NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) had its annual conference in Boston this September, and it was chock full of educational sessions, networking opportunities, speeches by respected thought leaders, and four full days of morning, afternoon, and evening receptions. While it’s always nice to get together in one place a group of people who work in one industry, there are also drawbacks to attempting such a feat (NACAC has over 15,000 individual, institutional, and organizational members from around the world). Below is a summary of the top eight things I, one of the thousands of attendees, took away from NACAC 2017.
8. It’s great to get to know colleagues from around the U.S. and around the world: I think the greatest strength of having a NACAC conference once a year is that it brings together people from all corners of the world who work in the same field. Getting to know individuals who do what I do but do so in a different time zone or different language certainly helps put things in perspective and contextualizes the work that we all do. We all enjoy unique benefits from performing this line of work and we all face unique challenges in our individual positions, organizations, or locations. I think coming together each year is an invaluable way in which to reflect on what unites us and learn from what differentiates us.
7. Boston is beautiful: Boston, especially in September, is a great place to be. Taking in the sights, the local colleges, and scenery was certainly rejuvenating as we head into another admissions cycle. Kudos to NACAC Conference organizers for picking Boston and thank you to Boston for rolling out the red carpet to so many of us. South Boston is unrecognizable from just a few years ago, and conference goers certainly must have left town realizing that far from being just an amazing college town, Boston is a city on the move.
6. I need to do more cardio training and leg workouts: The convention center was so big and the conference and its satellite receptions covered so much physical territory in Boston that I am suffering from shin splints. Being a college counselor is clearly dangerous for one’s health, as sitting in front of a computer and meeting with families all day does not provide enough time for flexing ones muscles. I feel like I did more walking in Boston than I did during a recent trip to Disney World, and that’s saying a lot. In all seriousness, I can’t imagine how hard this was on many counselors who are severely out of shape and who tried to squeeze in as many sessions and events as possible during this conference. I’m no gym rat, but I’m also not in bad shape; yet, even I had a hard time traversing this conference on foot. I hope the organizers think long and hard about how they can create a more compact conference in the future. Maybe it’s time for more virtual elements? Or fewer and higher quality breakout sessions so there is more of a common experience for all participants at the end of the conference. At the very least, I need to take more breaks during every work day in order to stretch, walk, go up and down the stairs, and generally work out so that I won’t be limping during the waning hours of NACAC 2018 in Salt Lake City.
5. Resources seem misaligned: For all the backslapping and glad-handing taking place in Boston this week, what is abundantly clear is that students are not at the center of the college admissions industry. Rather, the people who run it are: the enrollment deans, the admissions officers, the college counselors, and the vendors there to grease the skids. If students were at the center of the process, so many dollars would not be spent once each year on various groups of adults wining and dining other groups of adults. While I love my new University of Texas Austin socks, I can’t help but think that the money spent to produce them would have been better served back in Austin reducing student-professor ratios or increasing student financial aid offers. Clemson can spend thousands of dollars on a glitzy reception for conference goers each September, but couldn’t Clemson get higher quality and more diverse applicants by instead spending less on desserts and spending more on plane tickets for its admissions officers to travel out to the furthest reaches of the the U.S. and world like so many other peer institutions do? Colleges and vendors in particular need to lead on returning students to the center of this process and that means less $tyle and more substance.
4. Many speakers weren’t very impressive: Considering this is the one big shot each year to get so many admissions and college counseling leaders together, I was struck by just how little new information I learned. Much of what I sat through in a session or was told by an admissions officer during the college counselors’ fair was information I’ve known for quite a while. The issue is compounded when speakers don’t speak very well or don’t even seem to realize that the information they are sharing is pretty stale stuff. As usual, I was most impressed by many of the senior admissions deans and officers and least impressed by those in their twenties who, with all due respect, give many of these institutions a bad name. Maybe send the rookies to the regional conferences to get their sea legs before inviting them to majors? With that said, there were some exceptional newbies, but they were indeed the exceptions. Also, just because one is a keynote speaker does not make one a good speaker. I also prefer keynote speakers who challenge the audience to think differently than they usually do. The keynote speaker at NACAC 2017 was preaching to the choir. The vendors as usual were particularly a mixed bag. Many seemed to be right out of a boiler room. Others seemed simply bored.
3. The Common App keeps finding new ways to disappoint: What happens when a group of poor planners decide to invite all conference attendees to their company’s reception? Food runs out only an hour in, leaving a lot of folks crammed into a damp tent together drinking and yelling at the person next to them just to be heard. It’s disturbing to know that the ‘brains’ behind the application used by over 700 colleges and universities can’t even successfully throw an average party. Experiencing the Common App’s 2017 NACAC reception explains why and how an application that was once a true revolutionary product (when designed by the innovative and down-to-Earth team now running the Universal College App) now seems past its sell-by date. No organization or company can expect continued success when it’s running on fumes and depends most of all on its past successes/reputation. Bring in new and unimaginative people and you get relatively uninspired output on all that they touch.
2. Counselors need to stop complaining about Hobsons/Naviance/RepVisits: It seems like every day on counselor forums and in conversations by phone and email high school counselors constantly complain about Hobsons, the company that owns Naviance and RepVisits. The fact is that counselors’ jobs would be so much harder without Naviance and RepVisits. Hobsons’ booth at this year’s conference was manned by earnest and kind professionals who really helped a lot of us. I had a major problem that was time-sensitive that I never expected to get resolved, and it was resolved by a wonderful Hobsons rep in thirty minutes! That is impressive. Hobsons is not perfect, but it’s far closer to perfect than the inept image lots and lots of complaining counselors would paint for you in order to make you believe that Hobsons is a complete mess. With RepVisits integration, Naviance now efficiently and effectively accomplishes what I used to spend a good half of my job doing. This allows me to spend more time providing personalized guidance to students and parents. College counselors should be kissing the feet of each and every Hobsons rep they encounter. Show some gratitude. Thank you Hobsons!
1. The Big 10 reception was great: As much as I feel sort of skeazy for attending (and enjoying some of) these networking (supposedly informational) receptions at which colleges or organizations throw products, drinks, and/or food at attendees, I can’t help but admit, in a year of pretty weak and tasteless party planners, the brains behind the Big 10 reception did a bang up job. The food was awesome, the music and lighting were spot on (I have to believe Rutgers had a large hand in the Jersey Shore-vibe that came across as more fun than kitschy), and the give-aways were non-generic school-specific items that reflected the true personalities of these very fine medium and large institutions. Loved the dumplings and guacamole. Props.
Next year in Salt Lake!
Craig Meister is the founder of Admissions Intel and an independent school director of college counseling. He’s previously served in the roles of undergraduate admissions officer for a public university, director of college guidance and standardized testing for an independent high school, and director of college and career counseling at an international school.