In the college admissions process, the professional relationship between college admission officers and high school counselors is interdependent. These related professionals frequently cross paths during the high school recruitment visit. The importance and mutual benefit of having colleges meet with prospective applicants is widely accepted, but what actually happens during these visits? This view from the field offers an observation of recruitment visits when college admission officers meet with high school students, and includes suggestions for busy school counselors.
Defining the Two Professions
Cooperation and collaboration are important. “Although they work toward the same goal, high school counselors and admission officers often overlook one another as essential resources in the transition to postsecondary education…no adults are greater experts than the high school counselor and college admission officer, especially when they work in conjunction” (Lautz, 2005, p.7).
While counselors in both high schools and admission offices strive to help students get into college, each profession has its unique challenges. “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” (Johnston, 2003, p.3). Citing high school student-to-counselor ratios, Lautz (2005) notes, “In light of the unmanageable workload facing them, counselors may look to admission officers as an extension of their staff” (p.10) and recommends, “treating the visit as an in-service professional development” (p.11).
The high school visit is a win-win situation, giving college recruiters access to prospective students and helping students (as well as their counselors) learn relevant information necessary for them to make informed decisions. Of the 39,545 high schools in the United States, 99% host college admission representatives (Lautz, 2005). Such visits are widely used but rarely examined.
Crucial Observations Combined with Helpful Ideas
High school counselors responsible for college placement know the value of inviting admissions representatives to meet with their students, but are often too busy to join the visit. Counselors are often occupied meeting with other students or putting out fires. Handling college admissions may not have much to do with their training in counseling, but it does relate to the historical origins of the guidance profession. When I made a point to sit in and observe several visits, I rediscovered many benefits.
Since I work in a high school that emphasizes college placement, we host dozens of college admissions representatives each fall. Rather than send the representative and the interested students to another room, I stayed through 12 full visits. They lasted between 13 and 50 minutes, with a mean of 31.5 minutes. The time was well spent. A counselor’s presence adds legitimacy to the meeting; students may take it more seriously and respectfully. Not only did I learn the most up-to-date information on campuses of interest to my students, it helped build connections with my students and reinforce relationships networking with those who will be reading their applications and presenting their cases to admissions committees. It certainly helps to be on a first name basis with admissions personnel of the colleges your students prefer.
Counseling vs. Selling: This theme relates to how representatives walk the fine line between getting students into the right school vs. getting them into their school. A former Dean of Admissions, Donehower (2003) observed a developing trend and noted a paradigm shift within the field of college admissions from counseling toward marketing. Admissions officers must strike a balance between sales and counseling. While school counselors advocate for their students to explore their alternatives and identify their best option for postsecondary plans, admissions counselors advocate for their employer but are not there to make a hard sell. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s statement on mandatory practices (NACAC, 2008, p. 6), “Members will be compensated in the form of a fixed salary, rather than commissions or bonuses based on the number of students recruited.” Admissions personnel are not headhunters whose income relates directly to the number of students they bring in. I did not observe any high pressure sales pitches. Ideally, admissions counselors are also helping students make important choices – and I found several examples of good advice. Many advised students to search wide, apply to several schools, and visit campus to get a feel for a comfortable fit.
Although high school counselors do not have the luxury of time to attend every admissions visit, it is worthwhile to sit in occasionally. Consider it a form of free professional development training, connecting with your students who are facing major decisions, and promoting professional networking.
Bernstein, F. (2003). Good neighbors: Tips for colleges to enhance school - counselor relations. Journal of College Admission (181), 30-31.
Donehower, N. (2003). The personal touch is gone from college admissions. Chronicle of Higher Education, 49(18), 1-3.
Johnston, M. (2003). How to win friends and influence people during the high school visit. Journal of College Admission (181), 2-3.
Lautz, J., Hawkins, D., & Perez, A. (2005). The high school visit: Providing college counseling and building crucial k-16 links among students, counselors, and admission officers. Journal of College Admission (188), 7-16.
Wallinger, D. (1998). Guidelines for marketing high school graduates to colleges and universities. National Association of Secondary School Principals Bulletin, 82(597).
National Association for College Admission Counseling (2008). The statement of principles of good practice. Retrieved January, 2010 from
Mark Veronica is a doctoral student in Counselor Education at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he earned a B.A. in psychology and an Ed.M. in School Counseling. He is a full time school counselor, with experience in public and private high schools in western New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org