Soon after graduating from university, I began my career in private school admission. It was a natural transition having studied at a boarding school before going to university. I was inspired by the kindness of my dorm parents, dedication of my teachers and the overall feeling of community at the school. The faculty and staff who worked with me made a small school in northern New Hampshire feel almost as comfortable as my home two hours away in Massachusetts. Eager to become the role model I so appreciated as a student, I began my career in independent schools. Five years later I have learned more than I ever could have expected. Below, I have included words of advice I (am still working on putting into practice) would give my younger self before starting out in the boarding school profession.
Identify and grow your strengths. Insecure about self-perceived professional weaknesses, I misdirected my efforts early in my career. It was not until I used a strengthsfinder that I realized I should be focusing my energy on what I do well. There are several excellent strength finders available to professionals aiming to better understand how to add value to an office. VIA offers a free service that is pleasantly comprehensive and helpful in strength identification.
Get to travel vs. have to travel. Domestic and international recruitment is a part of the job many admissions professionals have bitter-sweet feelings towards. The challenges that come along with travel are numerous. Currently, I am writing this somewhere over Colombia, sitting in an economy window seat where the woman in front of me has decided to recline and the woman beside me, with a nasty virus, is reading over my shoulder. Often we are in the air longer than on the ground, missing family and friends, in less than glamorous conditions. I could choose to focus on the time spent on a plane or I could choose to focus on the fact that in the past seven days I have five new stamps on my passport, learned countless new words in two different languages, made great contacts across countries and bonded with colleagues from other schools. Recently, I have chosen to focus on the latter. I bring back my soon-to-be husband a keychain from each new airport and my advisees small trinkets or local snacks. I view the experience as an adventure I am lucky to take part in while still earning a paycheck and representing a school where I am proud to work. This shift in mindset has transformed how I feel about my job and life as a whole.
You cannot fill with an empty pot. My second year in admission, I first heard the phrase “burn them and churn them.” It was used in reference to adding young people to an office, putting a lot on their plate and then letting them quit from exhaustion. I will never forget this moment and how devalued I felt. My first few years I coached, advised, performed a regular rotation of dorm duty and traveled. After traveling for work, I made up the dorm duty I missed while working. While this was challenging at the time, I am grateful for this experience. I learned from experience how wrong it is to “burn and churn.” Thinking back on that experience, I am reminded to treat others with empathy and respect. This taught me what boundaries I need to put in place in order to be happy and efficient. I also learned how I one day aim to lead an office and treat my future employees.
Only five years in, I am still new to the career and learning every day. I believe that admitting these growth points and sharing openly helps.
About Sarah Thompson
Sarah Thompson is the Director of Financial Aid, and Senior Associate Director of Admission at Cheshire Academy.