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We Get By with a Little Help from Our Friends

By Nastaran Hakimi posted 10-26-2022 02:12 PM

We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends by Nastaran Hakimi, Director of Enrollment Management & Institutional Advancement at Boston University Academy, and Christian Donovan and Christian Donovan, Head of School at Friends School of Baltimore

We all become admission professionals for different reasons – perhaps it’s simply an accident, or we are lifelong tour guides, or it’s the result of our own personal experiences at Independent Schools, or it could be the natural transition from teaching to the desire to try something different professionally. Regardless of the reason, I would be hard-pressed to find an admission professional who doesn’t frequently declare that the thing they most love about their job is the students that they get to work with. While the students are a clear highlight of the work we do, it’s surprising that we don’t more frequently boast about our networks and mentors in the admission world. Reflecting on my career thus far, it’s these people that have guided me when I have wondered what happens if we’re not fully enrolled this year, when I’ve been curious about whether my salary is “normal,” or when I haven’t known how to account for those international tax documents submitted for financial aid review. These are the same people that have been eager to grab a drink after a school fair and have been generous with their time and counsel. Although our budgets may be thin, the resources we have among our colleagues is rich and I challenge you to seek out a few key personality types as you build out your network of support.

The Idol

It’s imperative that we all find someone (or multiple someones) that we aspire to be like professionally. Whether it’s in their work-ethic, the way that they charm prospective families and colleagues, or their resume of admission accolades, these people push us to be the best versions of ourselves and give us a model of what can be if we work hard and remain committed to the work we are doing. This person generally has a way of doing things with ease and grace that we may find personally challenging. Ask this person a lot of questions, observe how they conduct themselves, and remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The Cheerleader 

Cheerleaders are crucial relationships to have and to build in order to feel supported and celebrated in the workplace. In those moments when you feel like nothing is going right, these are the people that reground you and remind you why you got into this work in the first place. They cheer you up when you need a pep-talk and they publicly credit you in front of others when recognition is appropriate. We need people that validate us and lift us up when the work doesn’t feel glamorous and our cheerleaders are the first to do so.  

The Expert

This is someone who has been in the field for a long time who you can call with questions about specific situations. This person knows the industry backwards and forwards and can give you their honest opinion about that new initiative that you want to try. They don’t make you feel silly for asking the “stupid question,” as they are determined to help support the next generation of admission professionals and to impart their knowledge accordingly. This person may also be viewed as an “influencer” of sorts, as part of their value is their ability to connect you with others in the field. Since they are already respected in their networks, they can make a phone call or send an email to introduce you to others that can be crucial in your growth trajectory.

The Person Who Tells You How It Is

We all need someone who we trust that isn’t afraid to tell us that we talk too fast, that we’re not being clear in our delivery, or that we’re simply – wrong. This person cares about our professional trajectory and wants us to be the best version of ourselves. We should encourage these people to give us feedback that might not always be easy to hear for the purpose of continuous improvement. This personality might be the hardest one to find, as it requires a trust and openness that takes time and care to build. That type of trust might be easier to build if this person works in a different market or doesn’t work for a school that is a direct competitor of yours.

The Equal 

Who says a mentor has to be someone who is a more senior leader? Learning from our colleagues, or rather, those in similar roles than us, can often be the most rewarding experience, as they understand the grueling nature of the “little things.” These are the folks that we can call when we’re unsure of how to relay bad news to an affiliated family or when we need a friend to commensurate with during the peak of the admission season when it’s truly impossible for people outside of admissions to understand that the hours we invest don’t feel like a choice, but rather, a requirement of our positions.  

The Protege

This is the person who seeks you out as a mentor. The often used adage in teaching is that you do not truly know something until you can teach it to someone else. The same is true in mentorship. The protege is the person that you advise and counsel based on the experiences and knowledge that you bring to the profession. So try out some of the things that you have learned from your own mentors. This is the moment to truly see if you can explain the best way to consider the impacts of an S-Corp in the financial aid methodology. 

Forming relationships with our colleagues is not only a “nice-to-have” but a “need-to-have,” as we navigate the cyclical, and always hectic, admission world. In a business where it’s increasingly easy for us to negatively critique ourselves and those around us, it’s crucial to build a network of mentors to lean on and depend on. These people keep us grounded, provide priceless advice, and give us something to aspire to. If we’re lucky, they also become our friends. Lastly, I task all of us to also pay it forward and to invest in serving as mentors to others – they will be the future of our profession.

Christian Donovan
Head of School
Friends School of Baltimore

Nastaran Hakimi
Director of Enrollment Management and Institutional Advancement
Boston University Academy

1 comment



11-04-2022 01:41 PM

Enjoyed this, Nastaran!  Thank you for sharing.  I love thinking back over the mentors I've had over the years.  Funny how they do tend to fall into the categories you mention!