Getting to a great college is an important milestone in a life of almost every youngster. The process isn’t easy though. Applicants need to submit various materials, and mistakes do occur. What’s more, some students try to make their application look better than it really is. They are not necessarily writing lies, but they do exaggerate, or they use fake references or letters of recommendation. Admission counselor is an important employee whose main goal is to make sure the applications reflect the reality, and that the school eventually approves the best applicants.

You will review the applications, research to verify their accuracy, follow-up with students to make sure about this or that thing, contact their references, and–if face to face interviews form a part of an admission process, participate in the interviews and have your say when it comes to eventual decisions about individual applications. It is a good job in my view, it pays well (average annual salary in US is almost $50,000), and you can also learn a lot while doing it. But you’ll have to pass a tricky interview before you can enjoy all the good things this career can bring to your life. Let’s have a look at the questions you will face.


Why do you want to work as an admission counselor?

Instead of saying that you meet the job requirements (something they know already, since they would not invite you for the interviews otherwise), try to focus on the value you hope to bring to the school, the meaningful purpose you see in the job, and your personal traits and skills that will help you in the job. Of course, you can also briefly mention your education, and what you hope to gain from the role, but the core of your answer should consist in what you want to give, and not in what you want to take.

Sample answer:

I believe I have great communication skills and attention to detail. Reading applications, I can easily spot discrepancies and things that simply don’t sound right. What’s more, I have experience with interviewing students, and I believe I can tell a good match for this or that study program. On a personal level I really enjoy working with young people, and thrive in academic environment. That’s why I decided to opt for this job and not one of the many other roles I can apply for with my education and resume.


How do you imagine a typical day in a work of an academic counselor?

The key is to keep your expectations low. No doubt you will enjoy some super interesting days, for example when participating in showing the campus to the students, leading interviews, sitting in admission committees. However, most of your days you’ll spend sitting at your desk, reviewing applications, researching information, writing emails, making phone calls. And that’s exactly what you should talk about when describing a typical day in work, or when talking about your expectations.

Sample answer:

I imagine spending most of my days in front of a computer screen, reviewing online applications, verifying data, making phone calls to students and their references, writing emails, and taking care of the administrative part of this job. Having said that, some days will no doubt be different, for example when we will interview the students. How my day will look like also depends on the season of the application cycle. In any case, I want to assure you that I want to work hard, and enjoy to be busy at work.

Reviewing students’ applications, how do you make sure the information is accurate?

There’s no magic secret here. You need to verify it researching, making calls, sending emails. As simple as that. Of course, it depends a lot on the number of applications, and how many admission counselors work at the given college. If your task is to review 1,000 applications in one month, you can hardly make five phone calls/emails related to each application. On the contrary, if you have to review just 100 applications, you can spend more time checking each one, verifying the references, and so on.

In any case, ensure them that you do not plan to rely on your intuition and good guesses. While your trained eye may spot an obvious discrepancy, you want to rely on research and verifying data with applicants and people who know them (their teachers for example).

Sample answer:

I honestly believe that the only way to do that is spending enough time researching and verifying the information. Emails, phone calls, comparing the presented data with the data we can find in public databases, and so on, and so forth. Once you are in this field for long enough, you will probably spot obvious discrepancies, but I do not want to rely on my intuition only in such an important work… I want to rely on data and talks with applicants and people relevant for their applications.


How do you plan to lead the interviews of the applicants?

In some cases you may lead the interviews, in others you will “only” participate, having an important voice when it comes to final decisions. Anyway, I suggest you to focus on two things in your answer. First one, the questions you want to ask, the way in which you want to lead the interviews (do not be afraid to suggest some tests, case studies, something unorthodox).

Second one, ensure the hiring committee that you understand that the school, and the representatives like you, are also selling something in the interviews. Most students submit their applications with 3-5 colleges. You want to get the best people onboard, and for that you also have to make a great impression…

Sample answer:

I want to make sure that we get to know them as persons, with open-ended, behavioral questions. It is also pivotal to add an element of surprise to the interviews, perhaps a short exercise or a test, something they do not expect and have not prepared for in advance. All in all, we should leave them a room to express themselves, and to show us what they can offer. On the other hand, I also realize it is super important to make a good and professional impression on them, to explain them during the interviews what the study at our college offers to the students. It is the only way of making sure that the best applicants–or at least some of them, choose our college and not another one that they also submitted an application to.


In your opinion, what role does paperwork play in this job?

In my opinion, we have too much paperwork at schools, and it actually often doesn’t allow us to dedicate enough efforts to the core of our job. But that’s how it is right now, and as an admission counselor you aren’t in a position to change the status quo. Hence you should say you understand that a lot of paperwork belongs to this job, and while it isn’t your favorite part of work, you will take care of it responsibly, sine you know it is important.

Sample answer:

Paperwork forms an important part of my job. At the end of the day, one cannot remember information about dozens or hundreds of applicants, and without paperwork it won’t be possible for other members of the admission team to access the information easily. What’s more, there are legal requirements and obligations we have to abide. I won’t lie–paperwork isn’t my favorite part of the job. But you can be 100% sure that I will take care of it, and make sure everything is as it should be.


Imagine that a parent of one of the rejected applicants calls you and loudly complains about the rejection of their child. What will do in such a situation?

You may get your share of unpleasant phone calls and messages. Not too many, but some. It is a part of the job and something you have to count with. Ensure the hiring managers that you won’t get involved into any pointless arguments. You will try your best to stay courteous and friendly, regardless of what the angry parent says to you. At the end of the day, you also represent your college, and the last thing you want is to harm the reputation o the place.

Hence you will simply look into the file, and explain the reasons. Facts and data, no emotions. Maybe their essay wasn’t good enough, their GPA, their answers on the application form. Or perhaps everything was fine, but the college got 1,000 applicants and invited only best 200 to the interviews, and their child simply didn’t make a cut–just like four fifths of all applicants, so it isn’t any tragedy really.

Sample answer:

First of all, I won’t get involved into any heated arguments. I understand that parents can get quite emotional when it comes to their children. As a parent of two children that I really love, I have a complete understanding of it… Hence I will look at the application, and in a calm voice explain why we didn’t choose the child–if I know the exact reason, of course. If I do not know it, I will simply say they did not make the cut, and encourage the parent to try another time, or at another college…


Other questions you may face in your admission counselor interview


Final thoughts

Admission counselor is a good job with great remuneration, considering the job requirements and level of experience you need to apply. Hence you will typically compete with quite a few people for the job. Make sure you won’t underestimate your preparation. Read this article again, think about your answers to the questions, and learn as much as you can about your future employer and their admission process. I hope you will succeed, and wish you best of luck!


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Matthew Chulaw
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