As counselors, we encourage students to become lifelong learners, to think of their diplomas from high school, college and even graduate school as milestones rather than endings.
As professionals, we need to do the same. We need to keep learning.
Why? Because our field is constantly changing. The population of college-going students is bigger and more complex. Government is providing less money and more regulation. Transparency, especially in terms of cost, is greater. Admissions offices (and their staff) are more accessible thanks to email, Facebook and Twitter. Technology has changed how we do business.
It’s easy to fall into a pattern; to become comfortable enough in our offices to stop trying to think of ways to grow as professionals.
But every development, transition and trend brings its own responsibilities and challenges and that means we must acquire knowledge and skills to keep up. When we were students ourselves, we learned in the classroom. Now, our professional development choices are broad and diverse. Opportunities to learn are everywhere.
Local groups and national organizations sponsor conferences that offer a valuable combination of presentations, workshops and networking time. Attend.
Many webinars are free or low-cost...and they can be “attended” right from your desk. Log in.
College counseling and admissions are hot topics in the media and there is no shortage of articles and books with valuable information. Bookmark links to your favorite websites and blogs and visit them often. Read.
Meet someone? Walk away with a business card and you have a new contact. Follow up with an e-mail or a request on LinkedIn and that contact becomes a colleague. Build a personal network of experts. Connect.
Build a “library” by asking colleagues to name their “go-to” item — the resource they can’t do without. Start with 10 and then ask for more. You’ll be referred to books, handouts, blogs and websites. Explore.
Understand that the benefits of membership often include not only reduced registration fees, but access to membership directories, e-newsletters and members-only events and e-mails.
The American School Counselor Association (schoolcounselor.org) and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (nacacnet.org) are two of the biggest, but there are many groups that bring counselors together — in person and electronically. NACAC alone has 23 state and regional affiliate associations and it’s easy to find others. Just Google “school counselor organization” to bring up hundreds of results. Add your city, state or region to narrow the search. Join.
Because in the end, we learn from each other and we are better when we cooperate and affiliate. Meet experts until you become an expert yourself. Look for a mentor until you can become one. Ask questions knowing that even when you have most of the answers you won’t have all of them. Never assume that you are done learning.
Lisa Sohmer is the Director of College Counseling & Upper Division Admission at the Garden School in Jackson Heights, N.Y.