Passion for working in the college environment and interacting with students during undergraduate can lead to a dedicated admissions career. Gary Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admission at the University of California, Los Angeles, is a great example.
The first in his family to attend college, Clark chose to attend Christopher Newport University, a medium-sized state school 40-minutes from his hometown in Virginia. While his family was supportive, they had no direct knowledge of how the college-going process worked. Attending Christopher Newport allowed Clark to stay close to family and save money.
During his time at Christopher Newport, Clark commuted from home the first two years and spent the last two as a resident assistant. “I loved the campus and it allowed me to get involved with a lot of things.” Working in areas of the registrar’s office, student life and admissions, Clark found his calling for a career in higher education. He enjoyed his time as a tour guide and student ambassador, which sparked his interest in admissions.
“I loved working in offices on a college campus. What I enjoyed about it was that as I talked to people in the office, I was able to demystify the process and help first generation undergraduate students understand the process of applying to college.”
Following his graduation with a degree in political science, Clark started his admissions career at Christopher Newport. He moved to the College of William & Mary before moving to California in 1999 for a position at Pitzer College.
While at Pitzer, Clark was able to work in a small office and really get to know the applicants, current students and work at a college with a unique mission. During his time at Pitzer, Clark earned his Master’s degree from the Claremont Graduate University.
Yearning for experience at a larger university and advanced leadership responsibility, Clark sought out a senior associate director role at the University of Southern California. While at USC, Clark completed all of his coursework for his Ed.D. from the Rossier School and has future plans to complete his dissertation.
Living in the vibrant and diverse city of Los Angeles, Clark wanted to stay in the area to raise his son. When the opportunity for the Director of Undergraduate Admission at UCLA opened, he decided to apply and everything worked out for him. He continues to embrace the challenge of working in admissions and enjoys the “intellectual challenge of crafting a class.”
One of the most rewarding parts of Clark’s position is being able to contribute to the undergraduate student body at UCLA. The opportunity to bring great students to UCLA is a great privilege for Clark.
He also enjoys working with colleagues in his office. “I enjoy supporting younger staff to stick with this profession and really grow in admissions.” Working in admissions is much more of a career than what it was 20-30 years ago. Clark believes people can really seek the profession out as a career and maintain contact with students. While working in admissions is rewarding, there are also challenges professionals face.
Cost is one of the biggest challenges in higher education. Clark believes that the rising costs are a barrier of attendance and college needs to be more affordable if we want to increase access and diversity.
Perception is also a challenge we face in the profession. Clark believes students sometimes think they can only be successful at a top 30 school where everyone knows the name. He says things improve for everyone if students branch out and realize there is a much broader scope of colleges and universities outside the top 30 schools.
The impact college admission has on a student is what motivates Clark to continue working in the profession. “Being able to continue to attract, admit and enroll a diverse undergraduate student body at every institution I’ve been part of really inspires me,” said Clark.
Clark is energized by the staff he manages. The office environment is one of encouragement and reminding staff that great ideas come from all corners. He doesn’t expect leadership from those that are just in leadership positions in the office. If a good idea comes up in his office, Clark will work to cultivate the project and assist in making it a success.
Leaders need a challenge. Part of the equation is bringing in staff that will add to the intellectual curiosity of the office. “I like new staff that are eager and wanted to be engaged, involved and have ideas to stay engaged and happy,” said Clark.
ODDS & ENDS
The use of technology has changed the landscape of college admission during Clark’s career. He recalls paper files in folders. He also says college admissions appear to be more and more high stakes.
“There is a lot riding on the decisions that we make. People spend their lives dreaming of going to certain schools and we need to take our responsibility very seriously.”
Parents have become more involved in the college search process. Clark sees them taking a more proactive approach and is in support of parents being involved with the search and decision-making. He also warns that sometimes parents become more involved in areas where the student should lead the process.
Admission professionals work with change each year. Clark reminds us that the cycle can be predictable at times, but even though it may feel repetitive, the players change each year. He says we can take advantage of each new cycle and show students what we do and how we can benefit them.
Patience is Clark’s key advice for new professionals. “Take the time to do the work from year to year and don’t always be eager for the promotion.” Clark encourages young professionals to embrace the learning opportunity and take the time to learn and understand the work. “Don’t push yourself to move up the ranks too quickly and really become an expert in the things that you become involved in within the profession.”