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What It’s Really Like To Work in College Admissions

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be on the other end of the college application process? About what it’s like to work in college admissions? Being a college admissions counselor or one of the best college admission consultants is a rewarding career path to take. Are you thinking about becoming a college admissions counselor when you graduate from school?  If you said yes to any of those questions, this interview is for you!

I sat down with one of my good friends, Vanessa Constantinidis, who just so happens to be a college admissions counselor (and a fellow twenty-something, too!). Vanessa is currently the Associate Director of Enrollment for North America at the American College of Thessaloniki. Yes, she gets to travel around all of North America trying to recruit students for a college in Greece – how cool is that?!

We talked with her about her experiences and insight, as well as pros and cons of working in college admissions.

What It’s Really Like To Work in College Admissions

GenTwenty: How did you know you wanted to go into college admissions?

Vanessa Constantinidis: The truth is that I had no idea that college admissions was even a field when I first started looking! However, upon the job search, I learned that it fell into higher education.  In college, I did my work study at our study abroad office, which led me to my first “big girl” job in higher education for an international education nonprofit organization in DC.

After a year there, I had an urge to move back to my college town (Philly) and saw an opening for an admissions counselor at my alma mater, Saint Joseph’s University.

At that point, I really knew nothing about the field of admissions, but knew that I loved my alma mater and could easily counsel students to determine if the school would be good fit for the school.

G20: What’s one expectation you had going in to being an admissions counselor that you quickly learned was wrong?

VC: My expectation was that I would get to travel the world and brag about how great my alma mater is to little miniature versions of myself. The reality, however, is that I get to wake up at 6 am to get to a high school visit, where sometimes no one shows up to meet me, even though I got home at 10 pm from a college fair the night before and went to bed at midnight after answering e-mails.

While traveling is still one of my favorite parts of the job, I didn’t realize that traveling would not always be glamorousOn social media, it looks like I live the life–going from one place to the next –but, some nights, I can barely keep my eyes open. 

On top of visiting 3-6 high schools a day and having college fairs at nights during busy seasons, your incoming e-mails don’t stop and are often time-sensitive. Luckily, you get the hang of it throughout the years and develop a routine… or you get a smaller territory.

G20: What’s one thing that has really surprised you when working in college admissions?

VC: I was so surprised to learn that there are SO many opportunities to students to learn more about colleges and find their best fit.

As a first-generation college student, I had a very hands-off college decision making process, primarily because I just didn’t know what to do.  When I was applying to college, it seemed like a very simple process: take the SAT, get a decent score, maintain GPA, and apply to colleges that you like.

I visited 3 schools and applied to 5 schools, and just waited to hear back.  Nowadays, I think students have ample opportunities to visit campuses, attend admitted student days and open houses, go on tours, and get to know the admissions staff, and I encourage them to partake in these events!

G20: What’s the secret? How can high school seniors really stand out! 

VC: The secret is… you just need to be yourself.  I know, I know, that is so cliché, but the reality is, you’re choosing a school just as much as the school is choosing you.

On that note, your “dream school” may not be your best fit! There so many factors to consider when choosing a college and many times, we don’t think about all of them. My best advice is to apply to a variety of schools, visit all the ones you get in to, and think about what school is the best academic, financial, and personal fit.

Also, if you don’t get into your “dream school,” don’t let it get you down! Transferring is ALWAYS an option. Your college journey doesn’t have to be a race. Do what is best for you and go to the school that will allow you to grow the most.

G20: Do you think it’s beneficial for current college students to be in touch with the admissions counselors at their school?

VC: Yes, yes, and yes!  It will only benefit you to build a rapport with your admissions counselor. That’s what we are here for, to help you!  Not only will it allow you to learn more about your desired college, but it will also allow your counselor to know you better.

If you are on the fence of being admitted, your counselor at least has the possibility of vouching for you.

