Office of Admissions
One Dent Drive
November 1, 2021
Sometimes you travel a long distance to go see a college or university that interests you. Other times, if you're lucky, that college or university comes to see you.
They're called counselor visits, and they're a great way to learn more about a university without leaving school grounds.
In this episode of College Admissions Insider, we'll share our top tips for making the most of these counselor visits. We'll cover it all: what happens during a typical counselor visit, whether students should prepare for these visits — and if so, how — and whether it's necessary to send a follow-up message to the counselor after their visit.
Here to help us break it all down is Ben Kavanaugh, associate director of Admissions for Bucknell.
If you have a question, comment or idea for a future episode, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[00:00:05] BW: Sometimes you travel a long distance to go see a college or university that interests you, and other times, if you're lucky, that college or university comes to see you.
[00:00:16] BT: They're called counselor visits, and they're a great way to learn more about a university without leaving the halls of your high school. I'm Brooke Thames from Bucknell University, and in this episode of College Admissions Insider, we'll share our top tips for making the most of these counselor visits.
[00:00:30] BW: I'm Bryan Wendell also from Bucknell. We're going to cover it all in this short episode. What happens during a typical counselor visit? Whether students should prepare for these visits, and if so, how? Whether it's necessary to send a follow up message to the counselor after their visit.
[00:00:46] BT: Here to help us break it all down is Ben Kavanaugh, Associate Director of Admissions for Bucknell. Welcome to the podcast, Ben.
[00:00:53] BK: Thank you for having me.
[00:00:55] BW: Hey, Ben, thanks so much for joining us. I know you do a lot of these high school visits throughout your territory. In fact, you just shared with us before recording that you did a bunch of schools just today. Let's start by making sure everybody knows what those territories are and everything you do for a Bucknell. Can you give us an overview?
[00:01:12] BK: My territory is all of New England minus Connecticut. I guess what would be colloquially known as the Red Sox part of New England. I also have Hudson River Valley and the Capital District in New York. As you can imagine, the Red Sox quips don't go over very well there. I also am the vertical manager for engineering, so I'm very involved in a lot of the engineering decisions. I'm also a liaison for ROTC. So when they have interested students, I'm always the first to hear about it. I'm their advocate through our system, as well as the advocate for all the students that are from my territory. And of course, the old admissions saying, “Other duties as assigned.”
[00:01:57] BT: Yeah, and as Bryan mentioned there, you do a ton of high school visits in multiple states. Of course, there are far more high schools in a territory than any college admissions counselor could ever visit. How do schools decide where they want to spend their time?
[00:02:11] BK: I did neglect to mention one of the other things I do. I'm also overseeing off-campus recruitment. That's something I've spent a lot of time doing.
They're certainly high schools that we tend to target because we get applications from them every year. It makes sense to continue to visit them. There's also high schools we target because we'd like to get more applications from them, because either they produce wonderful students or they produce students in a demographic that we would to increase presence on campus. Also, of course, on campus, there have been a lot of DEI initiatives — diversity, equity & inclusion. We're also trying to increase more underrepresented schools in our territory. We're reaching a broader swath of the high school public, so thus, eventually, a brighter swath of the American public will be represented on our campus.
[00:03:00] BW: That's awesome. I'm thinking about these visits that you're right in the middle of as we're recording. I'm realizing that some of our listeners might not have experienced one of these counselor visits themselves. Either maybe they had some called off during COVID and couldn't actually do it, or maybe they're earlier in their college search journey and haven't had the opportunity yet. Can you tell us what typically happens when you visit a school? How long you’re there? What do you talk about all that good stuff?
[00:03:27] BK: Typically, I'm probably at a high school maybe 30 minutes to an hour. It depends on the logistics of the high school and what they allow. A typical visit, I'm having a conversation with interested students, and giving them a presentation about Bucknell, and also fielding their questions, and then walking them through the application process. If there's interest, I also have conversations with the counseling staff at the school. Often they'll want to touch base on previous year's applicants or want to get an update on what's happening on our campus.
[00:04:01] BT: I wonder have counselor visits changed over the years, I guess, especially in the time that you've been a counselor doing all of these visits and talking to students?
