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Learning Apart, Together... Reflections on the WACAC 2021 Conference

Updated: May 29, 2022

We recently participated in the Western Association for College Admission Counseling (WACAC) virtual conference, themed “Voices for Access” for high school counselors, college admissions officers and independent counselors. Strive to Learn College counselors had the opportunity to participate in a variety of sessions, learning from some of the best professionals in our industry. Topics ranged from community college to the changing landscape of ACT and SAT, from what it means to partner with community organizations and private high schools to focusing on admissions for UK universities, and so much more! Below are our counselors' major takeaways from the event, and the crucial details they gleaned for you.


Josefine Borrmann

Founder & College Admissions Counselor There is never one answer to the most common questions about college admissions and testing. Hearing so many different professionals from the college admissions world share how they evaluate and read student applications has solidified again and again what we preach to our students: there is no one thing they look for, and the way applications are read and what is valued on an application varies wildly between universities.

Therefore, build your application on your strength, your passions, and your values. The university that is truly a good fit for you will pick up on those nuances of your application and offer you admission. There is no magical formula - deep research into schools, connecting with their admissions staff, and reflecting on who you are and what is important to you are the best ways to ensure a strong application that will get you where you want to go.


William Giacchi

Head College Counselor & Academic Coordinator

I attended a session that was intended to be a ‘mock admissions committee’ activity using fictional student profiles and universities and case studies. I participated as a small group of counselors making decisions on which students to admit to a given university based on a variety of factors, which was moderated by a panel of admissions officers from selective universities.

What I took away the most from the exercise is that admissions officers at schools that use a holistic admissions process (i.e. multiple factors taken into consideration, not just grades or test scores) really try to take their analysis of a student's application down to the human level as much as possible, because these are really difficult decisions. They try to develop a character study based on a student's GPA, courses taken, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, essays, and more application factors, and they use that character sketch to try and project whether a student has the characteristics of a student who is likely to thrive at that school. So it's much more of an art than a science when a college or university uses a holistic approach.

I think this means students should view their application as a way to highlight their strengths, their unique characteristics, and their potential/mindset for growth, rather than merely a set of numbers being crunched by a heartless machine. This is why it's so valuable for students to reflect on who they really are at the core and what they genuinely care about the most, because the opportunity exists to let those values shine through in their college applications.


Rachel Heilbronner

College Counselor & Client Experience Manager

For me, as someone who is newer to the big, wide world of college admissions and helping students through the process of finding the school that best suits them, I know that any kind of conference session I can attend is extremely valuable for my knowledge and development. I loved hearing from first-generation students who were part of a panel discussion and was left with the impression that they do not take for granted the opportunity to attend college.

I heard from experts in the field about a variety of issues surrounding college admissions and applications and listened to conversations about how the pandemic has changed the landscape of college admissions. Similar to many other industries, the college admissions landscape had to change quickly and think creatively - many schools became “test-optional” and many will stay that way for the foreseeable future, and schools want to know about the different things that students were able to do and achieve while they spent time at home, learning how to live their lives online.

Admissions teams will want to hear stories from students about resilience and how we changed for the better because of the challenges we faced; this does not mean that students should write their best sob stories, but maybe there were lessons to be learned from the sourdough bread that you couldn’t get to rise properly! We should still expect there to be changes in the college admissions process because of the pandemic, and it will be important for college counselors to stay on top of what is happening across the country so we can best advise our future and current students.

I am grateful for the chance to continue growing and learning from the best. I look forward to being able to put all of this knowledge into practice, and am excited to continue working alongside people who are passionate about helping students to achieve success!


Melinda Blackman

College Counselor, Graduate School Specialist

Every session was so relevant and timely, it was honestly so hard to choose which one to attend for fear of missing out on important information that another session might be also offering ... luckily the sessions were all recorded for us to watch at a later date. In particular, I enjoyed hearing about the outcomes for test-optional and test blind universities in the admission process. This insight will help me guide my new cohort of high school seniors.


Amanda Merrifield

College Counselor, International Admissions Specialist

This time of year is so interesting for us college counselors, and an important time to reflect on our students' successes and challenges of the year. When I attend college counseling conferences, I always learn new things. In fact, one of my favorite parts about this job is that I am constantly growing as a counselor and the college application process is always changing. This year, I got a huge kick out of listening to students from the US talk about their experiences going to university in the UK. I was born and raised in Orange County, CA, but now live in London, and it is so amazing to hear challenges and triumphs from these students that reflect some of my own. It is also a great reminder that there is no singular path we can all take when leaving high school - it is just whatever works best for our individual journeys!


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