ACA Blog

Jessica Diaz
Jul 23, 2009

Submitted a conference proposal lately? A few tips for students!

This past weekend I had the privilege to sit on the American Counseling Association’s Conference Blue Ribbon Panel. If you don’t know what that is, don’t feel bad, many members of ACA have no idea either. I have had this amazing opportunity twice now and to make a long story short, have you ever wondered what happens to conference proposal once you hit submit and how a proposal gets chosen to be a education session, learning institute, or poster session at the ACA conference? Well I do!

Before I go into a long explanation which includes the hard work of an incredible ACA staff, an ACA President, an ACA President-elect, two seasoned Counselor Educators and a rather awestruck doctoral student (that would be me), let me make an important statement to all those students out there who submitted a conference proposal… awesome job!
And there are still few ways to make it better. Here are a few tips that I picked up on while sifting through more than 1000 conference proposals.

1.Proof read, proof read, proof read. You are being grade!
Don’t be fooled by the fact that you are filling out an online form because you are being graded! After you hit submit, your proposal it is sent to three reviewers for a blind review. They rate your proposal on a scale of one to ten in six different areas. Those scores are averaged and final scores will fall between 100 (a perfect proposal) and zero (not good). One of those areas is Proposal Preparation. If you have spelling and grammar mistakes that is taken into account. If you spelled your name with no capital letters, that is taken into account. The reason being is, much of the information you submit is put directly into the conference booklet as is and they aren’t about to put in the session description something with a bunch of spelling errors. My suggestion…

Put together your proposal in a word document first and have someone proof read it. Remember reviewers rate your proposal blind so they have no idea if English is your first language or not and rate based on content.

2.Follow the directions.
This sounds like a no brainer but you would be surprised. If the directions say “No all caps” then don’t submit a proposal with the entire title or description written in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS! IT IS ANNOYING AND LOOKS LIKE YOU ARE YELLING… Get the point? My suggestions…

Be careful to actually give the information they are asking for. If they ask for a description of the program, do exactly that. Again, have someone proof read and ask them to double check that you are actually answering the proposal questions.

3.Choose your topic area wisely.
At some point in the proposal process you are asked to choose a primary and secondary topic area that describes your presentation. Having a topic area that is usually scarcely represented, increases your chances. For example, if your proposal is about training counselors to work with couples in the military deal with their sexuality amidst PSTD, don’t pick “Counselor Education” as your topic area. Although this is true, Counselor Education is a very popular topic area. Part of the job of the Blue Ribbon Panel is to make sure all topic areas are represented during the conference so if we have accepted a bunch of Counselor Education presentations, we will sift through to look for proposals which cover topics that are not well represented. So for this example, choosing “Military Issues” and “Sexuality” will increase your chances even if you didn’t score that high with the raters. My suggestion…

Print out the list of topic areas and break down what your proposal is about. Don’t go for the broad overall topic area. Instead of “Counselor Education” be more specific. If your topic is about dealing with acculturation stress for international counseling students, don’t pick “Multicultural Issues,” instead pick “International Issues.”

These are just a few of the smaller things you can do to increase your chances to have a proposal accepted to a conference. I will post more in the weeks to come. Please give me feedback on whether or not this was helpful. Keep submitting those proposals!!

Jessica Diaz is a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, a third-year doctoral student, and a student representative on ACA’s Governing Council.

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