Volume 22, Issue 2 – January 2023

  • Member Spotlight: Mary Allen Conforti, Crosby Scholars (NC)

  • Today’s Reading: Shifting Perspectives on College Recruitment and Admission

  • A Quick Word: SACAC Annual Conference

Member Spotlight
Mary Allen Conforti, Crosby Scholars (NC)

Q: Tell us more about your role in college advising: what is the mission/vision of your organization? What is your role? What does your day-to-day work with students look like?

A: Crosby Scholars helps students prepare academically, personally, and financially for college admission and other post-secondary opportunities best suited to each student’s goals, abilities, and needs.  We support students with topic-based academies from 6th-12th grade and provide a 1:1 Senior Advisor for their junior/senior year to help them navigate the process. I’m excited about transitioning to my new role as the Junior/Senior Program Coordinator at Crosby Scholars in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (More information on Crosby Scholars

Q: What aspects of your organization’s work do you find most effective for the population you serve? 

A: We serve the spectrum of students across academic achievement levels and socioeconomic status.  Our program is free and open to students in our public school systems.  I find that our biggest service to students (and their families) is helping them understand the process.  We are often “explainers-in-chief.”  We educate on the college search process and its vast reservoir of tools.  We help students to outline the timeline for applications and the ins and outs of the Common App site.  We then help them decode financial aid terminology and explain whom to seek out at colleges and universities for their “next steps.”  We are not the decision-makers for students; we are the ones who support, resource, and then give space for the process to unfold.

Q: What are the three things you see your students struggling with when it comes to the college search process? 

A: First, students are not reading your emails.  The sheer volume of marketing emails that students receive from different colleges and universities is remarkable.  Though the content may be excellent, most students are seeing the subject line and maybe reading 50% of the emails they receive (on a good day).  They are missing important information because the surge of communications is overwhelming to them. 

Second, they are trying to digest unfamiliar jargon.  Even though professionals in the field understand that “Majors,” “Fields of Study,” and “Academic Programs” are all basically synonymous, some high schoolers already feel confused just by finding the list of things they could study at a school.  That’s just one example.  Keep in mind that students are trying to comprehend all of this at once. 

Finally, I often see students struggle to find the best questions to ask.  Whether it is a virtual event with a quiet chat box or an in-person tour, students are often at a loss of what to ask.  Beyond “Can freshmen have a car on campus?” (which is a fair question for sure), students may not yet be able to articulate their thoughts and feelings in the form of a question.  We prompt students often about how to think through what life might be like on a campus.  We start by having them consider “a day in the life of a student” at each institution and start forming questions from that exercise.  We nudge them with questions like, “What helps you thrive? Small classes? Lots of activity? Access to a city? Competitive academics? Rural atmosphere?  Lots of engagement with professors?  Work in quiet spaces?  Think about these elements and what you know about yourself.  Now, ask the colleges about that.”  We also encourage them to ask for personal insight with questions such as “What is your favorite student tradition at this school?” and “Do you find that students interact with the town/city very much?”.

Q: If you had a captive audience of college admissions counselors from anywhere in the country, what would you tell them about the students you work with? 

A: Students are feeling increasing pressure to make big decisions early in the process. Two great examples: “Early Decision” or ED and declaring a major before enrolling. Making these decisions early may interfere with the necessary intellectual and personal discovery of preparing for an undergraduate education.  

I have seen an uptick in marketing for Early Decision and incentives like preferential dorm assignments or special perks (like parking). Colleges can benefit from Early Decision applicants, but the option can create a new level of panic and unease among applicants and their families. ED for students may suggest they should be fairly certain about what they want to study and where they want to enroll as early as the first month of their senior year in high school. ED can be a great path, but not all students who are exposed to the ED option are well-suited for ED. 

We have students as early as the first semester of junior year who are stressed because they have not declared a major for college while they are still soundly in high school. Based on my experience, it is somewhat absurd that the average 16-year-old should have a firm grip on their academic and professional trajectory. Of course, some students will know and that’s fantastic for the kid who has early clarity, but it is unfair to assume that all students can name their major earlier and earlier in their academic journey.  Instead, I like it when colleges ask students “What are you interested in studying?” or “What subjects excite you?”. These types of questions create more of an open conversation instead of soliciting an answer that can seem final.

Q: If you could have lunch with a fellow college advisor specifically working for a community-based organization, what words of encouragement would you share with them?

A: It can be challenging to be on “both sides of the desk” and neither side of the desk at the same time. Do your best to offer clarity and patience to the students and ask for more clarity and patience from colleges as well.

National Issue: Shifting Perspectives on College Recruitment and Admission

Podcast: “The Truth About Belonging in College” on The Truth about College Admission podcast with guest Miya Walker of Agnes Scott College (GA)

Listen to the podcast here

“Opinion: I Edited My Mental Illness Out of My College Admission Applications. I’m Not Alone.”  Emi Nietfeld for the New York Times

Read here (subscription may be required; 10 free articles available monthly)

“If Affirmative Action Ends, College Admissions May Be Changed Forever” Stephanie Saul for the New York Times

Read here (subscription may be required; 10 free articles available monthly)

A Quick Word – SACAC Annual Conference

We’ll make this quick: registration for the SACAC Annual Conference is OPEN!

Check out location, costs, schedule, sessions, and sponsors here: Conference Info Page

Why add the SACAC Annual Conference to your PD list?

“I always enjoy the annual conference because it’s the only time where so many of my colleagues, friends, and mentors in college admissions are in the same place at the same time. Being in community with so many incredible people while also continuing my learning and professional growth is an experience I deeply cherish.” ~Katie Morgan, Auburn University (AL)

The Southern Scope is brought to you by the SACAC Communication Advisory Board (CAB):

Joseph Blassberg, The Greene School (FL)
Sean Kilgore, Georgia Tech (GA)
Samantha Krietemeyer, Houston Academy (AL)
Melissa Waller, Crosby Scholars Rowan (NC)
Lindsey Waters, Christ Church Episcopal School (SC)
Rachel West, Agnes Scott (GA)
Kayla Williams, Dillard University (LA)

Questions, comments, or story ideas: [email protected]