From Freshman to Admissions Counselor

by Ashlynn Phillips, ’15

When Anna McCollough, ’08, first came to Whitworth, she was undecided about what she wanted to do. Now, almost 10 years later, having switched roles from freshman student to admissions counselor, she finds that she just keeps on learning.

McCollough has been working in the admissions office at Whitworth since August 2012, picking up detail after detail about Whitworth and its programs. As the assistant director of admissions, she is out on the road, recruiting and meeting with prospective students in high schools. She talks with students who want to know more about Whitworth. She tries to give a good representation and understanding of the school.

When a person reflects back on college, he or she realizes that it was a time of growth and realization, learning about yourself and finding out who you are. Taking a wide range of classes, learning another language, and studying abroad are all choices that can all help a student figure this out. For McCollough, these options helped her discover a better understanding of herself. 

McCollough, who is from Sammamish, Wash., came to Whitworth University as a freshman in Fall 2004. She had not declared a major yet, but decided to take a few English classes. She loved being able to read and find different themes in books and talk about them with others. Through these English classes she learned a lot about herself.

“When you’re writing creatively or non-fiction, you’re writing about what you know and so it’s very, very personal. I definitely grew an understanding of myself through writing about that,” McCollough says.

She also majored in Spanish. Having studied it through high school and enjoyed it, she decided to pursue it in college. After her sophomore year she had the chance to increase her Spanish skills by studying abroad in Spain.

“It was amazing. Seeing a whole different culture and way of living,” McCollough says. “Having that study abroad experience gave me a lot more understanding about how hard it is to learn a second language. I understood that frustration when you can’t say what you really feel.” She adds, “I haven’t really utilized Spanish very much career wise; for me it was more of a cultural understanding.”

Immediately after graduating in 2008, she knew she wanted to pursue graduate school, yet wasn’t sure what she wanted to study. As a senior in college she had been thinking about studying student affairs, or else getting her masters of fine arts in creative writing.  

“I knew it was a big decision and a big investment in finances, time, and energy,” McCollough says. “So, I took a year off, working at my home church with the youth ministry program and at another university doing administrative work. After a year of thinking about it, I decided to pursue student affairs. I am passionate about working with college students, and the idea of continuing in that direction as a career excited me.”

McCollough headed to Baylor University, a private Baptist school in Waco, Texas. She chose Baylor not only because it was in a different part of the country, but because it would be different from her undergraduate experience. Baylor’s student population is about 14,000, and still has a strong faith value in the education, she says.

“When I visited the campus, I spent time walking around campus praying about the decision and it just felt right. I knew that’s where I was supposed to be,” McCollough says, reflecting on her first visit to Baylor.

Although Baylor is almost six times larger than Whitworth, she was surprised by the sense of community and family that she experienced. “That was certainly a welcome surprise for me coming from Whitworth,” McCollough says. “As a graduate student, your school experience is so much different from your experience as an undergraduate student that it’s difficult to draw equal comparisons.”

Graduate school was engaging, eye-opening, stressful, fun, yet impacting for McCollough. Although she had to handle rigorous levels of critical thinking and heavy loads of reading and writing, going to Baylor helped her become who she is today. “My program continued my love for learning and fascination with the way colleges operate. I also developed an appreciation for and interest in exploring the niche of Christian higher education and the unique challenges it faces,” McCollough says. “Gaining that understanding made me more appreciative of my experience at Whitworth and what the university strives to accomplish in its mission.”

As far as advice goes for soon-to-be graduated students, she says that acknowledging that you won’t have everything figured out for your future when you graduate is okay. “Go out and find opportunities. You might not have your dream job after college, but you’re not stuck,” McCollough says. “If your first job is something you don’t ultimately want to do, you can still find a way to build your passions into your life outside of work.”

As an admissions counselor, McCollough said it is different from being in the position of working with students in college, to now, trying to bring them into college. “It’s never about trying to sell someone on Whitworth,” McCollough says. “It’s about helping the student find what is their best fit and making sure they have the information they need. I’m basically a walking fact book about the university.”

As for now, McCollough wants to continue working at Whitworth. She said she is learning about a different aspect of higher education and doing university work. “I love working at a college setting,” McCollough says. “It means so much to me. There’s a surreal energy that comes from working on a college campus, and being with college students.” She added, “It’s something I want to continue working with, whatever direction it leads.”