Finding the Best Job, Ever!

Tracey Dysart-Ford
Director of Guidance and College Counseling
Immaculate Conception High School

I have spent the last 22 years in college admissions. As an admissions counselor at the beginning of my career, I used to dream of the day when I could finally be the boss. Life appeared so much easier at the top. After all, the Dean of Admissions where I worked never had a recruitment territory, rarely visited high schools, did not work evenings, made few telephone calls and seemed to attend a lot of meetings on campus which sounded like fun! I love chatting and I love coffee, so it seemed ideal. I never noticed the long hours, the difficult board meeting preparations, the often tedious committee work and constant stress that such a position involved until I became a Director.

During my time as a Dean/Director of Admissions at four different schools, I found myself hosting groups of guidance counselors and college advisors at various events and it seemed like a great career. I was jealous. In my mind, it looked like a sweet job! The workday lasted from 7:30 to 3:30 and you got the same holidays off as the students plus you did not work at all during the summer. What could be easier?

Colleges and universities were happy to treat you to free lunches and snacks when you visited their campuses or travelled on state-wide tours. Did I mention the part about not having to work in the summer? Part of the job was to build relationships with college admission counselors and who doesn’t want more friends? Forget that foolish goal about being the boss, this seemed like a dream job compared to the twelve hour days, the pressure to produce enrollments and vacations spent watching and responding to my blackberry. So, through a series of events, I made a career change to the “dream job.”

Let me start by saying I feel blessed to have my current job. I work for an amazing school that delivers on the promise of putting the needs of the students first. We have talented faculty members who care so much about our students and believe in the mission of the school. I have a Principal who wears a million hats with elegance, confidence and a sense of humor. So it is no wonder why I jumped at the chance when offered the position of Director of Guidance and College Counseling. I was headed for a life of virtually no stress, fewer hours and most importantly, lots of delicious, free meals at colleges!

As reality has set in, however, I have come to realize how much guidance counselors and college advisors really do. It is with great respect that I list the following:

Scheduling College Visits – This one was expected and makes perfect sense. What a challenge to schedule everyone the week of a national college fair! How do counselors juggle so much?

Creating Student Academic Schedules – This is a big challenge. Counselors not only need to find the ideal schedule to suit multiple student needs, but many are tasked with making sure that students have the correct credits to graduate.

Coordinating Testing – While it varies from school to school, counselors must schedule PSAT, PLAN, ACT and SAT tests. They also coordinate and administer such exams.

Writing Letters of Recommendation – Many nights are spent writing letters to accurately demonstrate for colleges what makes each student unique. This is one responsibility that is ongoing and time-consuming.

Planning Parent/Student Information Nights -This was one I expected, but it is a challenge to find an evening that does not interfere with scheduled athletic events, club and organization meetings, youth group get-togethers, etc.

Serving as Class Advisors – Many counselors and college advisors serve as advisors to classes, clubs and organizations. Often this will include fund raising requirements and long hours organizing projects.

Approving Dual Enrollment -In my current role I coordinate all paperwork related to this wonderful program. Educating families and collecting documents to send to schools takes time.

Registrar/Transcript Generation -The college advisor serves as the person who generates and sends official transcripts, tracks release forms and collects fees.

Attending Parent Meetings -These are not just for teachers anymore! Parents want to meet with counselors individually to discuss college plans. These meetings are important but usually take place late in the afternoon and into the early evening. From admission requirements for hundreds of institutions to scholarships, state grants and all forms of financial aid, the high school counselor has to know it all!

Generating Statistics -Everyone likes to know the data on the class, where the students went to college, the average ACT and how many dollars were offered in scholarships. Gathering the information is a tall order, particularly for larger schools.

It must be said that in no way is this list comprehensive or the same for every guidance counselor and college advisor. I have always had tremendous respect for guidance/college advisors but never realized how much work was actually required. 

I now know that this job asks so much of one person but the impact of a job well done can be life-changing. I have no idea how my colleagues balance so much and still greet college representatives with a smile and willingness to learn about each school. I believe we all care so much about our students. After all, that is the reason we got into college counseling.

To my friends in college admissions and my new friends in college counseling and guidance, I say thank you. From both sides of the desk, we all want to help students in their college choice. This is a profession that asks so much, but there are no words that can describe the great feeling that happens when we do our job well. Thank you for giving so much to so many.