College Admissions and Recruitment: Four Things to Consider in a Pressure Filled Role

Four things to consider working in college admissions

A college recruiter is an entry level position that requires grueling hours, schlepping across the country, building relationships, networking, investing, and eventually bringing in a new class each term. A report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) highlights the difficulties of the entry level recruiter position (Phair, 2014). NACAC cites concerns about no clear definition of the profession or pathways toward career development for recruiters. Additionally, there is the growing pressure to support institutional survival through enrollment. This pressure is felt by admissions officers and those in entry level positions. Hoover (2014) writes, “sooner or later, you just get used to all the administrator, trustees, and professors watching our office like half-starved hawks” (p. 1). In addition to the pressure to bring in students, there is the pressure to recruit students who are a right fit (Hu, 2012). Recruiters become chameleons for a wide range of constituencies, working long hours, helping with institutional survival, finding students who fit, for entry level pay (Phair, 2014). My own experience as an admissions professional for seven years is consistent with many of NACAC’s findings.

These pressures and the amount of travel can result in loneliness and isolation for those who find themselves in the position (Phair, 2014). Many in the profession have concerns about how to balance work and life. As mentioned earlier, there are also few clear career paths to incentivize retention of recruiters. High recruiter turnover is a commonly accepted fact in the field of college admission. There are also few mentors for recruiters; the report from NACAC concludes that there is need for financial and relational investment in recruiters.

What do you do if you find yourself in such a role? The reality is you probably stumbled on the position or fell into it (Phair, 2012). You may not have known much about the position before accepting it and now you find yourself in a demanding role that balances sales and relationship building. You most likely have a hard time connecting to a local community as you travel often and sometimes work nights and weekends. Additionally, you are more than likely recently graduated from college and trying to figure out your own values and understanding of life.

I would like to offer four ideas to consider as you move forward with your work. These are not quick fixes to the pressures of a role with little mentorship and high expectations. However, they are ways of thinking and acting that can promote hope and resilience in your work. I have been influenced by the work of Steve Garber (2014), Kelly Monroe Kullberg (2006), Jim Herrington, Robert Creech, and Trish Taylor (2003) as I shaped my own understanding of work and life in high pressure environments.

Explore an Understanding of Vocation

Explore an understanding of vocation by engaging with what you are experiencing in your work and life. Garber (2014) suggests that we must engage with the hurts and injustices around us. If we do not, we run the risk of making life choices with little reflection that cause harm to ourselves and others. It only takes a few weeks on the job for a recruiter to realize that she will learn difficult things about students and families. Being in people’s homes and schools, reading personal essays, responding to inquiries, and building relationships, opens a world of wounds and injustice. There are the students who have had traumatic life experiences, the first generation student who is not being offered accurate college information, and the prospective athlete who is being pressured by family, coaches, and schools. As with any job that impacts the bottom line of an institution, there are also those decisions that seem morally gray. For example, the high-need, first-generation student getting passed over for a full-pay student. Do not be fooled by the senior members of your department handling these situations in matter of fact ways; these are actually issues to wrestle with and think through. Or perhaps you have been confronted with the old boys’ club nature of admission offices, and you, like others NACAC interviewed, are unsure how to respond (Phair, 2014). Graber (2014) repeatedly asks “knowing what I know, having heard what I have heard, having read what I have read, what am I going to do?” (p. 82).  This is a question you should be asking yourself throughout your time as a recruiter. Garber is not advocating for removing yourself from all morally gray situations or places where you will see wounds. Instead, he is arguing for engagement and service.

Prioritize and Invest in Community

As you engage with what you are experiencing, prioritize and invest in community. Kullberg (2006) writes of her work with college students in the Veritas movement “this thing that I am doing right now, I would not be doing except that I’m with my friends” (p. 158). Her statement is simple but profound. Kullberg could not have wrestled with the wounds she was witnessing or take important risks in her work without her friends. If you have recently graduated from college, relocated, or started in the profession, your communities and friendships are shifting. It is important to recognize that and have patience with yourself as you build new relationships. The idea of investing in others after long pressure filled days can feel like a luxury but it is not. We all need community.

Herrington, Creech, and Taylor (2003) encourage the development of learning communities where you can be invested in and stretched. These do not have to be formal schooling settings. Instead, you can seek out mentors and form discussion groups or book clubs. Learning communities are places you can discuss ideas on a semi-regular basis, and you can get creative as to what that looks like for you.

Engage in Boundary Making

Anselment (2014), an admissions officer writes that “full-time admission work has a funny way of overtaking one’s life” (p. 31). The reality is many jobs can take over your life, and we all have to practice boundary making. In their work on leadership, Herrington, Creech, and Taylor (2003) write that leaders “must develop the capacity to set boundaries on the things that drain their vitality and establish space for the things that nourish the soul and renew the mind” (p. 12). This implies that you have to pay attention to what drains you and what nourishes you. As you learn about yourself, you can begin taking better care of yourself and making space for the things that give you vitality.

One aspect of boundary making is recognizing anxious systems. Herrington, Creech, and Taylor (2003) explore systems theory and its impact on our work life. Anxious systems are those environments and relationships where there is chronic anxiety. Chronic anxiety in a system is evident when people react in defensive ways and are crisis oriented. Signs of an anxious system include heightened levels of reactivity, a herding instinct which discourages dissent, blame displacement, quick fix approaches, and poor leadership (Herrington, Creech, & Taylor, 2003, p. 62-64). As a recruiter, it would not be surprising if you found yourself working in such an environment. Managing anxious systems involves setting boundaries. Herrington, Creech, and Taylor recommend taking time to respond to situations, clarifying before responding, and practicing calming breathing techniques.

Do Inner Work

Finally, you should do inner work. All of my previous suggestions stand on a foundation of doing some type of inner work. Engaging in vocation, community, and boundary setting relies on reflection and learning to understand yourself.  This is the type of work we have to give ourselves time and space to do. Palmer (2000), in his work on calling, stresses the importance of spiritual inner work through mediation, reflective journaling, prayer, and spiritual friendships.

Concluding Thoughts

It is possible to be a recruiter and thrive. There are times when it seems impossible whether because of mounting pressure, the pace of the job, or the things you are witnessing. However, if we take the time to do inner work and allow ourselves to think about vocation, engage in community, and set boundaries we will find that we can thrive. In fact, you may start to remember all the things that make you love this type of work. Recruiting is worthwhile work built on relationships and helping students access education. I am increasingly convinced that future leaders in the field of recruitment and admissions will be the ones who are committed to doing this inner work.


Anselment, K. (2014, July). Moving up in the profession: Personal essay 4. In Phair, J. (Ed). Career paths for admission officers: A survey report. National Association for College Admission Counseling Retrieved from    data/Documents/CareerPaths2014.pdf

Creech, R. R., Herrington, J., & Taylor, T. (2003). The leader’s journey: Acceptig the call to personal and congregational transformation. San Fransico, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Garber, S. (2014).  Visions of vocation: common grace for the common good. Downers Grover, IL:InterVarsity Press.

Hoover, E. (2014, July 30). The office of undergraduate admission, stress, and sales?. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from  sales/38843

Hu, H. (2012, November 8). A stunning admission: Admissions counselors share the truth about their profession. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 29(20), 18-19.

Kullberg, K. M. (2006). Finding God beyond Harvard: The quest for veritas . Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Palmer, P. J. (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Phair, J. (Ed). (2014, July). Career paths for admission officers: A survey report. National Association for College Admission Counseling. Retrieved from

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