Nominee Answers: Sonia Ryan

Nominee for President-elect:

 Sonia Ryan

Sonia Ryan
Director of College Counseling
Justin -Siena High School (CA)

The nominees were asked to address the topics listed below:

  • How might your personal and professional experience inform your work on the NACAC Board?
  • What do you believe to be the greatest challenges facing the college counseling and admission profession and why?  Identify factors we should consider relative to these challenges as well as potential ways to problem-solve. 
  • What are the greatest challenges specific to NACAC that the board needs to consider?  Why should these be the top priority for the board?

I began my work as a public high school counselor, and I learned quickly that my caseload was, to put it mildly, overwhelming. There was no way I could adequately counsel 450 students. Understaffed and underfunded, we did all we could. But it was simply not possible to meet the needs of aspiring college students—and forget about identifying talented students who could thrive in college but were unaware of the opportunity. Those early counseling experiences have instilled in me a commitment to increase student opportunities to college counseling resources. It showed me the need for greater funding and providing professional training for high-school counselors. There are thousands of students who can thrive in college but who are left to fend for themselves, resulting in thwarted dreams and under-enrolled colleges.  My 22 years of counseling experience provides me with professional expertise and the ability to lead our organization, bringing with a high-school perspective that NACAC needs to accomplish this mission in the challenging years ahead.  

Years ago, I joined NACAC and my affiliate because I saw opportunities to learn while building relationships with like-minded professionals who believe in this work as much as I do. This organization brings opportunities to admissions professionals and to students, and I am inspired by an organization who wants to serve students.  

In my years as a member of NACAC and my affiliate, Western, I have served on numerous committees. For example, I chaired the Admission Practices Committee, working to stay true to best practices and ethics on admissions, and I have served on my affiliate’s Government Relations & Advocacy Committee, developing policy initiatives in higher education and lobbying in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C. Through this service I have come to know the organizational structure of my affiliate.

I see enormous value in using shared data to inform our work. My work as a college counselor and with my affiliate has underscored the importance of gathering and analyzing data to gauge the effectiveness of our programs and inform our strategic planning. This is critically important for NACAC as it navigates the financial, ethical, and cultural challenges this decade presents. Data, when used appropriately, reveals that which is otherwise invisible.  

Personally, my initial experiences with college admissions came when I was a high-school student. I had little help as a first-generation student on my journey to a college education. Beyond my parents' encouragement, they were unable to help me.  Moreover, I rarely met my high-school counselor, and except for guidance provided by my soccer coach I was on my own to find my way to higher education. I too often felt lost, trying to make important decisions that would have resonance for me for years. When I landed my first job as a high-school counselor I was driven by those experiences to give my students the college-advising guidance they needed. I have continued doing that for two decades.  And now, twenty-two years later, navigating this world is unnerving. My experiences as a single mother of two high-school students today brings this reality home.  As familiar as I am with college admissions, the process appears very daunting when seen through the eyes of my children, and it carries a far more daunting financial commitment.

The three greatest challenges facing the college counseling and admission profession today are to ensure fairness in the college admissions process, expand training for high-school counselors and college admissions officers, and blunting the steeply rising costs of a college education. Ensuring fairness in the college-admissions process is a critically important challenge today. It is not merely a challenge for college admissions, it is crucial to our society. Varsity Blues highlighted the most outlandish aspects of the inequities of our current system. Far more important is addressing deeper problems that hamper us from identifying those talented students who are currently being missed in our current system, including rural and other underserved populations. NACAC can lead the nation toward a process that redefines what a “qualified” student is and recruits that talent.  

Expanding professional development opportunities to more high-school counselors and college admissions officers is clearly needed to meet that first challenge. The lack of expertise in America’s public high schools to counsel and guide students toward college deprives students of opportunity, leaving it to those blessed with financial resources.  

Finally, the steeply rising cost of college is an enormous challenge. No matter what we do to identify, support, and recruit talent, the ominous financial burden of college deters too many students and families today. It has already begun undercutting the American dream. Out-of-control costs have made college impossible for some and not worth it for hundreds of thousands of high-school students.

The greatest challenges to NACAC that the board must consider are not difficult to identify, but they require broad support of our membership.  We must expand our opportunities to build more revenue, finding creative ways to expand our membership as we do so, and we need to develop innovative ways to strengthen our position as the leading organization for college advising, nationally and internationally. 

Building a board that is representative of our membership is fundamental.  We are most effective when we bring in new voices to inform our work, and when we push each other to innovate. There are tens of thousands of young people who want and deserve a college education but feel it is out of their reach. We can show them otherwise.  I can think of no purpose more important than to help our young people pursue their dreams. 


Return to Sonia Ryan's main nominee page. 

 View Sonia Ryan's statement. 

Review Sonia Ryan's biographical information. 

View Sonia Ryan's speech. 


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