Working in College Admissions: What You Need to Know

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Former Northeastern lecturer Adriel Hilton shares his firsthand perspective of what it’s like to work in college admissions.

College admissions counselors serve a key role at their institution. Not only do they represent their school when recruiting students but, without students, there would be no need for a college or university.

Take a car dealership, for example: Its marketing department develops an advertising strategy to drive consumers to the showroom, where a salesperson takes over the actual function of selling a car to the customer. It’s no different in higher education.

An institution’s marketing department also develops a strategy, often including brochures, advertising campaigns, and social media, but it’s the admissions counselors’ job to use these tools to travel to high schools and college fairs and follow-up on generated leads for the purpose of selling the university to students.

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Learn more about how you can change the course of higher education—from the skills you need to the different roles available.


What Does a College Admissions Counselor Do?

Since the college admissions counselor is a representative of the school, he or she must be knowledgeable of the institution, and possess strong oral and written communication skills, a suitable math aptitude, and be personable and energetic. It can be a rewarding entry-level position working with prospective students, helping them make life-changing decisions.

That said, there can also be some drawbacks to the role. The job of a college admissions counselor can be stressful and cause burnout. There are recruitment goals to meet, numerous personalities to deal with, typically a heavy travel schedule during peak recruitment periods—which, in most cases, is early fall—and always a lot of paperwork and digital media to maintain.

If one’s objective is to have a career in higher education, however, there’s no better job to start with. Typically, an admissions counselor works daily with some unit of the university, such as financial aid, student affairs, the president’s office, athletics, or alumni relations. And by treating the position as a stepping stone or opportunity to explore the field of higher education, rather than dwelling on the drawbacks, it can be a beneficial learning experience.

How to Advance in College Admissions

Personally, I used my first role as executive assistant to the president at a private university as a stepping stone in my career. I was in the ideal position to learn my institution’s business model, as well as the political nuances of higher education, to advance my profession.

Having earned a doctorate, it was never my intention to stay at this level, but I had a plan and turned my rank into an opportunity to advance by listening, learning, pursuing a graduate education, and working hard. Soon, things began to pay off. I took on a faculty role and then was given the position of university diversity officer, which added to my responsibilities. By the time the president was ready to move on to another job, so was I. My next position was a step up as an assistant vice president at a state university.

As a lecturer within Northeastern’s Master of Education (MEd) program and an advocate for higher education administration and student affairs, I encourage individuals who want to advance at a college, university, nonprofit, or think tank to pursue a graduate education. Those who pursue an MEd will quickly realize that what they’re learning translates to the work they’re doing within their current role.

In the words of retired four-star general Colin Powell, “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”

To learn more about how you can advance your career in higher education administration, download the guide below.

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