Gary A. Clark, Jr.
How long have you worked in the counseling field? How did your career path lead you to your current position as the University of California, Los Angeles’s director of undergraduate admission & relations with schools?
I’ve been in college admission for roughly 15 years…hard to believe! My undergraduate experience at Christopher Newport University (CNU) (VA) had a remarkable impact on my life, and I knew early on that higher education would be a calling for me. I wanted to help students (especially the first in their family to go to college) and their families understand what can be a confusing process of applying for college.
After leaving CNU, I had the opportunity to work at the College of William & Mary (VA) before moving to California in 1999. I spent six remarkable years at Pitzer College (CA), learning from dedicated faculty and staff and some of the most socially conscious students I’ve ever met. I’ll always be thankful to Arnaldo Rodriguez, the former vice president of admission and financial aid at Pitzer, who inspired me and many others in this profession. The opportunity to then join the staff at the University of Southern California (USC) allowed me see higher education and admission from the perspective of a large, private research university. I was fortunate to be part of a senior team there that found a way to do extraordinary work and have fun doing so.
Now I have the opportunity to return to a public university and serve as director of undergraduate admission at UCLA. This is a phenomenal university in one of the most dynamic cities in the world. I’m humbled by the faith they have placed in me to lead our office and am excited to get to know the students, faculty and staff that make being a Bruin so special.
You’ve worked with both very large universities and small colleges. How is the admission process different between the two?
Every admission process is slightly different, in some form or fashion, but many of the underlying principles remain the same. The main differences are really mechanical. At each institution that I have been a part of, we looked at each applicant as an individual and considered both quantitative and qualitative factors in the evaluation process. Our goal is to find those students that will be engaging both in and outside of the classroom. Grade point average (GPA) and standardized test scores are important, but if considered in a vacuum they simply don’t give us enough to accomplish that goal. That is as true at a large research university as it is at a small liberal arts college.
How have budget challenges affected the admission office?
We are all asked to do more with less and find new, innovative and efficient ways to go about our work. With every challenge, however, comes an opportunity. Our opportunity has taken the form of increased recruitment efforts out-of-state and internationally to complement our continued recruitment throughout California.
What advice would you give to new counselors?
Network. Take the time to get to know the people that have made this their career. Have fun and recognize the difference you can make in the life of a student. When you’re working late hours or have been on the road for longer than you care to admit, remember the positive impact that we can have as stewards of a life-changing process for students.
Are you looking forward to any big projects in 2013?
Ushering over 90,000 freshman and transfer applications through our admission process is obviously in the forefront of my thoughts. I have great confidence in our process and the people that support it. There isn’t a project that is bigger or more important to me than that!
Five adjectives that describe yourself:
What is something you’re passionate about outside of your career?
I always wish I had more time to spend with my wife, Lolli, and my five-year old son, Beckett. We live further away from our families than we would like and always look forward to spending time with them whenever we can.
I’ve been a Los Angeles Lakers basketball fan since I can remember. If I’m lucky, I get to one or two games a year. Expectations are high this year, so let’s see if our roster of superstars can gel and bring another championship home to Los Angeles!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I had the great opportunity to skydive with the US Army Golden Knights! I honestly can’t believe I did it (I’m afraid of heights), but how could I say no?! What an unbelievable experience. Don’t misunderstand—I’ll never do it again, but I’m proud of myself for getting on the plane to begin with…