On the Road: Graduates Relish Traveling the Country to Recruit for Mason

Posted: October 13, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Iby Setzer and Stephanie Embrey
Admissions counselors Iby Setzer and Stephanie Embrey have a chat during one of Embrey’s rare visits to campus — usually she’s on the road telling the Mason story to potential students.

By Leah Kerkman Fogarty

It’s been four months since his graduation from Mason, but Will Curley, BA ’08, isn’t watching daytime television or desk-jockeying for a faceless corporation. He’s out on the road, setting his own schedule and learning a crash-course in independence and responsibility.

As a so-called “road runner” for Mason’s Office of Admissions, Curley, who majored in government and international politics, is part travel agent, part admissions counselor and part Mason cheerleader.

Every year, Mason hires a few temporary admission counselors to pitch in during the busy recruiting season, says Kevin M. Holmes, director of undergraduate recruitment in the Admissions Office. “They start in August and usually travel and recruit all the way up to Thanksgiving in many cases.”

Telling the Mason Story, Near and Far

“As a road runner, I’m assigned a geographic area, and I do my own scheduling for that. I’ll do about three high school visits a day, and then I go to a college fair at night,” Curley explains. In his region, Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio, Curley tries to hit about 20 different high schools and college fairs per week.

Stephanie Embrey with student
Stephanie Embrey with a prospective student.
Creative Services photos

Stephanie Embrey, BS ’07, who covers New England as a road runner, describes her job as “counseling students while on vacation.” Since she loves to travel and has a degree in psychology, she’s a good fit for the job.

Holmes says that the best road runners are young grads or students who have been active in student organizations and participated in a variety of campus activities.

“They don’t have to be admissions experts,” Holmes says. “Their role is to go out and talk about their experiences at Mason, because that’s what students and parents and even guidance counselors want to hear.”

This strategy seems to be working. The number of students applying to Mason has increased every year for at least the last decade. In 1997, 16,054 students applied to the undergraduate, graduate or law programs at Mason. In 2007, that number almost doubled to 31,855 applicants.

So how does one go from being a recent Mason grad to being someone who represents the university at official admissions functions?

“All of the road runners went through a week of training where we learned all the different programs Mason has to offer and how to plan our trips,” explains Embrey. “It was a grueling process, but well worth it.”

“We hit the ground running,” says Curley, who worked in the Admissions Office part time when he was attending Mason and is considering admissions work as a career. But when the road runners are out and about issues can arise, so each runner has an assigned full-time admission counselor mentor to turn to with questions.

After all, says Holmes, most counselors were out on the road at some point in their admissions career, so they can sympathize with the life of a road runner.

“I can remember being on the road, 10 weeks, 12 weeks, at one point, 15 weeks at a time,” Holmes recalls.

“Most of the high school guidance counselors I meet with say, ‘You must be tired! All you do is drive all over the place!’” says Embrey. “But I love it. It sure beats waiting tables.”

Making a Connection

However, it’s not the time spent traveling that really sticks with you, road runners say, it’s the kids that you remember. Embrey recalls one high school student she had an appointment with in Rhode Island who wanted to go to school to become a marriage counselor, the same career Embrey would like to end up in someday.

“We definitely had the same interests, and I just talked to her, not just as a representative of Mason, but as a friend who was there to listen. She was a little worried about the cost of out-of-state tuition, but I told her that if she really had these dreams of going to a Virginia school, then only she could make them a reality,” says Embrey. “I learned a lot from her, and I still keep in touch with her through e-mail to see how her college planning is coming along.”

Curley says he’s surprised at how students just five years younger than him are so different in their approach to the college-application process.

“Students today know more than I do about this, even though I just graduated,” Curley laughs. “They’re really educated about the college-admission process. They ask questions that I wouldn’t have even thought to ask.” He pauses, and then adds: “Of course, there are the kids who just want to get out of class, too.”

But whether they get slackers or superstars in their meetings, both Embrey and Curley agree that, at the end of the day, it’s all about making a connection.

“It’s not about numbers,” says Curley, noting he had a successful day when a group of students showed up at an appointment in Mason gear. “If I meet one student out of the whole day who seems interested in Mason, then it makes my day,” says Embrey.

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