After 14 years working in the admission office for my alma mater, I had it good. I coordinated the campus visit team, supervised tour guides, worked with transfer students, and held many “other duties as assigned.” In short, I knew what I was doing.
Then two years ago, I was offered an exciting new role that turned my career on its head: I became Gettysburg College’s first West Coast regional counselor.
In the past 24 months I have learned about the challenges of a three-hour time difference, work-life balance, and the importance of communication with the office. I’ve also reflected on how counselors — and campus-based leaders — can work together to make the most out of regional positions.
Here are my tips for counselors and admission leaders who are considering making the jump.
Stay in touch. Weekly phone calls and emails with your supervisor are so important. This is a great way for supervisors to get a sense of what the regional counselor’s week looks like and what they are hearing. It also creates time to ask questions, get updates, stay connected, and think creatively.
Join state, regional, and national associations. It is so important for regional counselors to join associations in their recruitment area. The professionals you meet can be just as important as your colleagues on campus. Attending regional and national conferences for professional development can help you forge strong regional partnerships with school counselors, independent counselors, and leaders from community-based organizations.
Prepare for more frequent travel. Regional counselors travel a lot more. In addition to a traditional travel calendar, I journey back to campus four times a year. This keeps me connected through staff retreats, application committee, and our accepted student programs. It is so important to be seen on campus.
Help out “on campus.” Just because a counselor is regionally based does not mean they cannot be helpful in the daily workings of the office. I have planned our spring and fall staff retreats, helped chair three staff searches, jumped in to help with calls on busy days, planned day visits for students, and served on a number of committees. In some cases, I can complete tasks more efficiently than my campus-based colleagues because the daily interruptions that happen on campus (i.e. April visitors) are much less frequent at my home-based office.
FOR DEANS AND DIRECTORS
Reflect on your goals for the position. This is five- to 10-year investment for colleges and universities. Think through what you want to achieve with the new position: Do you want to maintain a presence, grow in an area, or break into a developing market? Data shows that it will take three to four years to really see the impact of a regional counselor. Hosting counselor events the first few years will create opportunities for counselors to get to know you.
Plan ahead. Set a yearly calendar in June with major campus events, staff meetings/retreats, application review/committee, etc. Regional counselors need to plan their 3,000 mile “commute.” This will also help cut costs — flights are often cheaper when they are reserved ahead of time.
Include regional counselors in the day-to-day workings of the office. Have one or two counselors on campus assigned to “bring” regional counselors to meetings and office celebrations if they are Skyping in. Discuss who will send updates shared in the office or on campus, and who will call regional counselors if the office is closing for a special occasion.
Address money matters. Directors and deans should be aware of the cost of living differential for regional counselors and, if needed, make adjustments to salary. They should also have a conversation about what the office is willing to provide to make sure the regional counselors are getting the same benefits as on-campus counselors. Who pays for flights back to campus and housing when back on campus? What about health insurance/retirement and remote office set-up (including computer, printer, scanner, and copier)? Will regional counselors work from home or is there a shared work space/office that the school will pay for? What about workout facilities, cell phone, and travel expenses including rental cars/mileage reimbursement?
NACAC member Courtney Best is senior associate director of admissions & coordinator of western recruitment at Gettysburg College (PA).