[00:04:08] BK: Yeah, I'm in my 16th year at Bucknell. I've certainly changed the way I've done them. That's one of the challenges of being an admissions officer, you don't often get to witness other people's visits. Certainly, I think when I started out, it was much more of a rehearsed speech 20–30-minute presentation. Then at a certain point, I just had one of those thought bubbles, right? They just popped into your head. It just occurred to me one day, “Why don't I just talk to the students? Why don’t I just have a conversation?”
Compared to when I started, my presentations are much shorter. I give maybe a five-to-seven-minute presentation, less about the data and the resources of the institution and more about I think the student who thrives at Bucknell, the kind of student that would be attracted. Why would someone move from New England to Central Pennsylvania? They’re like, “Well, we have colleges locally.” So I try to paint a picture of the kind of student that is looking for a place like Bucknell.
Then after that, I invite questions because I really want to hear what they want to know. It's always a wide range. Then after I take questions, I pivot back to talking about our application process. I try to give them practical real-world, not hyperbolic stuff — the stuff that I'm actually thinking, stuff that I'm actually considering as I'm reading an application. Just so it's practical so they get something useful out of the exercise.
[00:05:35] BW: That's great. These days, I think students certainly expect and, you might even say, deserve that type of customization that you're giving them and that type of interactivity. So it's not just like a presentation that they could watch online or something. Which is actually perfect because I was just thinking, there's a lot of information that is available online and that they can get from, let's say, a viewbook that a Bucknell or another school might send them. Other than just the chance to talk to you, are there other advantages to having a counselor visit them in person and have that conversation?
[00:06:11] BK: Yeah, I mean, I think there's the opportunity to have specific questions asked. I think there's just also an opportunity to make a connection, to make the institution seem a little bit more real. At a certain point of the college search process, it goes from being this theoretical construct — like college is this thing that's far off in the future — and, at certain point, it hits them: “I'm going to be in college next year!” And they really start to buckle down and take the process seriously.
I think, especially when you're going a little further from home — maybe not in one of our neighboring states, maybe the institution's a little bit more unfamiliar — it's nice to have that personal touch. It's nice to hear someone who's actually from the institution, who can speak to not only the student experience but what it's like to actually live there. Those are the kinds of questions we also field. Yeah, sometimes depending on the size of the group we meet, we may get into more esoteric or more random kind of conversations, but I think the personal interaction is important. I think we're trying to represent what place we are, what kind of institution we are, and it is based a lot on personal contact and personal attention.
Having someone physically in front of you talking to you, I think it makes a huge difference. I mean, it illuminates, it changes, it transforms from theoretical to real. I think it helps students go, “Yeah.” You're trying to reduce some of their anxiety as well about the process. A lot of the questions I get, I can see better live than I can on video. I can see anxiety, I can see apprehension, I can hear their voice, I can see the expressions on their furrowed brows. So some of it is also calming down fears, trying to dissuade rumors that have spread about how we do things or just how the process works in general. I always hope that students leave my visits, feeling better about us and feeling better about themselves in the process than when they started.
[00:08:16] BT: Yeah, I love that point about making the theoretical real. Having someone there who's a physical representation of the school really personalizes that experience, especially when websites and viewbooks can all look the same sometimes when you're just taking a glance. So switching gears a little bit to talk more about the high schooler’s perspective or experience. I guess, starting from the beginning, how will students know which schools will be visiting their high school? Do they sign up for these visits, or do they just come?
[00:08:43] BK: It usually happens in a couple of ways. I mean, all the students that are in our database, once I confirm a visit with the highest school, they're going to get notified at some point that I'm coming. They’re going to get the details of the time and the visit. Most schools these days have some online database system for this process, whether it's Naviance, or Score, or MaiaLearning, some of the others. So they're also getting notified from their school, but we want to do more, that's not enough. We also send a poster, so we have something physical that's there that says, “Hey, someone's visiting.” Usually these posters are put in a prominent location, or the guidance or college counseling office, so the students can see them as they walk by.
Of course, one of the challenges of the pandemic, many places are still remote, or hybrid, or they're doing delayed openings, so they don't always see that. There's multiple ways that we tried to advertise the visits. And especially with the schools that we have great relationships with, they're also they're often seeking out students and talking to students and going, “Hey, you remember we talked about Bucknell? I put them on the list. They're coming and they'll be here next year, you should sit in on that.” That's why we also try to cultivate relationships with counselors, so that they're also advocating for us and also trying to find students who they think would be interested or will thrive at Bucknell.
