Meet A.J. Howell-Williams

A.J. Howell-Williams
Senior Associate Director/Transfer Coordinator
Santa Clara University (CA)

What drew you to the world of college admission?
A guardian angel by the name of Paula Meiers, who now works at Pacific Lutheran University (WA), but was in admission at the University of Puget Sound (WA) for many years prior to that. She was essentially the team mom for basketball, and she called me the day before I was going to drive back to California, jobless, and said, “We have a position I think you’d be good in.” That was 15 years ago, and I’ve loved it ever since.

What is your favorite part of the job?
The educational aspect. The opportunity to demystify and enlighten. I love engaging with students, parents, counselors, teachers, etc.; having real, honest conversations about education and the process of being educated. I know things now that I didn’t know when I was in their shoes, and so I try to share that insight. And people seem to appreciate that.

How has NACAC played a role in your career?
The NACAC national conferences are always a good time; a great opportunity to see old friends and make new ones, to be inspired and inspire in return. As for the organization itself, I think it’s a good thing that we have a guiding light to hold us accountable to ourselves and our constituents.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?
In light of the Varsity Blues scandal, I’d say transparency.People want to know why we make the decisions we make. And while I do not believe that the public needs to know the inner-workings of every admission office and every decision, I do think that they benefit from being informed of our processes and considerations.

In the bigger picture though, I’d say cost. We are reaching a tipping point where prices are simply becoming unsustainable and unjustifiable. When starting salaries for college graduates are in the $50,000 range, it simply doesn’t make sensefor college to cost close to or above a quarter of a million dollars. We need to make changes before change is forced upon us.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
Writing and learning. I love to be informed. Being with my sons and wife, with friends and family. Hitting the gym. My two rules for my boys will be, “Hit the gym, and grow your hair out.” I will live vicariously through their hair.

My new book, It Ain’t Rocket Science: College Counseling for Everyone, is an extension of me. It is why I do what I do. It’s as real a conversation about education and the process of being educated, as you are likely to come across. My goal now is to share that conversation with as many people as possible -- especially those who need it.

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
My son would say I’d be Miles Morales’ uncle from Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse… “Hey.”

Describe yourself in five words.
Fun, funny, fabulous, gritty, and grounded.

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