By Curtis Morisaki
Stumbling through the college search process and copying what your most knowledgeable friends do (researching colleges) is no small feat for a first-generation student. April Crabtree, Director of Undergraduate Admission and Recruitment at the University of San Francisco, navigated the challenging path to higher education.
Crabtree, raised in Tennessee and attended high school in semi-rural Knoxville, always felt outsmarted, out resourced, and always tried to play catch-up in Advanced Placement courses. “My peers in those classes had parents who went to college, they knew words I had never heard of (avid reader though I was), and they had seen and experienced things I couldn’t even fathom,” she remembers.
With a guidance counselor who couldn’t spend time to help her through the college search process, Crabtree stumbled through on her own. “My criteria, such as it were, was simple—I wanted to go away from home and I wanted somewhere small.”
Comfort and a feeling of safety is what led Crabtree to Eckerd College, in St. Petersburg, Florida. “It was also the only place that I applied to where my admission counselor really, truly helped and understood me.”
Entering undergraduate at Eckerd with dreams of medical school in her future is what Crabtree envisioned. However, she realized math was not a favorite subject and with no interest in science, becoming a doctor would not become a reality.
Anthropology became the outlet and passion Crabtree sought. “I became obsessed with the intersection of culture and society, of finding and analyzing trends, and needing the reward of understanding why.” Following her undergraduate education at Eckerd, Crabtree earned her graduate degree in Cultural Studies in Educational Foundations from the University of Tennessee.
Embarking on her admission career at Eckerd, Crabtree almost didn’t make a career out of the work because she felt like she couldn’t do it. Crabtree’s viewpoint changed after hearing from a student she was working with, a student that couldn’t attend the university because their family couldn’t afford it. “It occurred to me that if the situation had been the same ten years before, that I would never have received the education I did.”
Following years of working with domestic students from underrepresented backgrounds and helping them through the college admission process, Crabtree took over international recruitment at Eckerd. She wanted to help the international students she encountered, but the resources were not available. “When I read about my students running from massacres, of being sold into child prostitution, of unimaginable poverty and neglect, I was powerless.” Crabtree has never minded saying ‘no,’ but always had and still has trouble telling someone ‘I can’t help you.’
Crabtree reminds us to focus on those you can help and support. “While never outnumbering your misses, they’ll keep you focused and motivated to continue.”
The greatest part of college admission work for Crabtree is connecting with students. “The reward is thinking about the long-term connection that you can bring to a student—of helping them find a match that will provide them with four incredible years, changing them and their path forever.”
Crabtree still keeps in contact with many of the students she worked with. She enjoys hearing how they’ve taken what they’ve learned and made a life out of it. “For all of our complaining about youngsters, they’re pretty amazing folks and knowing some of them makes me feel better about their inheritance of this earth.”
Working with an admissions team is something Crabtree loves about the work. She says special people choose to pursue this career path and even though many only spend a couple of years in the profession, they are inspiring.
People who have ideas, dream big and tire of hearing ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ are big in Crabtree’s book. “An admissions team, by nature, is eclectic and creative, once you tap into that, it’s fun to just watch people’s minds work.”
Odds & Ends
Change is what Crabtree believes we might need in higher education because what was done twenty years ago may not work anymore and we need to be open to a new paradigm. Access and quality are words thrown around a lot, but nothing addresses factors from the start of education through college because change in high school is too late for many students.
The admissions world is predicated on the whims of teenagers and the best we can do is hold and try to adapt fast enough. Crabtree has seen the use of technology in the admissions process skyrocket over the course of her career. “How fast we’re expected to connect and respond is sometimes overwhelming.”
Summer is now a distant memory for college admission professionals. This used to be a time to step back and slow down, but as admission needs and timelines shift, there is no more summer. “With all that being said, there’s still a place in this crazy old world for a handwritten thank you card.”
Admission professionals should get excited, overwhelmed, angry, sad, and perplexed (often in the same day) according to Crabtree. “If you find emptiness, you need to reconnect with your inspiration.” She recommends looking at old essays you’ve saved, emails tucked away in a rainy day folder, or meeting one of your students to catch up over coffee. Crabtree also recommends you take time for yourself because it’s very easy to get consumed by your work, especially as a new cycle begins.
For newer professionals, Crabtree says that everyone will tell you to learn, to take every opportunity, and to take risks. You also need realize that the expectations get swallowed up by the demands of long workweeks, constant connectivity and multiple priorities.
“There will never be enough time. There will never be enough staff. But you have to remember that you as an individual are enough.”