Counselor Q&A - How Board Service Transformed a Career

Written by Yolanda Coleman

Counselor Q&A: How Board Service Transformed One College Counselor’s Career Path

An unexpected journey into college counseling spurred a 20+ year career for Yvonne Espinoza that started at a Title I high school in Austin, TX, and led to her founding her own company. In this Q&A, Yvonne shares how serving on counselor advisory boards and boards of directors made her a stronger advocate for students and a better steward of the profession. She also offers tips and best practices for counselors who may be looking to add board service to their resumes.

Yolanda Coleman: Tell us a bit about yourself and your college counseling journey.

Yvonne Espinoza: College counseling was never something I planned on doing. I actually fell into it. I went to Boston University pre-med and ended up switching into Hispanic language and literature. Right out of college, I returned to my hometown of Austin and worked for a program under the Chamber of Commerce designed to expose high school students to internships and different career paths. I also helped organize this huge college and career fair in Austin.

From there, I was recruited to be a college counselor with Project ADVANCE, which was an initiative funded in the Austin Independent School District by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. That led to a 19-year career in Austin public schools. I spent ten years at LBJ Early College High School, a Title I school, and built that college counseling program from the ground up. I then spent nine years at Garza Independence High School, which is a school for at-risk students.

Unfortunately, my position was terminated during the pandemic due to budget cuts. Since I had already been doing independent education consulting part-time through my own company, I decided to “go all in.” I’ve had my own business for 10 years, but I’ve been working full time for the past three years. 

YC: Which boards have you served on?

YE: While I was at Garza, I was encouraged to apply for the Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL) Board of Directors. I served as Marketing Chair, and now I’m the Treasurer. Two years ago, I was selected for the Common App Counselor Advisory Board and was also elected to the Women In Admissions Board of Directors. It’s part of the Women in Admissions Special Interest Group through the National Association of College Admission Counseling, and I was elected last year as Co-Chair of that board. I was also on the Counselor Advisory Board for Kalamazoo College.

YC: What are the typical responsibilities and time commitment for being on a board?

YE: Boards can be structured differently, so it varies. For a specific college’s advisory board, meetings might be once or twice a year, and terms could be two to three years. The responsibilities are usually determined by the institution’s needs and priorities, so the areas into which you provide insight can be broad.

With the Common App board, we meet monthly to discuss initiatives and provide feedback about what we're seeing and what’s going on with our students. It’s not always directly related to the Common App; it could just be general feedback about issues students and counselors are facing.

For boards where I’ve held leadership positions, the time commitment is usually several hours a month depending on the time of year and associated projects. If we’re approaching a project deadline, the time commitment may be a little more than that.

YC: How has your board service impacted you as a college counselor and aided in your professional development?

YE: It’s been completely transformative for me. I’ve been on the CTCL board since 2017, and I love it! The board includes admissions representatives from different member colleges, so I’ve learned so much about how colleges operate. I’ve been an outside reader for a university in the past, but I have never worked in admissions. Being on this board has given me so much insight into what colleges deal with and has made me a better counselor. I spent much of my career at underfunded public schools where I was the one starting the college counseling programs. I received some training on different colleges, but no one really knew anything about college counseling when I started those positions. I knew how to ask colleges to come see my students, but interacting with admissions professionals was often intimidating for me. Serving on boards has made me a much better advocate for my students because it allowed me to see that admissions representatives are people just like me.

The other counselors I’ve served alongside have also been instrumental in my work. Boards offer the opportunity to learn from other counselors about tools and resources they’re using, programs they’ve developed, and how you could do the same at your school, which was especially important for me coming from Title I and underresourced schools.

YC: You’ve served on several boards. How can other counselors do the same?

YE: Counselors should follow the same advice we give to our students – show interest! When admissions representatives visit your school or you’re at a college fair or conference, engage with them and ask if their school has a board. Let them know you’d be interested in joining the next time there’s an opening. That may be intimidating, but the worst thing they can do is tell you no.

You can also just reach out to the university. If you know a school has a counselor advisory board, email the admissions director or the representative who coordinates the board and let them know you’re interested. Another thing you can do is ask your colleagues or look for a list of current board members. Also tell them you’re interested because with many of these advisory boards, they ask current members for recommendations as they’re rolling off the board. Those personal referrals can be important.

If all else fails, keep doing great work and get your name out there – present at conferences, network, and volunteer for committees. The more people who know you’re doing a good job, the better. And don’t forget about LinkedIn! It can be a great way to build your network, especially if it’s hard for you to get away from your school. The more your name is out there, the more likely it is that people will think of you when opportunities come up.

YC: What advice would you give to a counselor who wants to join a board but worries that school leadership may not be supportive?

YE: Focus on the priorities of your school leadership. You’ll want to make your case in a way that aligns with those priorities and what’s important to the leadership at your school. For example, let's say a principal really cares about a school's public image. In that case, I would suggest the counselor create a presentation – because what school leader doesn’t love a presentation – highlighting how they’ll be representing their school on a national level as a member of that board.

You may also need to normalize board service for school leadership and help them see that serving on a board is professional development. I know some principals may not be as familiar with it or might view it as an outside commitment, but the connections you make and expertise you gain are invaluable. They’re instrumental in making you a better advocate for students and getting them the resources they need, which in turn makes the college counseling program and school more successful.

That being said, it’s really important that counselors receive approval from their school leadership before accepting a position on a board. Serving on a board is work, and counselors should not have to use their personal leave time to do it.

YC: Why does board service matter for college counselors and the profession as a whole?

YE: It’s important in our profession that we not exist in a bubble. None of us can do this by ourselves. Even if you don't have a lot of time, if you can serve on one board, that’s a way of giving back to the profession, to your colleagues, and to students outside of the ones at your school. Being on a board allows you to create change on a broader scale and impact the profession at large, far beyond what any one counselor can do at one individual school.


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Yvonne Espinoza

Yvonne Espinoza, CEP, is a nationally recognized College Counselor and CEO based in Austin, TX, who has successfully supported thousands of students to matriculate to college.

Yvonne worked for 19 years as a full-time college counselor in public Title I and Alternative high schools in Austin, and is the sole founder and owner of Yvonne Espinoza College Counseling Services, now in its 11th year of operation.

A fierce advocate of college access, Yvonne's student-centered approach to college counseling has been recognized by the National Association for College Admission Counseling with the Inclusion, Access and Success Award, by the City of Austin, and by the Colleges That Change Lives organization with the Counselors That Change Lives Award. Yvonne is also a Certified Educational Planner, awarded to professionals, working independently or in schools, who have achieved the highest level of competence in educational planning. Yvonne cares deeply about providing college access for all, and about contributing to the professional development of the college access profession which has so enriched her life.

Yvonne currently resides in her hometown of Austin, TX, with her husband and very spoiled dogs.