You’re about to embark on the college search. Chances are, you bought guidebooks, read college profiles online, called an admission counselor . . . wait—you haven’t called an admission counselor yet?
An often-overlooked resource for college info, admission counselors are more than application processors. Their job is to answer your questions, not just about academics, but anything from student life to school statistics. Admission counselors may be the most personalized resource you work with prior to and during your application process—all you have to do is ask for their help!
What exactly does an admission counselor do?
An admission counselor is essentially there to answer your questions about a college and assist you through the application process. They can work with high school students to outline requirements for a particular program, and, depending on the school, can be a great way to find out about financial aid. Some counselors even travel the country to recruit students at college fairs. But no matter what, their biggest goal is to act as a liaison between prospective students and the college.
Megan Greer, Associate Director of Admissions at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, says admission counselors provide a personal touch other sources cannot. “There are so many messages out there now for students. It is great that there are a lot of resources, but at the same time, they can be very confusing,” she says. “For the prospective students, [a counselor] gives a name and a face in an admission office at a college where they’re applying, and that takes anxiety out of the process.”
So how can you contact your counselor?
Check out the admission page of a college website, and often, the school will provide counselor bios, contact information, or FAQs for your research.
“We are counselors. That counseling means we are trained,” said David Kogler, Associate Director of Admission at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. “We are meant to give advice and help students step-by-step through every different piece of the process, whether it’s visiting, applying, financial aid, or anything else related to the college search process.”
What are some of the benefits of working with an admission counselor?
For admission counselor Laura Buckner at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) in Birmingham, Alabama, a counselor is a one-stop shop of college information. “We’re definitely an outlet for our students to have all the resources they need. We don’t want anyone to come in and feel like they don’t have the right amount of information or that we’ve kept them in the dark,” she says.
Buckner says speaking with an admission counselor is a way to showcase your personality, which might help those counselors make admission or scholarship decisions. “That’s the point of getting to know [the applicants] that well,” Buckner says. “This is the first time in your life you are your best advocate. No one else will fight for you like you will fight for you.”
Students often don’t ask for one-on-one admission counselor advice because they simply don’t know they can! Bottom line, if you have questions during the application process, reach out to an admission counselor. (Colleges may assign specific counselors to prospective/incoming students based on the student’s home state; if you’re unsure of who you should talk to, just call the admission office to find out!)
“Contact a counselor and ask, ‘What should I be thinking about? How do I evaluate your school? What are some key features?’” Kogler says. “That’s a much better question than asking, ‘Is your biology program good?’”
How do admission counselors help students find programs that fit?
Some people call admission counselors “matchmakers,” as they try to connect students with the ideal major, program, or college. Greer says the best matchmaking successes stem from students who look for a school where they can explore all their interests.
“It’s a lot about matchmaking. Students looking at Meredith are also looking at large public universities,” Greer says, noting many students may never think of applying to an all-girls school. “We want to give the full experience and give students enough information to make an informed decision on their own.”
Of course, the college match is rarely love at first sight. But even if you fall for a school right away, you should still do ample research to make sure the college will make you happy after the initial infatuation wears off. Are there clubs and organizations that pertain to your interests? What is the student culture like? What makes this college different from others? These are the questions admission counselors can answer.
Buckner says the student-counselor connection is like any relationship: there are moments of compatibility—times when things just click. But, unfortunately, there are breakups too.
“Those are the moments when you have to know the student. You need to have confidence in your school, as well as the ability to ask, ‘What is feasible?’ Because, let’s be honest, we simply don’t offer some things, like a specific engineering program,” Buckner says.
Gustavus Adolphus has a 93% freshman-to-sophomore retention rate, which Kogler credits to the College’s “what you see is what you get” approach. “I think we do a good job of being authentic in this process, talking to students about the realities of what’s expected in the classroom, how they will adjust to campus life and the culture here, or how financial aid would work out,” he says. “We do a very careful job to be upfront about this institution: if students are being upfront about themselves and about what they need, then you’ll get a good match.”
What should students not ask their admission counselors?
Students may wonder if there’s untouchable territory when discussing things with an admission counselor. Good news: it’s all fair game. “A lot of times people get nervous talking to us because they’re not exactly sure what we cover, but we’re the perfect liaison,” Buckner says—even if you want to talk about the other schools you’re applying to. Prospective students may be scared to mention those other institutions because “they feel like they’re cheating on you,” she says. “A lot of times we’re not just an admission counselor for our school, but we are an advocate for higher education, and that’s oftentimes overlooked.”
Talking to an admission or financial aid counselor does not mean you’re in any sort of binding agreement, Greer says. “Students think if they speak with an admission counselor or financial assistance counselor, they’re obligated to apply or enroll, and that’s not the case,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to contact the school. Since students are often comparing several schools, it’s better to ask questions than assume something and have the wrong information.”
Admission counselors come from a variety of backgrounds, but more often than not, you’ll find your counselor not only works for the school, but attended the college as well. And even if they don’t have all the answers, they can point you to someone who does. It’s all about helping you make the best connection possible.
“Don’t feel the need to have everything figured out before college,” Kogler says. “Give yourself permission to explore.”