Optimizing a Conference

Optimizing a Conference

How to take advantage of a college admissions and counseling conference

Matthew J. DeGreeff
Director of College Counseling
Middlesex School

An important part of our professional work as college counselors is to attend and participate in regional and national conferences, and I relish these opportunities to hear about new admissions trends, discover better ways to do our work, and connect with old and new friends on both sides of the desk. Over the years, I have kept a list of tips on how to get the most out of a conference, and I hope these 10 ideas help you get the most out of the next conference you attend! Maybe our paths will cross at a conference in the near future.

1. Before the conference, review the list of colleges that will attend and compare it to the list of colleges that your students will apply to. If there are colleges that you don’t know well, make a point to meet the admissions officers at the conference to learn about their colleges and educate them about your school.

2. Before the conference, make a coffee date or workout date with at least one admissions officer. The power of the invitation is easy to underestimate, and it is a good habit to extend yourself, make a plan, and then stick to it.

3. Don’t be afraid to invite yourself to dinner with a large group and don’t be afraid to invite someone to join your group for dinner. Most college counselors and admissions officers love to include others in their meal plans, and I have always been struck at the generous spirit of our colleagues at conferences.

4. Come early and stay late at the conference’s social events. The nervous energy at the start of an event can open up great conversations, and the lingering conversations in the waning hours of an event can be the most insightful.

5. Get a seat early for the “hot” sessions. Every conference has that one session that everyone is talking about, and it pays to slip into the room early.

6. Attend at least one big picture or futurist session that is tackling questions that are five to ten years down the road, even if it does not seem to relate to your current work. You never know when you will catch a new trend or pick up an issue that may impact the process for you, your students, and your school. Many years ago, I slipped into a session on potential changes in NCAA bylaws, and I learned that they were going to reconsider how they treated student- athletes who repeated a year of high school. That was an eye-opener!

7. Attend at least one workshop on diversity issues in the world of college admissions and school life. (tip from Marie Bigham, co-director of college counseling, Isidore Newman School)

8. When folks give you their business card, write a quick note on the back of the card about any impressions you have of the person. Write down the name of their spouse, partner, kid, or dog. Send them a quick email when you return to campus to thank them for the conversation.

9. Speak with panelists after they give their presentations. Ask a follow-up question, offer your gratitude for their work, and grab their business card. In most cases, colleagues are happy to be a resource and offer you advice in the future.

10. Visit a college near the conference with a group of college counseling friends.

Bonus tip!

11. My all-time favorite recommendation is to hang out in the lobby of the conference hotel and/or near the registration tables at the conference entrance. It is an easy way to reconnect with colleagues and make those plans that will make it a meaningful conference

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