Why I Work in Higher Ed: Natali Smith, Admissions Counselor
The “Why I Work in Higher Ed” series features people working in higher education to get an inside perspective of what they do and what inspires them.
Natali Smith is an Admissions Counselor in the Undergraduate Admissions Department at Wright State University. Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Natali graduated in December 2022 from Wright State University with a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership and is now working on earning her Master of Science in Leadership Development. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, doing retail therapy, reading, and trying new foods.
How would you describe your current role in higher education?
My job as an Admissions Counselor is to be of service to students — whether it’s going to college fairs, visiting high schools, or helping students with the application process. I do lots of outreach, making sure students know their next steps or seeing if they have any questions. I also give admissions presentations, answer phone calls, and communicate by email. I am very passionate about helping others. I want to be able to help others who may have a similar experience or background as me. There are some students who may not have family or other people to help them with the process, like first-generation students.
Can you give an overview of your career path that has led you to where you are today?
If you asked me a year ago, I would not have guessed that I would be working in Higher Education nor Undergraduate Admissions. I went with the flow when it came to my professional career upon graduating because I knew that with my degree and skills, I could go into any field. Previously, I worked for a lot of retail organizations; Apple was the most recent, where I worked as a technical specialist.
As a student, I was very involved on campus. I was a peer mentor and held many leadership positions including President of NPHC, Vice President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, Vice President of The Black Student Union, and more. Due to my involvement, I was really able to build connections and grow my networking skills. From my student involvement, I knew that funding was an issue for a lot of our student organizations. I thought about what we needed to do and who to connect with to get the help that we needed. I began to visit the administration office to find help and I quickly learned that they love when students come to visit them! They were more than happy to help and if they did not have the answer I needed, they quickly connected me with the proper resources.
Along with this, I remember having a conversation with someone in the administration’s office one day. They told me that I was a great student leader and suggested that I consider working in higher education because we need a lot more women, particularly women of color, in higher education so that students who look like me can also have someone to look up to. Also, there’s the advocating piece that I was doing as a student. From being a student to now becoming a staff member, it makes it even easier to get students connected with the help and resources that they need. Lastly, I built a relationship with [Wright State University President Sue Edwards] throughout my time as an Undergrad, and before I graduated, she suggested that I look at the admissions counselor position that they had open at the time.
What initially sparked your interest in pursuing a career in higher education?
From my experience in college, I had to find resources on my own. There is help, but some students don’t know where to start or who to talk to. That’s what sparked me to begin advocating for myself. When I saw other staff members with similar backgrounds like mine trying to help students, that got me interested in exploring careers in higher education. Also, I had a student worker job in the Office of Inclusive Excellence and it helped to see what the administration does and how I could use my connections to help students have a great experience.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I graduated, but I developed a passion for helping others. I wanted to impact people’s lives, even with the littlest things, like having conversations with students at college fairs. At one event, a parent remembered me and said that the conversation we had back then really helped with his daughter’s decision to go to Wright State University. You never know how much you can help impact somebody’s life. Having moments like that really helps keep you going, and it’s nice to know that you are having a positive impact on someone’s future.
Is there any advice you received early in your career that has stuck with you and influenced your approach to work?
One of the pieces of advice that really stuck with me is to be a sponge — to always be willing to learn, even if it’s something that I already have experience in or something that I’m not currently interested in. I really have taken that on and no matter what field, like technology or communications, I’m always open to learning because you never know if you’ll need that piece of knowledge later.
Networking is also important. Make those connections – you might need to reach out to someone you know to get connected to someone else. Oftentimes, opportunities come from networking. People may say how important it is to have a good resume, but having those connections can also assist you with getting your foot in the door.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’m never afraid to ask questions because that’s how I grow. It’s also easy to adapt to new environments if you ask questions – you won’t always know everything. Be open to opportunities for growth and learning, that is the best way to improve yourself both professionally and personally.
Check out Top Articles on HERC Jobs.
About the Author: Marcia Silva is the director of marketing and communications at the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium. She strives to create engaging, research-informed content that informs and empowers job seekers and employers committed to creating inclusive workplaces. She is passionate about using digital media and technology to encourage participation and strengthen communities.