G20: What’s your biggest piece of advice for anyone looking to enter the college admissions field?

VC: The biggest piece of advice is to find a school with a mission you support. I cannot stress this enough!  If you don’t believe in the school’s mission, you’re going have a very hard time promoting it to students and parents.

Working in college admissions is not equivalent to a sales job, while it may sometimes feel like it. The reality is you’re a counselor who is guiding students to make big life decisions, and counseling students to find their best fit school will always be more important than the numbers you bring in.

Additional advice for newbies in the college admissions field: if you’re school offers tuition assistance, take it! Don’t wait to get your master’s degree (or even a second one) if it is free. Furthering your education is never a bad idea.

G20: What is the biggest perk to working in college admissions? 

VC: I need to answer this in three parts, because honestly, there are a lot of perks.

My first immediate response to his was to say “the travel.” I’m so grateful for the beautiful cities I’ve been to in the US and abroad for work.

As I mentioned, traveling for work isn’t always glamorous; however, it forces you to do things you wouldn’t normally do. I have no problem eating alone, traveling or lodging alone, and/or striking up a conversation with a stranger. Traveling alone has made me quite fearless, to be honest.

I have fallen in love with cities that I never knew existed and have found hidden gems in each one.  Even in places that I don’t know, I’m so excited to learn more about the city, the students, and the high school I’m visiting.  I created an Instagram to capture all the beautiful places and memories, so when I’m older I can look back and say, “wow my job was pretty cool.”

Second, working in admissions truly opens the doors professionally.  Because of my admissions experience, I feel more confident in public speaking, presenting, connecting with students and parents, and running events.  Additionally, reviewing applications and essays is an extremely rewarding part of my job, as well as interviewing students.

Third, the biggest perk truly is working with students.  There is no better feeling than getting a kind e-mail from a student you’ve been working with for months or getting notified that they’ve sent in their deposit.  It’s those few moments that make you see why your job matters.

G20: Do you think this is a good job for millennials? If so, why?

VC: Please see my above answer for a detailed response.  In short, YES.

Millennials typically have the flexibility in their lives and energy to travel extensively, the ability to explore different professions, and the desire to help others. Also, it is a very connected field with ample professional development opportunities.

G20: What’s a misconception about students applying to colleges that you want to clear up? 

VC: Sometimes students do not apply to and/or attend certain schools because their high school peers who have drastically different GPAs (whether high or low) are applying/attending and they don’t compare.  College admissions is not just about your GPA.  In fact, many colleges accept a wide range of GPAs (since there are so many other factors to consider) so stereotyping a school based off who they do or do not admit is unwise.  With that being said, I would encourage students to refrain from the whole “safety, target, and reach” approach.

G20: And finally, your favorite memory! 

VC: Some of my favorite memories include: hand-delivering acceptance letters to prospective students with my team, presenting at Open House on the importance of the college essay, traveling to Greece for international recruitment, and attending the Boston JET (Jesuit Education Tour).

A huge thank you to Vanessa for her thoughtful responses!

Vanessa Constantinidis, a Philadelphia native, holds an undergraduate degree in English and Italian and a graduate degree in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph’s University.  Her love for her Greek culture, higher education, counseling students, and traveling has led her to serve as the Associate Director of Enrollment for North America at the American College of Thessaloniki, and she could not be more excited!  She is also a writer, and the author of a 250+ paged young adult novel, “Greek Girl Crazy”, which explores a world between adolescence and adulthood through the experiences of a teenage Greek Orthodox girl full of personality.  When she has free time, she loves reading, writing, exploring different cities in the U.S., or planning her next international trip.

About the Author

Michelle Ioannou

Michelle graduated from Fordham University with a Bachelors of Arts '13 and a Master of Arts '14. She's currently working in corporate America with a side of freelance writing. She wants you to learn from her experiences and mistakes so your 20s can be your best decade. When she's not working, she's likely planning her escape to a tropical island.