by Kelsey Simonson, Associate Registrar, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine
I became an assistant registrar in December of 2015. I was 24 years old, excited, eager -- and in way over my head. I got the job because I knew the day to day operations of the registrar’s office. I could navigate the student information system; I had a grasp on FERPA; and I had a good rapport with the students. But I had no concept of the larger picture outside of my day-to-day grind. Where did a registrar have in the larger scheme of a university? How could I make my position better? What was my career trajectory?
I knew about AACRAO only from the FERPA Guide I inherited, but thought that going to the 2016 annual conference would be a good way to figure out what exactly I had gotten myself into in accepting my new position. Looking back, here’s what I did wrong, what I did right, and what I wish I had known before my first AACRAO annual meeting.
Opening Session can seem overwhelming; Don't get discouraged.
I started my first AACRAO conference like most people do - at the opening session in the ballroom of the Phoenix convention center. I sat in the back, by myself, and watched registrars who had been in the profession for over 30 years, who had doctorates, who had written books, come to the stage. Barely two years out of undergrad and only 5 months into my position, a wave of anxiety hit me; I was not like these people at all, and I was not at a point in my career where I could even see that being me one day. Rather than feeling inspired, I felt like a fraud.
I wish I had taken a moment to look to my left or my right instead of staring ahead in dismay. In years since, as I have expanded my role in AACRAO and in AACRAO leadership, I’ve heard from so many people that that impostor syndrome is very common. If I could do my first AACRAO over, I would have made more of an effort to seek out other people with first-timer badges, who were in the same place as me, to shake that feeling that I didn’t belong.
Go to what serves you.
At my first conference, I felt obligated to go to a session at every available time slot. After all, my employer was paying for me to be there, so I must have to “get the most of it” by attending as many presentations as possible, right? Looking back, I wish I had focused on quality over quantity - attending fewer sessions that suited me rather than whatever was available. I left my first AACRAO conference exhausted and overwhelmed by the amount of information I’d heard, and feeling even more lost because half of what I’d heard didn’t fit my institution or job role.
On that note, if you attend a session and find it is not for you? Leave. I have presented at AACRAO conferences in recent years and while I can assure you that I do notice, I don’t take it personally when folks slip out. Your time is valuable - use it to find exactly what you need.
The Annual Meeting is huge; Seize opportunities to make it smaller.
After my first annual conference, I was contacted by Beth Bouhmadouche, the Registrar at BU Dental, who asked me if I wanted to join the Graduate and Professional Schools subcommittee of AACRAO. If I could do my first conference over again, I would have been more proactive in seeking these kinds of smaller groups and subcommittees out from the beginning, rather than waiting for the invitation to come to me.
Being on the Graduate and Professional Schools committee changed my entire outlook on AACRAO, my job, and my career as a whole. Through my membership in this subcommittee, I have been welcomed into a small group of colleagues that I can ask procedure questions of, tease out ideas for improvement in my office, and vent frustrations. Every AACRAO annual meeting since I joined the subcommittee has felt like a reunion, and I’ve learned that the “networking” I was so anxious about at my first meeting (I should also note that I forgot my business cards at my first meeting!) for me has meant establishing true friendships with a small group of colleagues that figured out how to contact me, even without my business card. Through getting involved in leadership, I have established a group of colleagues I can rely on -- and my only regret is not getting involved sooner.
You have something to contribute.
This is probably the most important thing I have taken from my time at AACRAO, and without a doubt the thing that I most wish I had known before my first annual meeting. Regardless of how long you have been in your position, if you are working day in and day out in admissions or a registrar’s office, you have something to contribute at AACRAO. Perhaps a procedure that your office uses is helpful to someone else who doesn’t have a procedure in place. Maybe you pose a question that someone was too afraid to ask. Regardless of if you are 20 or 80, have been in your position for 3 months of 30 years, everyone’s input is valued and needed at AACRAO.
Move forward with AACRAO
What I realized, after the meeting and after I had begun to build connections with the people I’d met there, is that I was not, in fact, an impostor. Nobody goes into college with the goal of becoming a college registrar. And I realized that it wasn’t just me - nearly everyone has that moment of “I didn’t plan to be here - now what?”
Joining AACRAO, and specifically finding your niche in leadership, PACs, or committees, can truly be transformative to your outlook on your job and your profession. So do what I did not, and be involved from the start; your voice is valuable, needed, and welcome at AACRAO.