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My students’ stories are sometimes hard to hear. There is the pain in the voice of the student recounting that he is one of the hidden homeless and in the voice of the student recounting the impulsive bad decision that caused her to be expelled from her first high school. Will colleges require him to track down the father he hasn’t seen in 16 years? Will colleges recognize how she has grown since that bad decision?

So many mornings now, I wake up worried about my students – those in my high school and those I serve in an informal volunteer role. I read about the pressures placed on enrollment managers and the recent firings as new presidents seek new approaches to bringing in a “better” class. This often means preferential packaging that makes those colleges unaffordable for first generation, low income students whose test scores reflect their family history, and even for those in the middle class who earn just enough but not enough.   It also means those colleges are often less willing to hear the whole story from a student whose path through high school has been bumpy.  It means my having to explain the real meaning of “fast apps”:   “Do you think you are more likely to be admitted without letters of recommendation and an essay to help tell your story?”  And, “no, we won’t support that application because it doesn’t allow us to send documents through Naviance.”

Fortunately, I had the opportunity last month to attend NACAC and be reminded that there are still many, many ethical, caring professionals on both sides of the desk. In the conference sessions professionals from all settings shared their most successful ideas so that we can all do a better job together. At the college fair and in the hallways I was able to speak frankly with admissions professionals so I can better understand how their institution admits students and build trust for when I call about a special student circumstance. Our connections with other professionals are important to our implementing best practices, but perhaps even more importantly, those connections keep us grounded in the bigger picture of why we do our work with students. These opportunities are important as we connect with colleges whose administrations do value all students, regardless of their ability to pay or their bumps in the road. I look forward to the upcoming WACAC Share, Learn and Connect workshops, college fairs and annual conference as opportunities to continue those conversations and connections.  In the meantime, I encourage you to take some time this very busy month to reflect upon your own role, your own mission, and to reach out to those who give you support as you work to support students.

By Peggy Hock