COUNTER POINT: Admission Officers Seek Direct Contact; Counselors, students, and parents need to be willing to receive it.


Counter point: Admission Officers Seek Direct Contact; Counselors, students, and parents need to be willing to receive it.

In a professional WeChat admissions group, a high school counselor in southern China lamented that she couldn’t get parents to come to information sessions at her school hosted by admission officers from lesser known U.S. universities. Several colleagues, including myself, proffered suggestions: create a fact sheet about the university, advertise the event in Chinese on her school’s WeChat account, and provide translation on the day of the event. Since this was a counselor I had come to know through multiple exchanges, I then messaged her privately and joked that she should say representatives from an Ivy League school would be joining the unknown school. I guaranteed she’d have a full house. We laughed, but it wasn’t funny; it was true.

Shortly after, I read an article which stated that colleges need to engage more with Chinese students directly. It rightly suggested that colleges use local channels such as WeChat and live broadcast to supplement their in person high school visits. While I agree with the author’s points, they come from the perspective of a highly ranked, highly selective college in a desirable location; one which practices both need blind admissions and meets full financial need of international students. The truth is, when it comes to recruiting in China, colleges in this demographic do not ever need to set foot in country to have an abundance of highly qualified applicants at their doorstep.

It seemed disingenuous to wag a finger at colleges that don’t engage in the suggested recruitment strategies and blame the ubiquity of agents for the dissemination of misinformation. An official WeChat account and school visits aren’t magic bullets for engaged applicants, particularly when just getting a literal foot in the door can depend on the college’s ranking.

For the majority of U.S. universities, the absence of direct connections with students is not for a lack of effort. The problem is two-fold: scheduling visits at local high schools, and then getting students or parents to attend. Ironically it is often the people who complain the most about agents and lack of information- high school counselors, administrators, and parents – who are complicit in blocking the flow of communication.

As the China admissions representative for The University of Tulsa, I visited 78 schools in 13 provinces across mainland China during my Fall 2017 outreach. I attended 10 college fairs, three higher education conferences, conducted three webinars, made 118 posts to WeChat, and facilitated 7 workshops. My colleague complemented this outreach, visiting approximately two dozen schools in six additional provinces.

My experiences, while largely positive, speak to the realities of recruiting in China for an institution not ranked in the top 50. Coming in at a respectable #87, TU ranks in the top 2.8% of nonprofit colleges. Despite a very similar admitted student profile to schools in the top 25 and top 50 (see graphic), meetings with students and parents at high schools have been rebuffed based on the arbitrary metrics of a once near bankrupt magazine. It’s astonishing that even students whose qualifications are not competitive for admission often snub their noses at a school they deem “not good enoug

At high schools which graciously host visiting admission representatives, the message of “top colleges” is continually reinforced. When I visit, I’m greeted by counselors who chant “fit” as if it’s the secret handshake to the ethical counseling club; then proceed to walk down the hallways bedecked with posters of student matriculations listed by rankings. Students who enroll at schools not in the top 50 are conspicuously absent from bulletin board representation.

Often I’m informed that students can’t meet with admission representatives because they are “too busy applying” or “it’s not the type of school our kids are interested in.” Counselors are quick to point to pressure from administrators, who see top 50 admission offers as essential advertising to prospective parents. Administrators defend their stance, claiming parents only want to learn about highly ranked institutions. Parents complain that they only know what the counselor tells them. Everyone bemoans the interference from agents. With the cyclical finger pointing, it’s no wonder there is mistrust among the various stake holders in the college admission process.

With the disruption in the flow of information, it’s time for all parties to look inward and examine where we can improve.

Fellow college recruiters:

  • Incorporate a few minutes at the beginning or end of each visit for a private conversation with the counselor to share new initiatives, trends, and to learn about specific students.
  • Familiarize yourself with the needs of the school and consider revising your presentations, according to the demographic you’ll be addressing.
  • Focus your message on the concerns specific to each region; differentiating even among schools within the same city.
    • Ask your host if there is a topic or issue that you can clarify to the community during your visit.
    • Speak to the students about unique campus experiences.
    • If you are a brand name school, consider traveling with a lesser known school. Better yet, make it your school’s policy to NOT visit high schools that restrict visits from colleges based on rankings. Publicize this policy.

School Counselor friends:

  • Ask your college representative for a fact sheet to share with students and parents ahead of the visit. Identify a few students who might be a good academic, social or financial fit for the institution and encourage them to attend the presentation.
  • Consider quantifying your students’ successes by the percentage of students who were admitted into THEIR top choices. If 95% of students had offers from at least one of their top three choices, it speaks to the quality of your counseling!
  • Welcome your alumni back over winter break to speak to current students. Include students who chose an atypical destination, a community college, took a gap year, went to an art school.
  • Set the tone at your school. When you promote your students’ matriculations, include ALL destinations. List alphabetically, instead of by ranking. Validate all post secondary choices.
  • Collaborate with other school counselors in your region; sharing resources promotes transparency. It will also make visiting your city more desirable if a college representative knows she can visit multiple schools in one day.
  • Do allow students to fill out contact cards. This allows colleges to contact students directly, and can bypass agent interference.

Open communication is a two way street. It is incumbent on university admission officers to reach out and engage directly with students, their parents, and counselors in meaningful interactions. However the onus lies on the counselors, the high school administration, and parents to be willing to receive the visits, to be open to learning about opportunities and experiences at a variety of institutions. When colleges and counselors work together, students succeed.

This graphic depicts three similar schools. One is ranked Top 25, one Top 50, and one Top 100.





Barbara Carletta Chen is the Beijing based China Admissions Representative for The University of Tulsa. Barbara is a frequent presenter at EducationUSA counseling and admissions workshops and was a Distinguished Visiting Faculty Member at The College Board Summer Institute for International Counselors. She is a member of the International Association for College Admission Counseling.

Editor’s note: Are you an institution recruiting in China? A school counselor based in the region? What has your experience been connecting with students directly? Add to the conversation in the comments below!

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