[00:10:10] BW: So once they have that on their radar, and they say, “Okay, Bucknell’s coming next week or school X is coming in a couple of weeks,” should they be preparing for this, having done some research or come up with questions? Or do they come in as a blank slate? What's your recommendation there?
[00:10:26] BK: You get a wide range of students. I mean, I think they should come in with a bare minimum of sincerity. I mean, no admissions officer wants to meet with someone who's just showing up to cut class. No, we want people that are interested.
You'll get people that are like, “Hey, I know nothing about you. Just the name Bucknell sounds really cool.” Or you get people that say, “Yeah, I don't know anything about you, but my father's best friend is a Bucknellian and can't stop talking about you.” There are other people that have started to research. Then you have some people that are like, “I visited three times. My mother, my father, my grandmother, my grandfather, my great uncle — I have 17 people in my family that have attended Bucknell.” So I see a wide spectrum of people.
I mean, it's usually one of the first things I do when I sit down with a group is I kind of poll the students and go, “How much do you know?” If everyone's visited, that's going to be a different start to the conversation than if everyone's like, “Yeah, we don't know. We're juniors, we’re just starting out.” So we get a wide range, and that's okay. Like I said, the only thing I asked for is that you want to be there, and that you interact with me, and that you take the thing seriously. I don't want people that are there to ruin the experience for others, because that's no fun for anybody.
[00:11:49] BT: So I wonder, are there any examples of interactions or experiences that you've had during these visits that really stood out to you that were of really great quality with students who were really interested?
[00:12:00] BK: Yeah, I had a great visit today at Exeter High School in Exeter, New Hampshire, and one of the students kept asking these wonderful questions. She kept anticipating, I think, some of the challenges. I mean, last year, we had a wonderful year. We enrolled a record number of students, and she's like, “Well, does that mean you're going to enroll fewer students this year?” I'm like, “Well, that's a great question. I mean, I'm glad that you're thinking in that way.” I mean, it's like one of those things that you still talk about a little bit, but you like people that are thoughtful, you like people that are listening to what you have to say and that are asking questions based on that, versus just asking a question that they think they should.
I don't mind students having a long list of questions. Sometimes they'll just put the notebook dramatically on the table with this list of questions, but the question should have some connection to something. It’s always impressive when people are listening to what you have to say, they're processing it, then they ask the logical follow up to it. I enjoy that. I enjoy when there's just real engagement, when there's real connection between us. They're actually like, “Yeah, I’m listening to what you have to say.”
[00:13:05] BW: It seems like that type of student who's really interested and engaged, that New Hampshire student that you just talked about, obviously is interested in Bucknell and might end up applying here. So the line I draw in my head is, you're one of the people reading applications for students in your territory. And if you're visiting them, then that's a chance for them to say face to face, “Hey when you see my application, be sure to give it a good read.” I don't know, is that realistic or logical to think that a student could try to make that connection with you in person knowing that, down the road, you're going to read their application?
[00:13:46] BK: Well, something I always stress is our application process is designed to look at multiple factors. It's not designed to fall on one factor, such as a certain board score or did I get the chance to meet the admission officer face to face and make a good impression on them? This season, between virtual and in person visits, I will visit 138 schools. I will probably talk to somewhere between five and 600 students. Am I going to remember everyone? No, but that's okay. It's not about making an impression on me. It's about getting the information you need to figure out, “Do I want to attend this place? Do I want to spend four years of my life at this institution?” So really, I think the students should approach the visit more as what can they get out of it that's going to be useful for them.
I mean, I have a cynical, wizened Generation X view. My generation invented irony, and sarcasm, and cynicism to a degree that still stuns the greater world. So trying to impress the admission, I don't think that's that should be the focus, it should be on, what are you looking to get out of it and then trying to get that information out of it.
If you act like yourself and you are yourself, like the student today, then you impress people in your own way versus you trying to think, “Alright, let try do something.” Sometimes students will send resumes to me. I get the sense of trying to impress me. Don't try so hard. Just let the process play out. Anything that adds anxiety to this process, quash, get rid of, stop. It should be about trying to make this decision and also trying to reduce anxiety at the same time, because too much of one will prevent you from making the decision on the other.
