Ahh, February. Can't you just feel the love in the air? High school seniors awaiting admission decisions often use this time of year to proclaim their love to those schools which they've deemed "the one". Sometimes these attempts at "demonstrated interest" work and other times, well...they border on creepy.
So how can you let a college know they're the only one for you? When is the right time to begin this courting process? Do these added points of contact actually up your chances of being admitted to the school of your dreams? To get to the real scoop we decided to ask a few of our friends on the college side to share the good, bad and, in some cases, just plain crazy things students have done to get noticed by the admission office. From mailing a shoe with the words "Now that I've got my foot in the door..." to sending a scrapbook filled with photos of the student posed by campus landmarks, these admission folks have seen it all...
Tip #1: Make Sure They Know You Exist
This is one of the first things any student should do when they are thinking of submitting an application to a college. Colleges will often speak of "stealth applicants" - those whose applications just appear out of nowhere. Submitting your application should not be the first time a school hears from you. If you have an interest in a college, even before senior year, make sure to submit an official "inquiry" through the Admission section of the school's website. This will also get you on their mailing list so you'll never miss information about upcoming open houses or deadlines.
Tip #2: Get to Know Your Admission Counselor
While some colleges don't assign students to specific admission counselors, the majority of colleges do. Admission staff are usually assigned to certain territories or regions of the country or world and serve as the point person for any student applying from those areas. Each fall the counselors spend most of September through early November visiting high schools and attending college fairs. When you hear that someone from one of the colleges you are strongly considering will be at your school for a visit, it's important that you try to meet with them. Face time with your admission counselor can be invaluable as this gives them an opportunity to put a face with a name. When your application arrives in their office you are no longer a one-dimensional file but an actual person with a voice, personality and a very cool pair of zebra print TOMS.
"If you see I'm visiting your school, please sign up! If you're unable to meet me due to a class or test, let me know," says Jennifer Saunders, Associate Director of Admission at DePauw University. "It's nice to know a student wants to come to my visit, even if they can't make it."
Ashley Warholic, Admissions Counselor at Regis University cautions students about the appropriate way to develop a relationship with your admissions counselor.
"Although admissions counselors would love chocolates or flowers, that's inappropriate and uncomfortable...unless you have a unique and incredibly personal relationship with your counselor," says Warholic. "While phone calls and emails from the student asking questions and engaging with admissions personnel are a great way to show that the student is interested in the university, calling incessantly just to 'check-in' is a bit much."
Tip #3: Visit
Have you ever professed your undying love for someone you've never seen? Ever agreed to eating a meal blindfolded, not knowing what's dangling at the end of your fork? So why do so many students think it's a good idea to choose a college without ever visiting? It's important for students to visit any school they are thinking of applying to so they can feel confident that what they've seen in viewbooks and online is the real deal. Campus visits are also important because this shows the college that you are seriously considering their school AND you're willing to show it by sparing some of your precious free time to see what they have to offer.
"We appreciate hearing from prospects and applicants when they make plans to visit campus, especially if we have the flexibility in our schedule to meet with them or at least say hello," says Maria Ornelas, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Vanderbilt. "Receiving a simple thank you card after a campus visit also goes a long way!"
Ornelas also stresses that being over-the-top with appreciation and trying to stand out, while memorable, is not necessarily the best path to follow.
"An applicant once delivered flowers to their admissions officer within 30 minutes of the end of their campus visit, "she said. "That same applicant sent a box with a helium balloon inside. Attached to the balloon was a resume with the applicant’s picture and cover letter describing how she’s "going to new heights to get into Vanderbilt". We lightheartedly joke that these types of actions borderline a sweet gesture and serious discomfort for the admissions counselor."
Tip #4: Stay in Touch
Many students assume that their role once they hit "submit" on their application is to sit back and wait to hear from the college. In the months between submitting the application and receiving an admission decision, it's important that your admission counselor knows you still have a strong interest in their school. However, when it comes to communication, students should remember that there is a fine line between keeping in touch and becoming a nuisance. While the occasional email to your admission counselor is important, frequent calls can border on harassing. Even worse: parents who call to "strongly" support their child's candidacy for admission.
"One year I had a mom call me every single day for two weeks in a row to either check on the status of her son's application, or provide me with updates," says Saunders. "Each conversation lasted a minimum of twenty minutes and not once did I actually speak with the student. While it is ok to have your parents call during the school day...especially if they have questions about financial aid...we do like to hear from the student as well."
Neill Aguiluz II, an Admission Counselor at Tulane, stresses that students should consider what kinds of "new information" bears enough importance to share with colleges after an application has been submitted.
"I love to get updates from students on major accomplishments, but it can be overdone, " says Aguiluz. "The committee will want to hear about new SAT or ACT scores, starting a new fundraiser, or having a stellar semester compared to the transcript we saw when they first applied. Continuing involvement in activities - like being elected to a leadership position in a club or going to semifinals as part of the football team - will have less impact. The more a student sends, the less likely the committee will see those few big accomplishments, so they should be judicious in how much they include."
Tip #5: If You're Waitlisted
Perhaps the most important time during the application process for a student to show a school that they think it's the bees knees is if they are placed on the Waitlist. Being waitlisted means your file has been reviewed and that you've been placed on a list of students who may or may not be offered admission pending space availability. As the school receives notification from the students that have received offers of admission that they will not enroll, space may become available for students from the waitlist. It's important during this holding pattern for waitlisted students to first determine if they'd like to accept a spot on the waitlist. If you choose to keep your spot, communication will become an important factor moving forward.
"When a student is deferred or waitlisted, the best thing they can do is to send a concise, honest email to the admission office," says Aguiluz. "They should take the opportunity to give specific reasons why they want to attend and include a short statement describing their reasoning – anything specific to the university goes a long way. If they would definitely enroll if admitted they should be direct and mention this in the message."
This direct approach about your intention to enroll is echoed by Ornelas from Vanderbilt.
"During the waitlist process specifically, if a student knows unequivocally that the college is still their number one choice, definitely let us know," she says. "Colleges will typically use their waitlist offers for students who have previously demonstrated interest in the college and who have said that they will attend if given the opportunity."
Communication is key to exhibiting demonstrated interest and it's important to remember that the purpose is to let the school know that you can truly see yourself as a member of their community. However, there is a fine line between wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the college name and tattooing it across your forehead.
"I think a good way to consider demonstrated interest is knowing the difference between raising your hand before addressing the teacher and blurting out an answer before anyone has a chance," says Ornelas. "It’s great to be noticed and recognized, but not while being overbearing."