Gabrielle McColgan

Gabrielle McColgan

I often look back on nearly 20 years in this wonderful profession and consider how I became one of the “squeaky wheels.” Starting out in college admission in 2000, I never would have imagined that one day I would feel comfortable enough with my colleagues and in my work not only to complain about things that aren’t working well, but to be in the position to ask for things to be fixed.

As a new WACAC member in 2004-ish, I would often nervously click the box asking for volunteers and would breathe a sigh of relief when no one reached out. But as the years went on and I settled into my new role as a high school college counselor, I developed some confidence and opinions about our profession and started to become frustrated that no one was asking for me to pitch in. Wasn’t clicking the box enough? Why weren’t people coming to find me to ask for my assistance?

It took a few conversations (some over email) with more experienced colleagues to realize that checking a box wasn’t enough. I needed to make it clear to those who were doing the work at the regional and national level that I was ready to be of use. Did my involvement shift immediately? No. But was it much easier to get involved than I realized it would be? Yes. A casual conversation with a WACAC Board Member resulted in my first experience with being “volun-told.” Was my new role on the Communications Team what I imagined doing? It wasn’t. But I quickly realized the work would be fulfilling and interesting in unexpectedly delightful ways—so much so that I’m still managing the WACAC Job Board nearly 8 years later.

More important than my actual first WACAC “job” was my realization that I could contribute to the work that WACAC and NACAC are doing—and that I had so much to learn from the impressive colleagues who were already volunteering and taking on leadership positions. I began to pay closer attention to those who were presenting at local and national conferences. How had they gotten there? How had they decided which topics to present? How had they found co-presenters? Who had reassured them that they had something valuable to add to the conversation? And I dealt with my own hold-ups. Imposter syndrome be gone! I did belong among these smart, motivated colleagues. I would be useful.

What I have figured out over the years is that I—we all—need to stop waiting for permission to weigh in. Our ideas matter, and good ideas will gain traction if we are persistent and refuse to sit back and “wait for the right moment.” You have colleagues who will join you to add volume and weight to your ideas—don’t be shy about asking. You have something to say—don’t talk yourself out of proposing a session or running for a leadership position. Do I get a knot in my stomach when I put something out to a Facebook group or when I talk to legislators at the GRAC Conference in Sacramento? You bet I do! But so does everyone else, so I’m working on getting over my fears.

Some of what we accomplish feels so small that we shouldn’t have had to ask: petitioning the Ivy Deans to release decisions online after school is out on the West Coast (Deans and VPs, how about using your tech for time-zone decision release for all students?). Some changes seem too big to be possible, but then they become a movement: colleges accepting self-reported test scores from applicants during the application process is a reality because individuals doing this work in semi-isolation found each other and then got the word out that it could be done. I would argue there is no issue too small for you to take on—if we don’t tackle the little injustices, we won’t learn the skills to take on the big things. It’s true that the bigger issues will take more time, but we have to start somewhere.

Whether you choose to add your voice and talent to work through WACAC, NACAC, IECA, HECA, ACCIS, ACCEPT, or ASCA—or through whichever professional organization or community you join (or create!), I encourage you to not wait for someone to invite you to the conversation. I can’t promise that you’ll find success every time, but I can tell you that engaging fully in this profession by using your voice and influence to benefit your students and colleagues will be absolutely worth it. In the meantime, I’ll be over here deciding who to bother with our great ideas next. Won’t you join me?


Gabi McColgan

Director of College Counseling

Castilleja School