[00:15:40] BT: Yeah. Speaking of getting what you need out of the session and asking those questions, are there certain types of questions that are maybe more helpful than others? Like instead of just asking, “Well, what is the student-faculty ratio?”, maybe going further and being like, “Well, what does that student-faculty ratio actually going to mean for me when I'm learning?”
[00:15:57] BK: Well, I wish I get that question more often. I really have to try to make that statistic explicit in my presentation, explain why that thing is important. Yes, to your point, I think too often students are asking questions and that I’m not sure what they're asking. I'm not sure what the significance of the question is. I really don't mind any kind of question as long as it's sincere and it helps the students figure out their way in the process.
Yeah, I mean, that's exactly the kind of question that I typically get where I'm going, “The student has no idea what they're asking for. They have no idea what the significance of it.” Although, having been in this long enough, I try to anticipate some of those kinds of things in what I say in terms of my build up about Bucknell. Again, it's really about what's going to help me figure out which institutions that I am going to apply to and I'm going to enroll in should I be admitted. That's really the goal.
[00:16:54] BT: So how about after the visit? Is it important for students to follow up and reach out? If so, does it matter what they say or is just saying, “Thank you for coming. I really enjoyed it…” — is that enough?
[00:17:07] BK: I mean, students shouldn't feel obligated to thank me. It's nice when I get it. It's nice when someone's like, “Hey, man, thanks for stopping. I really enjoyed the conversation. I really learned about Bucknell.” I get excited when they say, “Yeah, now I'm checking you out more. I'm going to talk to my parents about visiting.” That there's some action on their end, that's when I get excited. But students shouldn't feel they have to contact us just to contact us.
But yeah, I mean, I would say contact us if there's a question that, after searching on the website, you can't find the answer to. I mean, nothing's more frustrating to an admission officer than getting a question, then all we've done is just literally put in two search words into our website, and then the first thing that pops up is literally the answer to their question. You're feeling like, yeah, someone's told them that they should be contacting this on a regular basis.
Again, that's something that adds stress, it adds anxiety. We’re quashing that — we're removing the stress, we're removing the anxiety. We're not expecting you to contact us on a weekly basis. It's great if you do, it’s great if we can answer your question and give you a piece of information that will help you in your process. But yes, students shouldn't feel obligated to contact us. It's really okay.
[00:18:21] BW: Yeah, being a high school student is stressful enough as it is. So trying to take out those sources of stress, I love that philosophy. I will say that one thing that maybe does add some stress in the application process is this concept demonstrated interest. We've done a whole episode on it, so we've covered it in depth there, and I'd encourage people to listen to that conversation. But the question that applies here is, does demonstrated interest come into play with a visit? If someone signs up for one of your visits and shows up, are they getting a checkbox in Bucknell’s records for having done so?
[00:18:57] BK: Now, that's a great question. I mean, the first thing I do is, as soon as the students have arrived, I get them to fill out information card. I do that for a couple of reasons. First, I do it because I've got information. I've got information about major, I've got information about what year they're in…if they’re at boarding school, I might have information about where they're from. These are good conversation starters, but the card also has a code on it. You see an SBHK in the corner, that means it's a visit to a school that I've made. We FedEx them back to Bucknell, because we want to get this stuff back into our database as quickly as possible. We track all the contacts that students make with us. As we look through the file, we can say, “Oh, when I visited their high school, this student showed up for a visit.” So that that's always nice to see, especially when they utilize the information that we've that we've given them.
Yeah, that's why I start out with this. So that way, students don't have to worry or wonder about, am I demonstrating interest? Spending time with your admission officer when they visit the school, that's one of the bigger demonstrations of interest. I mean, obviously, the biggest one would be applying Early Decision. Second big, is when you physically visit us on campus. But seeing us at a [high school] visit, that's a pretty big one. That's something that we definitely pay attention to.
[00:20:25] BT: Zooming out just a little bit, Ben, you're one of several college counselors that students might see over the course of a semester. So how do you recommend that they keep track of everyone who comes to visit? Is that where note taking might come in handy?
