There are a growing number of creative new ways that college
admission professionals are reaching students and their families, but
often, experts say, the biggest payoff can come from the simplest
technique: building relationships.
And those relationships may extend beyond the short-lived connections
to the student who is inquiring or enrolling, and can include
counselors and the broader high school community, including personnel
who work with students directly and know them well.
“One of the most important aspects of my job is the relationship that
is developed with college admissions professionals,” said Jennifer
Nuechterlein, a college and career counselor at Hunterdon Central
Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey. She noted that often
those connections last for years, starting with the counseling
department but eventually involving various parts of the school
community. “It makes my job easier, but the really important thing is
that it benefits the students,” Nuechterlein said.
Ultimately, relationship management—at all levels—is one of the most
important aspects of the job, said Ryan DePuy, senior director of
undergraduate admissions at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. “It
can be the counselors, the band director, or the principal. It really
works best when you can make connections to the point that you are part
of the school community,” he said.
He notes that relationships can be developed with school
administrators, teachers, coaches, parent/teacher organizations, and
even advisers to student organizations or people who work with students
with specific interests and skills. They might know about talented
students or those with leadership skills, including some who might not
excel in the classroom or at test-taking.
The goal for admission officials is to establish a relationship with a
high school by becoming trusted, accessible, and familiar—building
connections to individuals and the school generally that grow and build
Beata Williams has worked in college admission offices and as a
college admission coach for high school students. She is now an
admission consultant with the college planning firm Intelligent, and
said that admission professionals should look for pathways that might
start with just a bit of assistance.
“There are many ways a college admissions representative can connect
with a high school,” she said. "Every connection that is made can turn
into a cooperative relationship and ultimately help the students.”
Williams said that while admission staffs often work with high school
counselors, building a relationship may require effort beyond
supporting the application of one student or establishing a single
contact about an open house. The relationship can be developed through
collaboration for college fairs, informational sessions, or group
visits, as well as in small ways, such as providing bits of useful
“In the best relationships, college officials get a better
understanding of a high school’s curriculum and the students there,
which allows them to better interpret and evaluate the candidate,”
Williams said. “Also, with a stronger relationship with college
representatives, high school counselors can help students apply to
schools that are more aligned with their interests.”
“I can pick up the phone and talk to them about a specific
student and tell them that there is more to him or her than what they
are seeing in grades, test scores, or an essay… That helps the student
and the admission rep, who might have missed out on a great prospect.”
Nuechterlein agreed, ticking off the various ways such relationships
pay off, particularly when it comes to each side sharing information.
Admission offices, for instance, may be able to gather data about the
attitudes that students have about certain careers or college features,
while high school counselors can benefit from having a direct connection
to a college if they have general questions about admission or
attendance. Both benefit when a counselor can personally pass along
information about a prospect.
“I can pick up the phone and talk to them about a specific student
and tell them that there is more to him or her than what they are seeing
in grades, test scores, or an essay,” she said. “That helps the student
and the admission rep, who might have missed out on a great prospect.”
Nuechterlein noted that some colleges formalize the connections by
establishing an admission advisory board, with several high school
counselors participating, while others regularly survey their colleagues
working in high schools. College visits for counselors and
participation in events at the high school level by admission staffers
can also help formally establish connections.
“Unfortunately, there are times when we are incredibly busy and it’s
challenging to cultivate external relationships,” said Troy Hammond,
director of university counseling at Bayview Glen, an independent day
school in Toronto. “So, outreach from the postsecondary side is
appreciated, whether it’s through counselor-targeted newsletters or
emails, information sessions, or a scheduled chat now and then.
Hopefully, that can lead to professional relationships that last for
several years and can allow for more nuanced interactions.”
He added: “The reality is, the high school counselor is often the
eyes and ears for the students, and the students generally will seek
advice from their counselor before they would contact an admission
representative, so having that connection is immensely important.”
