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Meet Sharon Williams

Sharon Williams
College Counselor
University of Chicago Laboratory High School (IL)

How did you get your start as a college counselor?
My journey to becoming a college counselor began like that of so many – I officially began my career as an admission counselor. The journey truly began, however, at my alma mater. I often remind students to choose their work-study positions carefully as they can become your career. After spending my first year working in the dining hall, I was fortunate to land a gig as a peer counselor and campus tour guide at the University of Colorado - Boulder in my sophomore year. After graduation I thought I wanted to work in retail; I found that work fun but unfulfilling. I began sending resumes and landed at Binghamton University (NY) as an assistant director for the Educational Opportunity Program, and seven years later moved on to the University of Rochester (NY) as an associate director. Eleven years of travel took its toll, however. I became enamored with the option to continue to work with students in this important arena and travel less, so college counseling was the perfect option. More than 30 years later I can still walk backwards and talk at the same time – a talent that comes in handy when chaperoning college visits or on spring break trips with my students.

What is your favorite part of the job?
There is so much I love about this work, but what I find most inspiring is fleshing out essay ideas with my students. I enjoy engaging them in conversations that allow me to learn more about them as people. I try to listen for nuggets that have the possibility to develop into meaningful stories. For many, these are the heart of their college applications. 

How has NACAC played a role in your career?
Participating in NACAC professional development programs like the national conference has provided learning and networking opportunities and provided numerous opportunities to connect with like-minded professionals. I began to see the true value of NACAC when I was selected on two occasions to serve as a member of the faculty for what was once known as the Hampton Experience (now Guiding the Way to Inclusion), an amazing experience for counselors of color. This gave me a great opportunity to grow as a presenter, while encouraging peers to embrace this work. The real work of this organization is at the local level. Serving on committees in my local affiliates allowed me to engage with a variety of people in our profession and build a professional network that truly helps me serve my students. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, here comes a student with an interest or combination of preferences that is a first. It’s awesome to have such a vast resource that allows me to support my students who think outside of the box. My students give me credit for knowing a lot. I give credit to my NACAC connections – if I don’t know the answer, I can find someone who does. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?Ah – there are so many! I think the fact that so much importance has been inappropriately placed on attending a select few “name brand schools” is at the heart of so many challenges in this work. This is exacerbated by the capitalistic desire to feed on the fears of parents and students who incorrectly believe they can buy their way in, or who “leverage” early decision options to insure admission, whether the school is a good fit or not. All of this leads to overworked, anxious families that need to focus as much on a colleges’ mental health resources as they do on desired major or scholarships. We keep hearing about challenges to this misguided direction, but I have yet to see any real change. In my dream world – we would have more transparency and honesty on the part of our college-side colleagues, less fear mongering among parents and students, and genuine respect for those experienced admission warriors who have been in the trenches for decades. 

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
When I’m being serious, I take great interest in supporting my students and colleagues who are involved in the work of equity and inclusion, and look to continue growing in this area myself. I love live music, especially jazz, gospel and R&B. I’m a bit of a foodie, so I love trying new restaurants and coffee shops. During the crazy seasons of this work, I try to escape through good movies, good books, a little retail therapy, and spa visits.

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
One of my favorite novels is In Search of Satisfaction by J. California Cooper, whose style of writing is compared to Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. It is an intergenerational, multi-racial story of identity, greed, status, and wealth, told from the perspective of a spider in the corner of room who sees everything. I would be the spider even though I detest them. The spider sees all, records all, and passes no judgement. Listening is a lost art, as is simple observation and taking time to see all before voicing an opinion. (Not that spiders can talk, but I’m sure you get the point!)

Describe yourself in five words.
Humble, honest, concerned, devoted, and practical.

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