[00:20:41] BK: Yes, yes, yes. I wish more students took notes of everything. When you visit campus, and you hear the information sessions. When you take the tour, taking photos, taking videos. Yes, I wish more students took notes. I don't know how they manage it otherwise. Especially if you have schools where you might have 200 colleges visiting, students are sitting in on 10 or 15 visits over a two-year period. You have to keep notes. If nothing else, at least some spreadsheet with the data and the information.
But I think part of the process is also figuring out what it is that you're looking for, what it is that's important to you. Once students figure that out — which of course is the hardest part of the college search process is figuring out what you want out of it — then I think it becomes easier to figure out which pieces of data or which pieces of information are the most supportive.
But yeah, I do wish more students kept notes. I don't know if they think they're offending us. But no, I always like it because, again, it shows engagement. I don't care if it's a computer, I don't care if the writing it. No, I enjoy that. Again, anything that shows buy-in, I'm always like, “Yeah, that's great, that's great. We're taking this seriously. This is a valuable experience for them. This is great. That's why I'm here.”
[00:22:05] BW: Back to the theme of this episode, which is trying to reduce the anxiety, that's going to help you later, instead of having to say, “Wait, which one, was it where we had the really good conversation?” Check the notes, that was Bucknell. That's really, that's really cool.
Well, we're running low on time here. I do want to ask one last question, the big picture question. Is there some big takeaway that you hope that someone takes from this episode as they may be preparing for an upcoming counselor visit at their school?
[00:22:33] BK: Yeah, this is part of the process. It's almost like a part-time job that you're neither being compensated for or, in a sense, getting credit. So there's a lot of work that goes into it. It's kind of like running a marathon. No one ever said at the end of a marathon, “I wish I'd run fewer miles,” right? No one ever said the end of the college admissions process, “I wish it did less work on that.” No, I mean, you have to put the work in. You have to put the care in.
Part of meeting with schools is getting a sense of landscape. I always say it's kind of like buying a house. You start off with this theoretical house with all the things that you need. “Yeah, wouldn’t it be great if there was a slide from the bedroom to the living room?” Then you have to go out into the community and see what actually exists. Then some things you think are important, [you end up] like, “Yeah, I really don't need a slide. That's weird. That would be something that'd be hard to resell to somebody.” Okay, that get you rid of, but you see other things and you're like, “Oh, I didn't realize I needed this aspect.” It really changes your process. I think the college search process is the same way. As you start visiting colleges, as you start talking to people doing the research, things start to shift, and that's totally normal. It's totally okay.
We want to be part of that process. We want to give you information, and we want to give you things that are useful that are going to help you figure out what is the best path. Because I think what's ultimately challenging for students is that there isn't really that one perfect college.
For most students, there's going to be four or five that they'd have a great experience at. The challenge is getting to those four or five. And that's a process, that’s why it take time. It's not glamorous, you got to put the work in. But if you do that, you use enough planning, you use enough foresight and enough thinking you will get a great result at the end.
This is a fantastic place, but it's not going to be the place for every student. That's okay, too. Sometimes you might find the place you feel like is a better fit. Am I going to be offended? No, it's really about you finding a place where you're going to thrive and be happy and be successful and ultimately have an educational experience that will position you for success in life. If you pick us, I'd love that. I'd love it, but if not okay, yeah. I'm just glad we're in conversation.
[00:25:01] BT: I've been so glad to be in this conversation and with that I think we're going to bring this episode of College Admissions Insider to a close. Thanks, Ben for being our guest and helping us understand just how valuable those high school visits can be.
[00:25:13] BK: Well, it's my pleasure, I really enjoyed it.
[00:25:15] BW: Yeah, and thanks to everybody out there for listening to our podcast. If you're a fan, please take a moment to share, rate and subscribe. Also, when you leave us a positive review or subscribe, that really helps us grow our audience and reach more high school students and their families. So we would really appreciate that extra step.
[00:25:31] BT: Please come back to hear another new episode in just two weeks. In the meantime, we welcome your questions, comments and episode ideasahead and send those to email@example.com.
[00:25:42] BW: Finally, you're invited to follow up Bucknell on your favorite social media apps. Just look for @Bucknellu on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and now TikTok. You can also follow our student run Instagram account which is always fun. It's @iamraybucknell.
[00:25:58] BT: Until next time, keep on reaching for your dreams and your dream school.
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