counselor’s day, think again. While the recruitment and selection processes were progressing, I was busy in the office filling every free moment with preparing and executing other projects. During the summer, I helped sign students and families into our PreVU program; in the fall I directed parking garage traffic for our regional Vandy Fan for a Day; in the spring I handed out name tags for Black and Gold Days; and one of my biggest responsibilities involved planning the student performance showcase for MOSAIC, our multicultural recruitment program for admitted freshmen. A few times a month, I led the information session on campus, and every day I answered phone calls and emails from prospective students. I also cranked out weekly posts for the admissions blog and assisted our publications team in a variety of ways.
My proudest day as a first-year admissions counselor was March 23, our official freshman regular decision mailing day. We squeezed as many of the 50+ undergraduate admissions staff members as we could into the file room to seal every admit letter and listen to Vanderbilt’s Dean of Admissions speak about the groundbreaking freshman class. Once the letters were ready to go, we loaded them in the truck, took some spectacular group pictures, and then watched it drive away. The months of traveling, speaking, inquiring, reading, evaluating, discussing, and deciding had concluded and the newest ‘Dores would soon know how much their hard work had paid off.
May 1 has come and gone, and our newest freshman class is beginning to take shape. The cycle, however, is not entirely done – we are still working with our wait list to fill what is remaining of our 1,600 freshman spots, and the transfer application process is ongoing. The dorms are empty, however, as is my shelf in the file room, and there is evidence that my second cycle as an admissions counselor is about to begin. In fact, I am currently in the process of planning Road Show 2.0: The Texas/Oklahoma Edition.
I want to thank each and every one of the people I have encountered over the last year – the veteran admissions counselors, my fellow first-year counselors, the admissions processing and operations staff, the high school counselors, and, most importantly, the students. These ten months have been a beautiful ride, and I can’t wait for the challenges and accomplishments that Year 2 will inevitably bring.