Candice Mackey, college counselor at the Los Angeles Center for
Enriched Studies, said that to create that connection to the school
community, admission representatives should also consider ways to build
relationships with others.
“While counselors have direct roles serving students, other stakeholders who serve in roles that are direct, transactional, and influential, could be part of valuable partnerships between admissions offices and the school community,” said Mackey, who, along with Nuechterlein, chairs NACAC’s Special Interest Group for public school counselors. “Deans, coaches, advisers to student groups, and administrators can be a source for information related to students and the overall school community for colleges.”
“Admission reps are stretched thin, so adding high school
coaches, many of whom don't work on the campus, to their list of
contacts could be tough. Also, some sports really mostly recruit out of
the clubs. But for others that recruit heavily out of high school, like
football and basketball, it could be important to make connections.”
For instance, some college representatives become acquainted with
advisers to groups like the National Honor Society or student government
to gather information about and make connections to prospects. DePuy,
of Iona College, said he knows of circumstances where college
representatives have worked closely with high school personnel
responsible for arts or tech programs, particularly when those colleges
specialize in a field or have a strong career-related department that
they want to build.
He also said he has developed deeper connections with schools by
making presentations and being willing to present objective information
to the staff, parents, and students—becoming a resource rather than
simply a recruiter for his institution.
“They appreciate it if you are transparent about the process and
provide them good, honest information,” DePuy said. “You don’t want to
make presentations and have people always saying ‘OK, here comes the
sales pitch.’ You want everyone—from the superintendent to the
students—to think of you as a valuable resource.”
Amy Goldin, founder of College Options in the Performing Arts, helps
art students connect with college programs and says that high school
teachers in those fields often are too busy to advocate for a student.
She started her business just to fill that gap and thinks college
admission representatives could do more to provide information and seek
out talented students who may need guidance, especially if their
institution is seeking more students interested in the arts.
“I have seen that there is a lack of information and guidance when it
comes to their college questions and pursuits,” Goldin said, noting
that arts students often aren’t given as much support as those with
traditional academic or athletic skills.
Jennifer “J.T.” Thomas, who has coached high school athletes about
their performance in sports and about the college admission process, and
chair of NACAC's former Student Athlete Advisory Committee, said the
process for connecting athletes to college programs is “nuanced” because
the skill levels of the students and the types and levels of college
athletics vary so widely.
Like Goldin, she warned that high school personnel charged with
overseeing athletics are often busy and perhaps reluctant to spend much
time on building relationships with equally busy admission staff
members. But such links could pay off.
“Admission reps are stretched thin, so adding high school coaches,
many of whom don't work on the campus, to their list of contacts could
be tough. Also, some sports really mostly recruit out of the clubs. But
for others that recruit heavily out of high school, like football and
basketball, it could be important to make connections.”
Thomas said it might be helpful to find out if there is an athletic
director or recruiting coordinator with whom to become acquainted,
offering help without being intrusive.
“It's challenging for coaches on the high school and club side
because the recruiting process, rules, and timelines are so different
for each sport, gender, division, and individual institution,” said
Thomas, who is the US College Pathway Consultant for the TOVO Institute.
“So it's always better to have more communication and stronger
relationships to help everyone navigate the process.”
Bigger high schools that prioritize athletics and place many
student-athletes in college programs often have a point person who helps
navigate the process, Thomas says, but most high schools don’t. “These
are the schools that I usually do presentations for and then it's
usually up to the college counselor to help along with the coaches.”
There are “no guarantees in admissions,” Thomas noted. “…even if
coaches and athletes do everything right, it may not work out, so they
always need strong backup plans.”
“Either way, this point person can help navigate the often-chaotic
recruiting process and may know who to talk to about a prospective
student-athlete when challenges arise,” Thomas said. “We all know from
experience that the process is easier when we form relationships on both
sides of the desk.”
Jim Paterson is a former school counselor living in Lewes, Delaware.
There are some fundamental ways that college admission
representatives can build stronger relationships with a high school
community. Here are five ideas.