We all know the cycle. Unpredictable admission yields put pressure on earlier communication and a push to apply earlier and earlier. This drives up anxiety for students concerned about checking all the boxes ASAP, causing a greater focus on the Big Four—rigorous classes, leadership, athletics, and community service. More academic rigor means that it is harder to miss class, so fewer students attend on-site high school admission sessions. With less student contact, more stealth candidates are in play and yields are unpredictable. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love trends. This was a trend that scared me. Seeing fewer and fewer students attending the college admission representative visits increased my concern about this critical part of the college admission process. What if this wasn’t just happening at my school, but at schools across the country? Would admission directors make a cost-benefit argument that the high school visit was a dinosaur? Would they stop coming?
I am fortunate to make college campus visits an integral part of my schedule each year. But admission visits at my high school are critical to the process. When students attend the sessions, I listen in and take notes. When students do not attend, I engage with the admission officer to learn more about their institution’s academic programs, application trends, research/internship/study abroad opportunities, etc. By speaking with me, the admission officer increases my ability to share this information with current seniors, as well as with younger students. I have never seen this as “unproductive” time — in fact, I dedicate an entire month to relationship-building with my colleagues on the college-side of the admission desk. Each October, college visits, college fairs, and campus visits fill the calendar with the goal of increasing my ability to fluently and accurately present information to students and parents so they can make great decisions.
I know the value of the high school admission visit. But would deans and directors if they continued to see low attendance? This plagued me and out of this reflection, I created Specialized College Topics. While not as exciting as sliced bread, I think Specialized College Topics could be the saving grace for the traditional high school admission visit.
I developed Specialized College Topics by thinking about value and what would compel a student to be willing to leave class for 20-30 minutes. The answer was — valuable information about a college-related topic…and here’s the key…presented by the college admission officer. In the past, I have offered and presented on dozens of topics from paying for college to making the most of the campus visit. What if the college admission officer presented one of these topics — using his/her campus for examples — leaving time at the end of the visit for some of the basic facts, updates, and admission questions typically included in a traditional admission visit? Would anyone go for this? The answer is yes!
When admission representatives checked my website last summer, they were greeted with an opportunity to host a traditional high school visit or a Specialized College Topic session. Those electing a Specialized College Topic were offered targeted flyers and school-wide announcements in addition to our usual promotional efforts via our school college visit schedule and parent newsletter.
I included a list of suggested topics and invited the admission officers to come up with their own if they wished. Here are some of the suggested topics:
- The Value of a Liberal Arts Education
- Making the Most of the College Campus Visit
- Ace Your College Interview
- Paying for College
- Three Things to Consider When Adding a School to Your College List
- The Top Five Things You Need to Know about a Liberal Arts College
- Making a Large Campus Feel Smaller
- Your Voice in the College Admission Process – The Essay
- Global Education Opportunities
- Three Ways to Make Your Application Stand Out
- Making the Transition from High School to College
- Keeping Yourself at the Heart of Your Admission Essay
- The Role of Your Advisor in College
- Spending Your College Years Abroad
- Five Best Things about an Urban College Setting
- Scholarships and Financial Aid
- How to Stand Out in a Selective College Admission Process
When I spoke with colleagues during counselor programs and meetings, I shared that this new approach had not only enticed students to attend the sessions (it did!), but it also freed up my time, since I had been presenting on all of these topics and no longer needed to do so. This approach has been a win-win with no downside. What we have with this new approach is a value-added reason for students to attend high school admission visits. And it works!
My hope is that in the coming years, more high schools will adopt this approach, more students will attend high school admission sessions, conversations will be broadened, and deans and directors won’t even think about limiting admission travel in the fall and spring. Fingers crossed!
NACAC member Barbara Tragakis Conner is director of college counseling at Foxcroft School (VA).