Back to school: Kristin Williams-Griffin offers advice for college-bound high school students

sokamoto@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 1, 2012 

Kristin Williams-Griffin laughs as she said no one grows up wanting to become a recruiter for a university.

Yet, she's spent eight years as director of undergraduate recruitment and recently got promoted to the new position of director of graduate and international recruitment.

Williams-Griffin, 31, tries mightily to let incoming freshmen know what to expect when stepping foot on the Columbus State University campus as students.

The college preparation process starts early. She visits eighth grade classes in hopes of getting students thinking about going to college.

She grew up in Columbus and went to Auburn University for her undergraduate degree (graduated in 2003) in communications and got her start working as an athletic recruiter for Auburn and the University of Louisville, where she began working toward her master's degree in public administration. She finished her master's at Columbus State University in 2008.

In this interview, Williams-Griffin shares her thoughts on college preparation with her readers. This interview is edited for length and clarity.

When you were visiting various campuses, were there any questions you had that went unanswered?

Yes. My biggest mistake when I toured Auburn University was not asking how many students are in a core class (like freshman English or history). I didn't take very many tours. I actually only went to one. I applied for and got into Auburn. Boy, were my eyes opened when I walked in and there were 300 kids in my history class. So don't just ask about class size. Ask about the core class sizes. That's what I tell students. Here, I can tell them that there will be 20, maybe 30 students in each core class. I'll even take them into the classrooms to show them that 300 students would not fit in that classroom.

Are today's students asking those same questions you had? They are, but currently with the financial situation, they are asking about the cost. They are asking about scholarships. Most of them are too late. They should have done that when they were juniors in high school. Most of them don't know it, but they could have done dual enrollment where they still take classes in high school, but can also take a class or two here. The Hope scholarship pays for tuition, but now, CSU will cover the fees and we're trying to get a book stipend. Once you pass the class, that's it. This gets their feet wet. They can come here for classes, save money and have the Hope scholarship still. If they do it right, they can get finished within three college years.

How long have you been recruiting students? At Columbus State University, a little over eight years total. I started off as an athletic recruiter at Auburn University and then at the University of Louisville. I heard about this job and applied for it and fell in love with it. It's definitely one of the best jobs. I left CSU for a brief stint at Aflac, but I was back in six months.

Is it essential for prospective students and their parents to visit CSU? Yes. Usually studies show that 70 to 80 percent who apply for a school and come to visit, enroll at the school. And they're usually your better students. They need to be comfortable in the environment. They're looking for an education and we want to see a happy, successful graduate.

What is the most asked question from a student? Probably scholarships. They'll ask what scholarships we offer and how much. We give out over $1 million in scholarships every year. But most of the time, they inquire about it too late. So we have to educate students and their parents. We try to teach them the proper questions to ask and that's why we go into the eighth grade classes. There's a great website ( that offers a planning timeline.

What is the most asked question from a parent?

Safety. I tell them that we were voted one of the 100 safest campuses. You can go to the campus police website and look.

After the student decides on CSU, is that the last you see of that kid?

No. We try to stay connected. A student may be accepted in November and December and they face what I call the "summer melt." They're still not fully committed. First, there's the courtship, when they're recruited. Then they're "dating," when they're interested in CSU. Then the engagement when they apply. But we can still break up until they come on campus, register for classes and show up and go to class.

That's why after they apply for school and get accepted, I suggest they apply for an orientation. That's when they can schedule their classes. They get so busy during the summer that they forget. And when they come to campus in the fall, some of their classes may not be available.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I think seeing students be successful. I taught Luis Ortiz, and now he works for us as a student. It's nice to see them transition from being a student to working. I'm getting old. I see them cycling through.

Do you have an open door policy? Or is your job over when a student enrolls at CSU?

We do. Again, it's about connecting with the student. I'm more of a liaison. We walk the student through and if we can't answer a question, we find the person who can give the right answer. We have to be a student advocate. I love going to meet students.

How do you get transfer students? Do they go through the same process?

We have a transfer student recruiter. We try to make it as smooth a process as we can.

What kinds of programs do you have for kids who are homesick?

Our student affairs office has numerous activities. We want students to have a life outside the classroom. We want a well-rounded student. We want them to make new friends. And if they're having a problem, we have our counseling center. And if they're in a dorm, there's a Resident Advisor or an RA on duty. We also have the freshman learning community, where a group of students take classes together and we hope that builds bonds that last.

How do you convince some kids to go home during breaks?

That's a great question. Because we have apartment-style living, they do get comfortable. But most of the campus shuts down (during breaks). Offices like ours stay open. We really don't have anything in place for that.

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